R Bhatia and L N Richardson, United Nations World
Food Programme, Rome, Italy
© 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Since World War II, more than 100 million people have been forced to flee persecution or the violence of war to seek refuge in neighboring countries or in a different areas of their own countries. The optimism following the end of the Cold War was shortlived because an epidemic of civil conflicts erupted in several areas of the world. In 1993, 47 conflicts were active, of which 43 were internal. Armed conflicts have increasingly affected civilian populations, resulting in high mortality, widespread human rights abuses, forced migration, famine, and total collapse of governance in some countries.
The 1951 United Nations Convention defines refugees as "any person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to fear is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of the country.'' In 1969, the Organization of African Unity expanded this definition to include persons fleeing from war, civil disturbance, and violence of any kind.
'Refugees' cross international borders, but 'internally displaced persons' (IDPs) do not. However, both groups have been forced to leave their homes and undergo physical and mental trauma as they settle in harsh and unhealthy environments, where they are often unable to take responsibility for their own welfare. The terms refugee and internally displaced persons have major implications for the people concerned, particularly regarding their rights to protection and assistance, which are embedded in international law. The United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated by the international community to protect and provide assistance to refugees. Due to state sovereignty, the internally displaced are not included within UNCHR's mandate. Only on an ad hoc basis, at the request of the secretary general of the United
Nations and the nation concerned, does UNHCR provide assistance to IDPs.
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