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9 Facts About IDPs in Colombia
For more than 50 years, Colombia grappled with a civil war that left more than 220,000 dead and millions displaced. The protracted issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) continues in the country despite the 2016 Peace Accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in rural Colombia. Here are nine facts about IDPs in Colombia.

9 Facts About IDPs in Colombia

  1. In 2019, there were approximately eight million IDPs in Colombia. This does not include the additional 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees in the country.
  2. There are still citizens being displaced since the peace agreement in 2016. As of 2019, the number of people of concern in Colombia has increased by 13%.
  3. The government lacks control of many rural regions of Colombia. Although FARC largely demobilized in 2016, there are other armed groups still controlling large swaths of the country that are perpetuating the IDP crisis. These groups are funded by the lucrative cocaine trade, which continues to thrive in unstable regions.
  4. Environmental impacts also play a role in the IDP situation. Colombia has the fourth-highest rate of deforestation in the world, a majority of which occurs in areas of origin for IDPs. Criminal elements and the government share responsibility for environmental degradation.
  5. Human rights activists are at risk. Since the 2016 Peace Accord, more than 400 human rights activists and environmental defenders have been killed in Colombia, many of which were from indigenous communities. These advocates are crucial in establishing crop substitution programs and helping resettle and empower IDPs.
  6. For IDPs living in urban areas, UNHCR and national NGOs have implemented the legalization of informal settlements. This has helped provide better access to government services, energy and the sewage system, along with lessening the stigma of not having ownership titles for housing. This UNHCR project has been ongoing since 2015 and has benefitted more than 24,000 IDPs.
  7. The Opción Legal NGO assists IDPs with reintegration into rural communities through legal means. Reintegration was included in the 2016 peace agreement but it is still in need of better implementation. With the help of funding from UNHCR, Opción Legal operates programs encouraging and strengthening political participation for IDPs. This NGO has assisted IDP populations in regions like Atlántico and Bolívar.
  8.  The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) is supporting the implementation of the peace agreement. The agency is seeking out durable solutions to conflict, such as education and job training. The programs have benefitted more than 10,000 Colombians directly and 235,000 indirectly.
  9. USAID is working to build institutional trust in regions with high levels of IDPs. Vulnerable populations in addition to IDPs, such as women, community leaders, migrants and ethnic minorities, are all considered crucial populations for funding and empowerment. USAID also has a strategy to build capacity for youth leaders, which is viewed as a possible long-term solution for peace and self-reliance.

Looking Forward

The 2016 Peace Accord was a big step in working to improve livelihoods for millions of IDPs in Colombia. Although many challenges remain in implementation, the legal frameworks are in place for the country to continue toward its ultimate goals of peace and stability.

– Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About IDPs in MyanmarIn recent months, the eyes of the international community have been on the actions of the Myanmar military and the state of internally displaced people (IDPs). Ethnic minorities in the country have been experiencing this violent instability at the hands of the military for generations. However, COVID-19 and the military coup in February 2021 have exacerbated the situation for IDPs in Myanmar. The coup affected several states in Myanmar, including the Rakhine, Kachin, Shan, Kayin and Chin states.

5 Key Facts About IDPs in Myanmar

  1. Thousands flee because of violence and conflict: As of December 31, 2019, there are more than 450,000 IDPs throughout Myanmar due to conflict and violence. This number does not include the additional 800,000 Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh or the 100,000 ethnic minorities from Myanmar who fled their homes in April 2021 to seek refuge in camps along the border. The armed conflict between ethnic militias and the military has resulted in IDPs fleeing to the refugee camps. Natural disasters have also forced IDPs to flee to the camps.
  2. Diseases are quicker to spread in refugee camps: Camps are overcrowded with poor living conditions. These camps have led to higher rates of communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, scabies, dysentery, COVID-19 and other viruses. Human Rights Watch and others have referred to some IDP camps as essentially “open-air prisons.” COVID-19 rates in IDP camps are thought to be underreported due to a lack of testing and access for aid organizations to assist people.
  3. Limited access to aid: Crucial aid is blocked by the central government. During the pandemic, restrictions on movement in Myanmar have prohibited humanitarian organizations from properly distributing medical care and emergency supplies to IDPs in the camps. The lockdowns have also prevented children in IDP camps from attending school. Additionally, adults have not been able to work, making it difficult for parents to pay for school and food.
  4. Lost and stolen property: Many IDPs have no land to return to. Before the military coup, the government in Myanmar prioritized closing IDP camps throughout the country, but many IDPs in Myanmar no longer have homes or land to return to. This is a result of natural disasters and military attacks destroying people’s homes. People have also lost land to large development projects, which only benefit the central government and international entities. Additionally, some IDPs lost their properties due to changes in laws and citizenship requirements.
  5. Protests and violence in Myanmar: The military coup in Myanmar has led to increasing difficulties. With massive civil unrest occurring throughout Myanmar, including outside of ethnic minority areas, IDPs are vulnerable to additional violence from the military. At the same time, many ethnic Burmese protestors are beginning to show solidarity with the struggles of ethnic minorities. Some have even condemned the military’s brutality toward ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya.

