Priyanca Mathur Velath
[a member of APRRN, IASFM and an alumni of the CRG Winter Course on Forced Migration, Velath is currently completing her doctoral thesis on the rights of development-induced displaced persons in India at CSLG/J.N.U, New Delhi]
The dilemma in forced migration studies, of whether refugees and IDPs are distinct and if the former is ‘more’ in need of protection, is perhaps jinxed to remain unresolved. But growing out of it are equally, if not more, pressing concerns like what is protection and who needs it. Who needs it most and who slips through the gaps? Can’t protection needs be minimised through preventive mechanisms? Can a community approach address refugee needs better? While refugees are entitled to rights as they ‘vote through their feet’ and flee into a country outside that of their nationality, IDPs continue to crave for rights within the borders of their own country. While their protection needs may get highlighted, often the R&R needs of those internally displaced by ‘developmental’ projects get neglected. Thus this issue of RWO tries to sew together a tapestry of four diverse key concepts - ‘child migrants’, ‘preventive mechanism’, ‘IDP policy’ and ‘community approach’.
Glebova’s article draws attention to the unfortunate plight of child migrants in the Caribbean who slip through the gaps in the legal protection framework and become ‘invisible’ to rights. They become doubly neglected as they reside in a region where low asylum numbers makes migration an issue of lesser national importance. She rightly highlights that “there is still very little research on measuring the impact of migration on families and their children, whether in the Caribbean or worldwide.” The tragic irony is that all Caribbean states have ratified the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) making it legally binding on their territory but its effective implementation is lagging behind. Issues crucial to these migrant children are access to education and health care, particularly the unaccompanied ones who are not just denied access to legal and practical assistance, but also at times detained in places of institutional care. What is of particular concern is that “unaccompanied children can be wrongly considered to be adult undocumented migrants, and deported without exercising their right to seek asylum, and without regard for the rights of the child”.
Jeyaprakash revives the importance of stressing on the preventive mechanism in displacement dynamics. Today when the world around us erupts sporadically with ‘new’ refugee situations like that arising out of Libya, Jeyaprakash’s attempt to push our attention to the need to look at ‘prevention’ has value in making us question if these conditions could have been averted. Despite the fact that recent research, as he notes, has shown that “conceptual fragility” and “internal inconsistencies” continues to plague the concept of prevention, leading it to even being termed as an “impractical idea”. He argues that the rise in the refugee trend and a worst voluntary repatriation scenario stress clearly the need and the importance of prevention policies. “We cannot deny the need for including prevention concerns in displacement dialectics because of the fact that each and every reality has an assignable cause. This causal knowledge leads to prevention.”
Dahal’s article revives the old argument that even though estimates of the number of IDPs are said to be controversial due to debates over definitions as well as methodological and practical problems in counting, it is widely held that because of new forms of conflict, among other reasons, estimates of IDPs are now greater than those associated with refugees. He focuses on the famous Deng UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and through that lens examines the IDP policy of the Himalayan state of Nepal, where conflict-induced displacement is relatively a new phenomenon. Quoting the UN, Dahal points out that human rights problems and violations faced by IDPs in Nepal are related to a number of factors, including poor security and protection; discrimination; inadequate food, shelter, health care or access to education for children; a lack of personal and property identification documents; and gender-based violence, sexual abuse and increased domestic violence. He also notes the deleterious impact such forced migration has on children in Nepal. Besides, crucial observations that emerge from his piece are that in Nepal the legal identity of every IDP and the integrated rehabilitation programs has not yet been specified. Moreover, displaced persons fear to go back to their place of origin without any guarantee of life or the ability to make a living. According to various sources, up to 70,000 IDPs in Nepal do not want to return to their native areas due to fears about security and discrimination as well as housing, land and property restitution. “This is a problem because IDP National Policy only provides support to those IDPs who are willing to return”.
The article sent by the UNHCR Office discusses the community based approach to refugee protection adopted by them in Delhi, one that is based on the principle of ‘helping refugees to help themselves’. Community building between refugees and the host population in the long run also encourages local integration as a possible durable solution. Such an approach supports refugees and asylum seekers in re-establishing familiar cultural patterns and support structures to work together in exercising and enjoying their human rights. (UNHCR: 2008) In fact the UNHCR’s 2009 policy on refugee protection and solutions in urban areas emphasises on community orientation as one of the key principles. “To ensure the best possible use of its limited resources, UNHCR has gradually shifted away from an individual assistance to a community based approach by targeting assistance to those refugees and asylum seekers most in need, including unaccompanied and separated children, single women, female headed households, the elderly, the infirm and persons with disabilities.” One does hope that in the end such a participatory model of refugee protection helps to build and restore a sense of ‘community’ among otherwise dispersed refugee groups in a complex urban setting like New Delhi.
Finally in our section on Reports, Nandakishor critically analyses the proceedings of a recently held conference on ‘Displacement and Rehabilitation: Solutions for the Future’. He puts forth the key discussion points that emerged on sessions that were held on varied issues like Displacement and Livelihood’, ‘Gender, Ethnicity Indigenous Communities and R& R issues’, ‘Rehabilitation Policy and Implementation Issues’,‘ Civil Society and Corporate Bodies’, and ‘Displacement and People’s Response’. Some commendable suggestions are that displaced families be resettled in the spirit of ‘community transplanted’ so that the displaced will fell less culturally alienated; wider dissemination of the land acquisition notices; formation of evaluation committees that should comprise of stakeholders, academia, civil society and government representatives; consultation and participation of affected groups/individuals; resettlement sites to be fully developed prior to relocation; compulsory employment for one member of every displaced family; and efforts to address ‘psychological’ trauma associated with displacement etc.
We shall look forward to your responses and further contributions.