Millions of people flee their homes each year to escape war, famine or disaster. The international community helps many of them when they end up as refugees in foreign countries. But when these same people are adrift within their home countries, assistance is harder to provide. VOA's Sean Maroney reports on the debate to better help internally displaced persons.
Refugee camps are the result of four years of fighting in Sudan between Darfur rebels and government-backed militias. The United Nations estimates the violence has killed at least 200,000 people and forced millions more from their homes.
The U.N. has set up camps like this one in an effort to provide food, water and shelter for the internally displaced. But aid officials say they can only help a fraction of those who actually need it.
There are an estimated 25 million people internally displaced in some 50 countries. The U.N. says it helps only one in four.
There are no international laws that protect internally displaced persons, or "IDPs" for short. The U.N. says it is up to individual countries to care for their own.
But Khalid Koser says this is not a solution. He monitors the IDP problem for The Brookings Institution in Washington. He says in many cases countries often persecute their own displaced citizens. "It seems to me there's something of a paradox or a contradiction or a problem in saying to states, 'You are the people who have to develop laws and policies to protect IDPs, even (though) often you're the people who are perpetrating ethnic cleansing, who are trying to persecute these people out of existence'."
Uganda is among those countries that have passed specific laws to protect IDPs. But Koser says poor sanitation; food shortages and overcrowding are still problems there. "There are acts and there are facts. And the fact that countries like Uganda and Sri Lanka have developed laws is great, but there are still two million people displaced within those countries. So it seems to me there's a real gap between national laws and policies and actually making a difference to the people on the ground."
He says it is up to the international community to make a difference in these people's lives.