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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.

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Internally Displaced People

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

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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.

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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.

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