Speaking Up for Asia's Internally Displaced

Women and children face discrimination, violence, broken families

T. Kumar, Dawn Calabia and Roberta Cohen speaking on the issue of internally displaced persons in Washington on May 9, 2011. (Asia Society Washington Center)

WASHINGTON DC, May 9, 2011 - The challenges faced by the more than four million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Asia were laid out in stark terms here by a panel of experts convened by the Asia Society.

Roberta Cohen, Nonresident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, described the lives of IDPs this way:

"Displaced [people] suffer a loss of identification, social networks, access to basis services... [they] become easy targets for abuse, sexual exploitation, discrimination, physical attacks, rape, trafficking and recruitment into armed forces... higher rates of mortality-maternal and infant and higher rates of malnutrition.

"Even worse, most situations of displacement are retracted, they go on five years or more. Even a decade after, they remain vulnerable in ways unlike the rest of the population."

Too often, lack of government support leaves IDPs forgotten and their issues unaddressed. Dawn Calabia, Senior Advisor at Refugees International, focused on the issues facing individuals in Afghanistan, a place where a lack of government involvement, or even interest, has hurt IDP populations drastically.

T. Kumar, Director of International Advocacy at Amnesty International USA, discussed the traumatic toll that displacement has on children, who are frequently left with little to no medical support, no educational outlet and a broken family unit. Often, he said, these children are trafficked, abused or turned into child soldiers.

According to the panel of experts, the hard work done monitoring, raising awareness of, aiding and educating IDP communities by civil society has contributed to vast improvements and progress. However, consistent support and pressure from international organizations are needed to really make a lasting difference for the future of IDPs worldwide.

Reported by Kenisha Marks, Asia Society Washington