As an American Indian, I am particularly sensitive to the plight of men, women and children uprooted from their homes. Whether due to conflict, disaster or other causes, the displaced cling to the hope that they will one day be able to return home. For some the cruel reality is that there is no home to which to return. For others months of waiting have turned to years. Still others are forced to return before the conditions are in place for their safety and other basic necessities. This is the human dimension of internally displaced persons--a term of art which somehow seems sterile given the pain, suffering and hardship of the people designated as IDPs.
The Caucasus and Southern Anatolia reportedly contain the largest concentration of internally displaced persons in the OSCE region today. Largely as a result of conflicts in Chechnya, Georgia, Azerbaijan and southeastern Turkey, their numbers have grown to an estimated 1.4 million people. Having not crossed an international boundary, IDPs are not afforded the same protections as refugees under international law, and thus the displaced for the most part remain the responsibility of their national governments. These governments, however, have been largely unable or unwilling to meet the needs of this segment of society.
The situation is particularly alarming in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation where the most egregious violations continue in war torn Chechnya. The displaced who fled Chechnya to camps in Ingushetia and other neighboring provinces suffer under government harassment and, according to reliable sources are being pressured into returning to Chechnya prematurely. Where IDP camps in Ingushetia have not already been closed, local authorities have threatened to block food rations or access to electrical power if residents remain. Those who attempt to return encounter continued fighting and lack even basic necessities. Notwithstanding President Putin’s assurances that no IDPs will be forced to return to Chechnya against their will, I remain deeply concerned that displaced persons are in fact being pressured to return.
The prospects for displaced elsewhere in the Caucasus region--Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia--remain dim amid long-standing and unresolved political disputes. Despite the frozen nature of these conflicts, Azerbaijan and Georgia have tended to treat their displaced as temporary occurrences, making no permanent accommodations for them elsewhere within these countries. In addition, international aid is dwindling, forcing more IDPs into below-subsistence living conditions. Alternative resettlement programs for these populations are desperately needed.
In southeastern Turkey, with the security situation steadily improving, the opportunity exists for thousands of displaced persons, mainly Kurds, to return home. But this population faces inadequate and arbitrary return programs, hindering the ability for large scale returns. The Turkish Government should ensure that the return process is transparent and thus facilitate the timely return of civilians to the region.
Today’s hearing draws attention to the plight of men, women and children dispossessed and displaced through circumstances beyond their control. More than a million people wait to return to a place they call home. Meanwhile, it is the responsibility of individual participating States and the international community to meet the needs of these individuals while working to create the conditions necessary for their return in safety and dignity.