Finding a Path Forward

International NGOs and the U.N. have a presence in Myanmar. However, access to sensitive regions is not always possible for aid workers. Fortunately, many ethnic groups have grassroots organizations that deal with various issues faced by IDPs and refugees in neighboring countries. Women’s rights groups have been particularly vocal in advocating for the rights of ethnic minorities throughout the country. Unfortunately, at leadership levels and in educational opportunities, there is still a wide gender gap. This makes women’s rights groups’ work crucial in shifting attitudes to be inclusive of all voices in Myanmar.

The Women’s League of Burma (WLB) is a collective of 13 different organizations representing several ethnic groups from Myanmar. While each organization has specific needs, all share the same goal of involving women in peace negotiations between ethnic militias and the Myanmar military. There have been ceasefires of varying success over the years. However, long-term peace agreements have been elusive and certain voices, such as those from WLB, are crucial in advocating for ethnic minorities. Voices from the WLB are also important in defending the rights of children and other vulnerable groups.

Despite uncertain times for the future of Myanmar, there are hopeful signs that the long-term issues faced by ethnic minorities are receiving more attention, both within Myanmar and throughout the international community.

– Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

Irregular Migration: Causes and Looking Forward
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were more than 100 million irregular migrants around the world in 2018. One of the aspects of irregular migration that people most widely recognize and talk about is which factors drive people to leave their homes in the first place. In recent years, the ongoing civil wars in Libya and Syria, as well as violent conflict in Central America linked to drug cartels, have often made the headlines in this regard, and many likely think of such factors as the primary drivers pushing people to migrate outside of the normal legal and bureaucratic channels. While many of these people have to leave their homes due to armed conflict, many more find themselves moving due to a lack of economic opportunity or due to environmental factors. Such factors are ones that the international community can and should be addressing through humanitarian aid.

What to Know

Without greater attention to these root causes, millions will likely have to leave their homes in search of physical and economic security, leading to greater irregular migration waves that countries have challenges handling. This can also fuel exploitation and benefit criminal networks taking advantage of people forced to migrate irregularly or who have experienced displacement. Many persons who experience displacement due to non-conflict factors will also fall into the category of internally displaced people or IDPs. IDPs do not have the same legal status as refugees, and, as a result, often have fewer institutionalized resources and services addressing their needs and the challenges they face.

As of 2018, only 40 countries had involvement with the Expert Group on Refugee and IDP Statistics, or EGRIS. EGRIS works on international research into methods for tracking refugee statistics and possible recommendations to address the number of IDPs. While this exposes the need for serious reform around internally displaced people and how to address their plight, it also means that until countries adopt a more accessible and universal legal approach, fighting the root causes that lead to displacement must be a priority.

IDPs and Disaster Prevention

While ending conflicts driving displacement is a high-profile issue, more IDPs would benefit if a greater focus were to go toward disaster relief. According to data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center’s 2019 Global Report on Internal Displacement, the number of people that disasters displaced increased each year from 2008-2018.

