Time to think of our displaced people

Editorial

WHILE we watch the unfolding of the Manus refugee saga, as Papua New Guineans we also have to look inwards to see how thousands of our local people are suffering a similar fate.
Although not falling into the legal definition of refugees, our Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) suffer just as much by being forced to live in protracted displacement with limited access to land and services.
An internally displaced person is one who has been forced to flee one’s home, for whatever reason, but remains within one’s own country borders.
As of November 2014, about 22,500 of our people have been put in this situation because of conflict or natural disaster.
Two thirds of internally displaced people have been displaced by natural hazards, and the rest by conflict.  In many areas, natural disasters, conflict, violence and development projects often coincide to create an environment conducive to displacement.
The majority of those displaced by conflict and disaster live in Madang and Morobe.
For Madang, the displaced are the Manam islanders who have been living in care centres after having been forced off their island because of volcanic eruptions, the first of which was in November 2004 – when 9000 were moved out.
After returning to their island, they were forced out again this year because of new volcanic activities.
For them, life at the care centres has not been easy, with daily struggles of food shortage made worse by security issues caused by ethnic clashes with the mainlanders, which have forced some to return prematurely to the island.
A conservative estimate puts the number of people displaced by violence in 2014 at 1200.
Since the statistics came out, more people have been displaced because of tribal conflicts.
Data collection on the number and needs of IDPs is a major challenge in the absence of a clear definition, and weak disaster monitoring and data collection systems.
Sadly though, IDPs are not recognised as a distinct category of affected people with specific protection or assistance needs, and their numbers are not captured in disaster assessments.
Nearly all of them are living in protracted displacement, having been displaced for between four to10 years and having been unable to return home or successfully find other durable solutions.
Around 85 per cent of the displaced are living in government-established IDPs camps, officially termed “care centres”, while the remaining are living with host families.
Prolonged displacement in camps is often accompanied by a deterioration of living conditions, with IDPs increasingly left on their own to meet their basic needs and sustain themselves.
Tension with host communities has sometimes erupted into conflict over land and resources, putting IDPs at risk of violence and, sometimes,  secondary displacement.  The fact that almost all land is held under customary tenure complicates efforts to provide land for those who choose not to return home.
Lack of food, clean water and adequate sanitary facilities and reduced access to healthcare is a major problem both in the IDPs camps and among the host communities.
Lack of funding, capacity and political will, hamper the search for durable solutions.
To effectively address the needs of IDPs the government must make internal displacement a priority and recognise it as both a humanitarian and development concern.
The Government must increase the involvement of the international community to help increase visibility on issues around internal displacement.

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