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World: Report Highlights Ongoing Plight Of Internally Displaced Persons

Prague, 10 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- There are 3 million internally displaced people (IDPs) still living in Europe. That's the conclusion of a report prepared for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) by the Geneva-based Global IDP Project. The Global IDP Project is a leading watchdog group monitoring the situation of IDPs in more than 50 countries.

The IDP Project says that, in many cases, the end of active conflicts has led to a fall in aid to displaced people because governments assume people will take advantage of the regular welfare systems in their countries.

According to Christophe Beau of the Global IDP project, internal displacement remains a major concern in the OSCE -- for humanitarian, human rights, and security reasons.

Beau told RFE/RL that a large share of IDPs continue to live in collective centers, have no land to cultivate, no access to other income-generating activities, and face discrimination in gaining access to public services.

"There are still 3 million people displaced. And these people have been displaced for many years now in the Caucasus, in Southeastern Europe, in Turkey. It's more than 10 years now that these people have been away from their homes. And their prospects for return are very slim. And while these people are waiting for their return, these people are living in destitution, as second-class citizens," Beau said.

Meanwhile, Beau pointed out, returnees often face discrimination and economic problems. "In a two-year time, there's been a decrease of 700,000 people removed from the IDP statistics. But we still feel that there is a need of attention," he said. "First, because the 700,000 people, we assume they have returned, but we know from human rights reports that the return process has been very delicate and that these people continue to live in very precarious conditions. They are under threat for their physical or personal security, [and] they continue to live in destitution."

In Russia, Beau noted that human rights observers in Russia are concerned that people are being returned to Chechnya against their will. "The Russian authorities are claiming that there are more people returning to Chechnya. But we know from human rights observers -- local observers on the ground -- that people have not been returning as voluntarily as one could wish. And the conditions in areas of return in Chechnya are extremely dangerous for people returning. The violence is still there. There are still abductions going on and impunity, as well, is prevailing," Beau said.

Beau said that internal displacement is a serious threat to security inside the countries but also between neighbors. For instance, in Bosnia, he said, internal refugees who are occupying houses owned by people who have fled to Croatia prevent them from recovering their property and returning. This situation represents a source of tension between the two states.

The report says 1 million of Turkey's Kurds were forced from their homes between 1994 and 1999, representing the largest displaced population in the OSCE region.

In Azerbaijan, the report says, about 575,000 people are still away from their homes -- almost 10 years after a cease-fire was signed with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Other countries with large internally displaced populations include Bosnia, Georgia, Russia, and Serbia and Montenegro.

(The full report is available on the Internet at