Internally Displaced Persons – A Multifaceted Dilemma

Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris Former Brookings Expert, Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration - Georgetown University

April 27, 2007

Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Horn of Africa are a disparate group. Some have been displaced for many years, while others are hoping to soon return to their communities, and still others were forced to flee their homes last week. The situation of displacement in the region is a dynamic and complicated one. While there is considerable awareness of the situation of those displaced by the violence in Darfur, few people outside the region are aware that there are still Ethiopians displaced from the 1998 Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict – even after the peace agreement was signed almost seven years ago – or that over 150,000 Somali refugees have been living in Kenya for more than five years.

The displacement of people in the Horn of Africa is the human consequence of the conflicts and political repression taking place in the region. It can only be resolved by negotiating and implementing peace agreements. In the meantime, governments in the region have a responsibility to protect those who are displaced, whether they are internally displaced or have fled across borders in search of protection.

Ultimately, of course, the solution for displaced people in the Horn of Africa depends on the establishment of peace, justice, and security. But this is a long-term process and until those conditions are achieved, there is an urgent need to ensure that the basic human rights of the millions of uprooted people in the region are addressed. This is a fundamental responsibility of governments – whether the task is protecting the human rights of one’s own displaced citizens or upholding the basic right of all human beings to seek asylum in another country.