UN expert urges greater help for 26 million displaced people worldwide

13 March 2009

Over 26 million people have been uprooted by natural disasters and conflicts worldwide, a United Nations independent expert said today, urging bolstered efforts to address urgent displacement crises.

“There is an urgent need for the international community to pay more attention to some of the worst crisis situations,” Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), said, citing Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan as being among the worst-affected countries.

In Somalia, over 1.3 million people have been forced from their homes and are “struggling to survive in a void created by the absence of functioning State authorities that could protect them,” he said after briefing the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

These IDPs face life-threatening situations given their lack of access to water, food and health services, the expert added.

In nearby Sudan, nearly 5 million people – including 2.7 IDPs – have been impacted by hostilities in the war-torn Darfur region and rely on humanitarian aid.

Mr. Kälin voiced his concern over the Sudanese Government’s recent decision to expel 13 major international aid organizations and revoke the licenses of three national non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The decision came last week, immediately after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.

“We could see a humanitarian catastrophe in the region,” the Special Representative noted, stressing that due to the Government’s decision, “the rights of large numbers of internally displaced persons to life, food, water and the highest attainable standard of health may be gravely affected.”

Regarding the conflict in Sri Lanka, where many civilians are trapped by fighting between the Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Mr. Kälin called on both sides to do their utmost to prevent civilian casualties.

He also appealed to the Government and rebels to allow civilians to evacuate the conflict zone in the island nation’s north.

The expert urged the Government to provide all IDPs – who, as citizens, retain their right to freedom of movement and should not be confined to camps – with necessary protection and assistance.

Also driving displacement is climate change, which threatens to increase the frequency and severity of natural disasters, leading to ever-greater numbers of IDPs, he said. “Governments have to make a greater effort to prepare for natural disasters and, in particular, to protect disaster-affected populations, including the displaced.”

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