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Christian Aid: Use force to help displaced people

17 May 2007

by Rachel Harden

A new home? A young girl at the Ee Thu Hta camp for internally displaced people in eastern Burma. The camp was set up in 2006 for those escaping from offensives by the Burmese Army CHRISTIAN AID/ANJALI KWATRA

A new home? A young girl at the Ee Thu Hta camp for internally displaced people in eastern Burma. The camp was set up in 2006 for those escaping from ...

British preoccupations with asylum policies and climate change are in danger of overshadowing a much bigger problem in the developing world, said Christian Aid this week.

The charity’s new report, Human Tide: The real migration crisis, says that the number of people forced to flee their homes within their own country because of conflict or natural disaster is growing so rapidly that a migration crisis is almost inevitable. Climate change will only make this worse, and in some countries, such as Mali, it is already having an effect.

An estimated 155 million people in the developing world have already left their homes to escape war or ethnic persecution, or have had their homes destroyed by natural disasters or development projects. The Christian Aid report says that the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is expected to rise to one billion by 2050. This will eclipse the number of people displaced after the Second World War.

The report criticises the domestic focus on migration and those seeking asylum in the UK, saying that the real crisis in the developing world has gone “largely unnoticed”. The authors describe the displaced people as “voiceless”: they are the problem of their own governments, which are often responsible for the people’s plight in the first place.

“The danger is that this new forced migration will fuel existing conflicts and generate new ones in the areas of the world — the poorest — where resources are most scarce. Movement on this scale has the potential to destabilise whole regions where increasingly desperate populations compete for dwindling food and water.”

The current situation in Darfur, in Sudan, where two million people have fled their homes because of the conflict, is given as an example. It stands “as the starkest of warnings about what the future could bring”. But the report also highlights case studies from other developing countries, in which the situation is just as bad, but where there has been less media focus.

Colombia is second only to Sudan for its number of IDPs. These people were originally forced to move by guerrillas and militias involved in a long civil war. Now their land is being used to make way for plantations to produce palm oil.

In Mali, the report says that the threat from climate change is more immediate. “Erratic and declining levels of rainfall mean dramatically declining crop yields — and people have to move in order to earn the money to feed their families.”

In Burma, ethnic-minority groups, such as the Karen, have been subject to years of displacement and persecution. The Burmese government, the report says, is now using the space created by their displacement to plan dams and other large-scale developments, including palm-oil plantations. This leads to further “vicious forced displacement”.

Christian Aid has called on the international community to redouble efforts to help displaced people all over the world, using force if necessary. “Armed force, when properly mandated by the international community, is sometimes essential to protect people from rape, torture and murder,” the report says.

Dennis McNamara, special adviser to the UN emergency-relief co-ordinator, welcomed the report. He called for the problems of displaced people to be addressed urgently “both for humanitarian as well as political and security reasons”.

Human Tide: The real migration crisis is at www.christian-aid.org.uk

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