REFUGEES AND INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONSThe effects of modern conflict on civilians are most visible through the 19 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are currently uprooted from their homes, towns and countries as a result of conflict. The protection of those in refugee and IDP camps, and their eventual return to their homes or resettlement in other countries once the conflict has ended, are vital elements of the peace building process.
Refugees and IDPs
According to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion is forced to leave his or her country.” IDPs leave their homes for the same reason as refugees, but they remain within the borders of their own country. The most crucial difference between the two is that while refugees become subject to the laws of the host state, IDPs remain vulnerable to the legal system of the country in which the conflict is occurring. IDPs are therefore not guaranteed any measure of protection or assistance from their government.
Refugee and IDP Camps
When large segments of the population leave their communities en masse, they often live in temporary camps, which lack the resources, security and hygiene necessary for survival. Since these camps are a temporary solution to an emergency situation, they rarely have the infrastructure necessary to ensure the health and security of those who live there. With thousands of people living in overcrowded quarters, personal security becomes a problem, especially for women and girls who are vulnerable to sexual abuse and rape. The risk of HIV/AIDS epidemics among those living in IDP or refugee camps is high, and disease spreads quickly as a result of poor water and sanitation and inadequate food supplies. Finally, the mental toll of having to flee one’s home as a result of violence and persecution can lead to a high rate of psychological trauma, particularly for children.
Return, Resettlement and Integration
Once a peace process has begun, refugees and IDPs must begin the difficult process of returning to their communities, resettling in the country in which they have sought refuge or moving on to a third country. Voluntary repatriation – that is, the return of refugees and IDPs by choice to their homes – is the preferred solution to the problem of uprooted populations, but this process can be both difficult and dangerous. Their homes may be destroyed or lived in by others; rebels and armed groups may not be fully disarmed; the economy, health care infrastructure and political system are often in ruins; and food, water and sanitation in short supply following conflict. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has instituted several programs to ensure the safe repatriation and resettlement of refugee and IDP populations, giving them the protection and resources they need to return to their homes and restart their lives.
The Liberian Dance Troupe
During the 14-year civil war in Liberia, 400,000 Liberians fled the conflict in their country to neighbouring West African states. At the peak of the conflict, 42,000 Liberian refugees live in Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana, including 18,000 children. Based in Buduburam Camp, War Child Canada’s Liberian Dance Troupe project uses theatre and dance as tools to maintain Liberian culture among young refugee children, and to educate them about HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy and drug abuse. Over 100 refugee youth have been trained in theatre, the arts, oral and written literature, dance and music. In turn, these youth train their peers in primary schools located within the camp. In this way, Liberian youth refugees receive the psychosocial rehabilitation and education necessary to improve their security, self-confidence, dignity and identity.
Since 2004, over 90,000 Liberians have returned to their communities. Those who do return home face a struggle to survive in a country whose economy and infrastructure have been destroyed by war. Some regions to which refugees return lack shelter, health services and education infrastructure. Furthermore, the protection and security of these returnees cannot be guaranteed in a country where rebels are not fully disarmed or rehabilitated.
War Child Projects that Make a Difference:
To learn more about what War Child Canada is doing in Liberia through the Liberian Dance Troupe Project, visit our international projects page here: http://www.getloud.ca/en/gpi_project.asp
Want to Learn More?
1. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
2. Global IDP Project