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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – June 3, 2002: Internally Displaced Persons - 2002-05-31

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

The word “refugee” describes a person who flees his or her own country because of violence, natural tragedies or political problems. However, many people do not know about “internally displaced persons” or I-D-P’s. I-D-P’s are driven from their homes for the same reasons as refugees. Yet, they do not leave their native countries or cross international borders.

The United States Committee for Refugees estimates there are about fifteen-million refugees around the world. The number of internally displaced persons is much higher, as many as twenty-five-million. Supporters of these homeless victims are trying to increase public knowledge about their problem.

When large numbers of refugees cross into other countries, their arrival usually results in large amounts of international aid. The receiving country will often ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for help in the emergency. Other U-N agencies and the International Red Cross may also be asked to help. These relief groups help set up camps, hand out food and give emergency health care to victims.

Yet, it is often difficult for relief organizations to help I-D-P’s. Their crisis rarely gets international consideration. The victims often go unprotected and receive little help because international refugee laws do not apply to them. In fact, sometimes governments try to keep aid agencies out because they do not want to show any weakness.

The Global I-D-P Project estimates about four-million internally displaced people live in both Angola and Sudan. There are about two-million I-D-P’s in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the Americas, Colombia has the most displaced people with more the two-million. Indonesia leads the list for Asia with as many as two-million I-D-P’s.

In Nineteen-Fifty-One, the United Nations Refugee Convention clearly defined refugees and demanded that they be protected. There is no similar document defining internally displaced people. The U-N has released a guide that describes how I-D-P’s should be treated. The document offers a set of rules for governments and non-governmental organizations to follow in their efforts to help displaced people. Yet, countries are not required to follow them. International aid organizations hope this changes soon.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.