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Figures and causes
The decrease in the number of IDPs observed in 2011 in south and south-east Asia continued in 2012. Around 4.1 million people were internally displaced as of the end of the year as a result of internal armed conflict, violence and human rights violations, down nearly 5.5 per cent from 4.3 million a year earlier.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and India had the highest number of reported IDPs, accounting for more than a third of the region’s displaced population. In many countries, the counting and profiling of IDPs was complicated by their high level of mobility and lack of effective monitoring mechanisms. In addition, flawed registration systems also tend to exclude both IDPs outside official camps and those who do not fall within often narrow official definitions of what constitutes an IDP. Camp closures and premature deregistration also meant IDPs were often removed from official statistics and denied further assistance, despite not having achieved a durable solution. Internal armed conflict between government forces and non-state armed groups (NSAGs) was the main cause of conflict-induced displacement in India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and in the region as a whole. In some of these countries, and in Bangladesh, the violence was between ethnic and religious groups or clans competing for land, resources and political power. Some countries, notably Myanmar and the Philippines, made significant progress towards the peaceful settlement of long-standing conflicts, but it tended not to end displacement.
At least 1.4 million people were newly displaced in the region during 2012. Several waves of inter-communal violence displaced up to 500,000 people in India’s north-eastern Assam state, while military operations against NSAGs in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) forced about 412,000 people to flee. In the Philippines, at least 178,000 people fled clashes between government forces and NSAGs in Mindanao and clan violence affecting mainly Muslim-majority areas. An estimated 166,000 people were newly displaced in Myanmar, most of them by inter-communal violence pitting Rakhine against Rohingya and other Muslim minorities in Rakhine state. In Afghanistan, an estimated 100,400 people were reportedly displaced, though the true figure is thought to be far higher. Most fled armed conflict between pro-government forces and the Taliban and widespread conflict-related violence.
Patterns of displacement varied considerably, with the nature of the violence and the availability of protection and assistance influencing how far people fled and for how long. In most cases, IDPs aimed to find safety for their families while remaining as close as possible to their property to facilitate their return. Some sought refuge with friends and relatives or host communities and managed to return within a few days or weeks. In other cases, persistent insecurity and the loss of property and traditional livelihoods forced IDPs to remain in camps or attempt, often unsuccessfully, to integrate with their host communities.
Throughout the region, relative security and better job prospects and basic services encouraged some IDPs to seek refuge in cities, where most settled in informal settlements, often squatting on private or state owned land. Protracted urban dis-
placement was a particular concern in Afghanistan, where local authorities were reluctant to recognise urban IDPs. In contrast, relatively well-off IDPs from Nepal’s Terai region and southern Thailand found it relatively easy to integrate in their countries’ major cities.
Over 14 million people were newly displaced by sudden-onset disasters in the same conflict-affected countries in the region. Disasters often increase the vulnerability of IDPs already displaced by conflict and violence, and in some cases it was hard to distinguish one clear cause of displacement.
Armed conflict, harassment and intimidation by NSAGs and state forces, unexploded ordnance and restricted freedom of movement put IDPs at risk of injury and death. In the Philippines, counter-insurgency operations against the New People’s Army (NPA) were reportedly accompanied by human rights violations, including the extra-judicial killing of indigenous people suspected of supporting the rebels. In Assam, IDPs living in camps in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District were reportedly at risk of attacks. There were concerns of a severe humanitarian crisis in Rakhine, where tens of thousands of displaced Rohingya had no access to health care, clean water, proper shelter or food. In Indonesia’s Papua province, people displaced by military operations in Keerom district in July 2012 reportedly hid in the jungle for months, surviving on what little food they could collect. In Afghanistan, worrying numbers of IDPs were food insecure, with more than half spending over 90 per cent of their income on food.
In Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Philippines, displaced children were at risk of child labour, trafficking and forced recruitment. Limited livelihood options, particularly in urban areas, left displaced women and girls at risk of forced and early marriage and other forms of gender-based violence. Female-headed households were particularly vulnerable. In Pakistan, many women hold no national identity card, which is required for female-headed households to access most humanitarian assistance. The need to ensure purdah, or honour, also restricts women’s access to food distribution points, information and basic services.
Prospects for durable solutions
Around 261,000 people were reported to have returned to their homes during 2012. The true figure, however, is thought to be higher, as people often return in small groups or individually and such movements tend to go unreported. Most returns involved people displaced for just a few weeks or months, but in the Philippines a number of IDPs living in more protracted displacement went back to their homes in Central Mindanao thanks to improved security and a government-sponsored return and recovery programme. In Pakistan, the government declared a number of areas in FATA clear of armed groups, and voluntary repatriation programmes were undertaken. Nearly 60,000 people reportedly returned in 2012, but - as was often also the case elsewhere - it was unclear whether the process was sustainable.
Persistent insecurity, damage or destruction of housing, the slow restoration of basic services and infrastructure, unresolved land and property issues and a lack of livelihood opportunities were all major obstacles to returns across the region, and in many cases prevented them outright. In Sri Lanka, the military’s ongoing occupation of land in conflict-affected areas was a case in point. Throughout the region, governments continued to largely prioritise return over other settlement options such as local integration or settlement elsewhere. In countries such as Nepal or Afghanistan, where the majority of IDPs do not wish to return to their places of origin, there is an urgent need to support alternative settlement options to return, in particular, local integration.
Peace processes, which in recent years have enabled many IDPs to return, remained incomplete in many cases, and few countries made progress in ensuring accountability for displacement-related human rights abuses. Governments in Bangladesh, East Timor, Indonesia and Nepal largely failed to follow up on their commitments to ensure truth, justice and reparation for victims of conflict, including IDPs, and their families.
Most governments made significant efforts, often with the support of the international community, to meet IDPs’ immediate needs and so avert humanitarian crises. Responses, however, were often ad-hoc and poorly coordinated, and based on a shortterm humanitarian approach. Other obstacles included poor governance and a lack of state resources.
Effective humanitarian responses were hampered by access restrictions, whether imposed by governments - as in Indonesia (Papua) - or caused by insecurity, as in Afghanistan and Myanmar. The Indian government still refuses to acknowledge the existence of internal displacement as a result of conflict and violence.
Many countries have yet to develop comprehensive legal frameworks or policies to guarantee IDPs’ rights. Progress was made, however, in the Philippines, where congress enacted the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Act in February 2013. In Afghanistan, the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation initiated the development of a national policy on IDPs. Both the UN and civil society organisations criticised the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, which was adopted in November, for a lack of transparency and consultation during the drafting process, and the fact that it challenges the principle that human rights are universal by making respect for them subject to national laws.
The UN and the broader international community supported most governments of the region in their efforts to assist and protect IDPs. There is recognition that humanitarian relief alone will not address IDPs’ needs, but a gap between humanitarian and development interventions remains. In Sri Lanka, where many UN agencies and NGOs are phasing out their humanitarian programmes, it is unclear whether the development sector will include people affected by displacement in development strategies.
A steep decline in humanitarian funding in some countries and a low level of support for early recovery initiatives in others further undermined the overall response and were major obstacles to IDPs achieving durable solutions. In Afghanistan, humanitarian funding dropped by 50 per cent in 2012. In Pakistan, the government had still not adopted an early recovery assistance framework for FATA as of the end of 2012, so limiting funds for projects in many return areas.