A new study by the United Nations and the U.S.-based Brookings Institution finds that the world's 25 million internally-displaced persons need better international protection. The study is calling on the United Nations to more forcefully persuade governments that they must protect citizens who have been displaced by conflict within their own nations boundaries.
The joint study by the U.N. and the Washington, D.C.-based non-governmental research organization found that people forcibly displaced within their own country outnumber refugees forced across borders into other countries by two to one.
Yet, the study says these 25 million civilian victims of displacement, unlike refugees, are largely neglected and unprotected by the international community.
Dennis McNamara is an adviser to the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator on Internal Displacement. He says while the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees assists those displaced from their homes who cross over to other countries, those displaced within their own country's borders do not have an agency to care for them.
As a result, he says, these people lack international protection and tend to be overlooked.
"The international response to the problem of protection of civilians from conflict, in my view, is one of the most least effective by us all," said Dennis McNamara. "It means that millions of people, civilians, primarily women and children, remain at high risk of abuse. And, tragically thousands are abused on a regular basis, including widespread and very poorly addressed sexual violence and gender-based violence, including rape."
The study looked at internal displacement in nine countries on four continents, including the Russian Federation, Somalia, Liberia, Nepal and Colombia.
While Mr. McNamara says that the United Nations needs to be more vigorous in its efforts to help internally displaced people, he notes the major responsibility lies with the host country.
"And very often, and too often, and usually the host-State is a perpetrator of the abuse against displaced persons or fails to stop it happening," he said. "And, remember one thing that, of course, the displaced persons are citizens within national borders as contrary to refugees. And, the first responsibility remains with the host authority for that protection. That responsibility in most of these cases is not being fundamentally met in any effective way."
The study says the issue of internal displacement became more prominent because of the realization that peace and reconstruction in war-torn societies depends on reintegrating displaced persons. Many of the countries devastated by civil war, such as Mozambique, Angola and Liberia, have had anywhere from one third to three quarters of their population forcibly uprooted.