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Refugees Magazine Issue 129 (2002: The Year in Review) - Editorial: A glimmer of light in the tunnel

Refugees Magazine Issue 129 (2002: The Year in Review) - Editorial: A glimmer of light in the tunnel

1 December 2002

Angola is a potentially bountiful country, rich in minerals, oil and fertile land. But in more than a quarter century of conflict, hundreds of thousands of persons were killed, similar numbers were mutilated by mines and more than four million civilians fled their homes as the country pulled itself apart.

In the early days of the war, Angola was the centre of big power intrigue, a battleground which drew in the United States, the Soviet Union, Europe, South Africa and even Cuba. But then the cold war ended, Angola lost its strategic importance, diplomats and journalists went home and the country's traumatized population drifted into what official parlance rather clumsily calls a protracted humanitarian situation.

Effectively, such prolonged crises can last for years or even decades, seemingly without end and without solution.

And there is a vicious circle at work here. Because they do go on for so long, donors lose interest in giving, the wider world loses interest in knowing, there is a dwindling effort to try to solve the root causes of the crises and so they become even more difficult to solve and thus even more 'protracted.'

High profile emergencies such as the Balkans, Rwanda and Timor have dominated the daily headlines for years and so it is perhaps a little surprising to realize that fully two-thirds of the refugees UNHCR cares for each year are actually caught in these other underfunded, almost forgotten problems which stretch across some 20 countries in Africa, the Indian Ocean and central Asia.

Greater attention is now being paid to exploring the origins of these wars and the ways they can be resolved to allow their civilian victims to return home.

And as the two main stories in this issue report, there is some good news. The guns have fallen silent in Angola itself and people are beginning to trickle home. The same is true in the equally long civil struggle in Sri Lanka where the first of nearly one million displaced persons have already started to rebuild their lives.

The biggest advance in 2002 came in Afghanistan where more than two million civilians abandoned their exile and flooded back into their old villages and towns following the fall of the Taliban and the installation of a new government.

There were major humanitarian setbacks last year, especially in Africa, and the fallout from the terror attacks against the United States in September 2001 continued to cast a long shadow.

But many more Afghans, Sri Lankans and Angolans are ready to give peace a chance in the new year. And who knows? Breakthroughs in those previously endless conflicts might prompt progress in other dark corners of the world.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 129: "2002: The Year in Review" (December 2002).