While disaster prevention is at times difficult and the effects of environmental challenges may only undergo reversal or mitigation on a large time scale, countries can deal with the fallout from disasters through humanitarian aid and relief efforts concentrated on rebuilding communities and compensating for losses. However, such efforts must give equal thought to establishing long-term physical and environmental security in the areas dealing with the fallout from disasters. Without long-term investment focused on growth and rejuvenation, areas that are past sites of disasters will continue to be the point of origin for IDPs. A greater focus on disaster relief also allows NGOs and nonprofits more room for involvement since disaster relief is an area where many consider these groups legitimate actors and encourage their participation.

Solutions

In 2016, USAID launched a five-year plan and a call to action to help irregular migrants in East Asia and the Pacific. The first year, $12 million went to strengthening collaboration across the borders of “source, transit and destination countries.” USAID is working to reduce human trafficking, which irregular migrants often fall victim to due to the lack of resources to protect them. Similar to EGRIS, USAID is collecting data to help discover even more effective ways to help irregular migrants. In its first year working in Cambodia, direct assistance went to 250 victims of human trafficking. Furthermore, in the vein of disaster relief, 5,400 deportees from Thailand received emergency assistance from USAID; 140 of those deportees were also victims of human trafficking.

By reframing the narrative around irregular migration and displacement to better reflect the root causes that contribute to the issue, the nonprofit and aid sectors can create better policies that will not only treat the symptoms of migration and displacement but ultimately reduce the push factors that lead to irregular migration in the first place.

– Matthew Cantwell McCormick
Photo: Flickr

water insecurity in south sudan
South Sudan has been in a civil war since December 2013. As a result, millions uproot themselves and thousands die. Essential resources are scarce, particularly for the most vulnerable people. Specifically, water insecurity in South Sudan is a major crisis within the country. Moreover, this water insecurity permeates both the lack of drinking water and essential water for sanitation.

The South Sudanese Conflict

South Sudan’s people are currently engaged in a civil war between the government (led by President Salva Kiir) and the opposition rebels — led by former Vice President Riek Machar. The country splits along ethnic lines, which primarily determine where support lies. That is to say, the president is supported by the Dinka and the former vice president’s opposition forces, supported by the Nuer.

The conflict results in major displacement, creating internally displaced persons (IDPs) and casualties throughout the country. Due to this displacement, regular access to living resources and basic services, such as healthcare and education, have been greatly diminished. Of the displaced persons, it is estimated that 40% are adults and 60% are children.

A consequence of the conflict: 7.2 million people require humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, 3.7 million people displaced — 383,000 people have died and 1.8 million children are unable to attend school.

Does the Conflict Affect Access to Resources like Water?

In short, yes. The continued violence and inability to secure stable conditions with access to utilities like clean water and sanitation have caused a major water insecurity crisis in South Sudan. The water crisis specifically presents major issues for civilian populations, including a lack of water for infectious disease prevention.

USAID outlines the extent of limited access to water in South Sudan, as a result of the conflict. The organization estimates that only about 34% of people in rural areas have access to water. Given that 84% of the nation lives in rural areas, this statistic quite alarming. Additionally, 90% of those living in poverty reside in rural areas with the aforementioned, limited (or lack of) access to water. This affects vulnerable populations like IDPs, women and children. Furthermore, it hinders their ability to ensure basic health needs like hydration and prevention of infectious diseases like cholera, hepatitis E and Guinea worm disease (GWD).

Weaponizing Water

Infrastructure specifically used for water access systems has been a major resource that the warring parties target in attempts to harm the opposition forces, both military and civilian. To destroy their enemies’ access to water is to debilitate their ability to recover. Equally important, targeting water sources puts severe pressure on the civilians whom an adversary protects. Women in South Sudan particularly feel the effects of this strategy as it can take days to get to a safe source of drinking water. Women are the primary “water fetchers,” but the journey to water sources leaves them extremely vulnerable to death by starvation or thirst (during these on-foot trips). Worse still is the fact that women traveling into rural areas amid the country’s conflict puts them at risk of being killed or assaulted.

Water Insecurity, Nutrition and Disease Prevention

South Sudan’s resource security crises reveal how internal conflicts within countries do not just affect the warring parties or military; they affect civilians, infrastructure and public health alike. Water insecurity in South Sudan, especially, is one of the many resource insecurity crises that should remain a priority of USAID. The crisis shares an intimate connection to nutrition and disease prevention; addressing it will likely have multiple benefits for the citizens of South Sudan.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr