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First global consultation on HIV and internally displaced people starts in Geneva

News Stories, 24 April 2007

© UNHCR/H.Coussidis
Internally displaced people, like these in northern Uganda, are not necessarily more vulnerable to HIV, but they still require special attention.

GENEVA, April 24 (UNHCR) The first global consultation on HIV and internally displaced people started Tuesday in Geneva bringing together some 45 experts from governments, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and the academic world, to discuss ways of addressing the effects of HIV on internally displaced populations.

"This is a neglected area where the needs are great but we frankly don't know enough about the various situations," says Paul Spiegel, head of UNHCR's HIV unit. "This is only the beginning of a process which, hopefully, will help us identify gaps, plan joint programmes and improve services for IDPs."

Like refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) are civilians who have been victims of violence, persecution or human rights violations, or who have been forced out of their homes by conflict. But, unlike refugees, IDPs remain in their own country.

"Both IDPs and the local population have similar needs," explains Dieudonné Yiweza, UNHCR's senior regional HIV/AIDS coordinator for central Africa. "The main difference is that, because of the fact that they have been displaced, IDPs are in a particularly vulnerable situation and they cannot rely on the different coping and protection mechanisms that people have in their own communities. In addition, IDPs usually have more difficulties having access to existing services."

Displaced people, however, are not necessarily more vulnerable to HIV infection, says Spiegel. "In the case of refugees, people at first believed that they had higher HIV prevalence than host communities, but this proved not to be the case. We need to do more research on the effects of displacement on HIV infection."

Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Nepal and Uganda were highlighted during the consultation along with some eastern European countries.

"It is not possible to have a single approach to all these situations. The situation in each country, and sometimes even in each region within a country, is completely different," said Spiegel. "We hope that we will learn from the different experiences of those attending the consultations. We need everybody to become involved. We need everybody's help."

The consultation, which will last until Wednesday, is expected to raise awareness and result in more effective joint advocacy and programming, as well as in more research on HIV and IDP issues.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council, there are some 24.5 million conflict-related IDPs in at least 52 countries around the world. Between 70 and 80 percent of them are women and children. The countries with the largest internally displaced populations are Sudan, Colombia, Iraq, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Under the general umbrella of the Office of the UN emergency relief coordinator, UNHCR has been given the lead role in overseeing the protection and shelter needs of IDPs as well as the coordination and management of camps. Other UN agencies have adopted similar roles in the areas of water, nutrition, health, logistics and telecommunications.




Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

HIV and Reproductive Health

Treatment for HIV and access to comprehensive reproductive health services.

Related Internet Links

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Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding across Myanmar's Rakhine state, where some 115,000 people are desperately in need of aid after being displaced during two waves of inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. The displaced, most of them ethnic Rohingya, have sought shelter in temporary relief camps and others remain scattered across the state, living under tight security in their destroyed villages. Conditions are harsh: the camps are overcrowded and some lack even the most basic of sanitation facilities while many of the villages are totally destroyed and running low on water. In one village, more than 32 families were living cheek-by-jowl in just two large tents. The children have no access to education and the newborn and elderly are in a very vulnerable position due to a lack of medical facilities. UNHCR is distributing relief supplies and working with the authorities and partners to improve camp conditions, but international assistance is required.

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

Photographer Pepe Rubio Larrauri travelled to Aden in March 2012 to document the day-to-day lives of the displaced.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen