This letter to the editor originally appeared in the New York Times on January 14, 2011.
President Obama is right to draw attention to the need for managing refugee returns to southern Sudan and also addressing the plight of Darfurian refugees in Chad. But attention must also be paid to the far greater number of internally displaced persons, those forcibly uprooted within their own country.
More than one and a half million southern Sudanese long displaced in the north have returned to unsustainable conditions in the south. In the north, there remain at least another 1.5 million displaced southern Sudanese, and hundreds of thousands more are uprooted in the south by interethnic violence, while in Darfur, more than two million displaced persons have been languishing in destitute camps since 2004. One of the reasons for this oversight is that there is no clearly defined senior focal point in the United States government for those internally displaced — not in the State Department, the United States Mission to the United Nations or the Agency for International Development.
A 2004 internally displaced persons policy of the United States aid agency is unknown to most of the government and is not uniformly applied. With all the Obama administration’s reorganization of humanitarian and development offices, it is time to ensure that the 27 million internally displaced persons in the world uprooted by conflict and human rights abuse receive their fair share of attention.