(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Focus on IDPs

[Nepal] Hari Prasad Gautam and his wife Bed Maya are examples of how IDPs have been neglected both by the government and international community.
IRIN

Hari Prasad Gautam is too old to find a regular job, working instead as a wage labourer in a brick factory or construction site in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. But the 70-year old is now too weak and his health is deteriorating.

Two years ago, he was shot and attacked by Maoist militants who left him for dead in remote Lohanpur village in Ramechhap district, 150 km east of the capital. His only crime was not being able to pay the US $500 demanded of him by the rebels. The local police saved him by airlifting him to Kathmandu where he was hospitalised for almost six months.

"It still hurts a lot," Gautam told IRIN, showing the scars on his chest and legs. "I don't know how long I will survive," he added, looking worriedly at his 65-year old wife, Bed Maya. Until last year, he had received about $40 in monthly assistance from the government, but that too has stopped, leaving Gautam and his wife with no choice but to go door to door begging for food and clothes.

According to a study by the Community Study and Welfare Centre (CSWC), an NGO advocating the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nepal, over the last nine years of Maoist insurgency against the state somewhere between 350,000 to 400,000 Nepalese have been displaced from their villages.

Although the majority of IDPs have migrated to India or fled to urban centres and district headquarters of Nepal, over 60,000 villagers such as Gautam and Bed Maya take refuge in the capital. Most survive on a meagre income from working as wage labourers, domestic servants, stone grinders, brick porters and dish washers in small hotels.

So impoverished is the group, however, that many are forced to work just for their food, while a large number of girls and women are subject to sexual exploitation and abuse at the hands of their employers in restaurants, hotels and households.

"It was a mistake to come to the capital. There is nothing here for us," 52-year-old Buddhi Singh Bista told IRIN. Bista fled his village, Debasthal of Salyan district, 200 km west of Nepal, with his 13 family members after the Maoists seized his land and home.

He was asked to leave the village as he was unable to pay a "donation" of $1,500. All his family members are scattered in the country. He lives in Kathmandu with his wife and two teenage daughters, all of whom have started to sleep outside in a bus park. "We were living in a rented house but now we've run out of cash. I have nothing to sell now," said Bista, who was feeding his family and renting a home with the cash raised from selling his wife's jewellery.

And while Bista had hoped to start a new life in the capital after receiving compensation from the state, that too looks unlikely. He has been knocking on the doors of the Home Ministry for the past five years but as he has not been able to prove he was displaced by the Maoists, he has not received a penny.

[Nepal] Buddhi Singh Bista wants to go home and get back his property from the rebels who confiscated his property.

IRIN
[Nepal] Buddhi Singh Bista wants to go home and get back his property from the rebels who confiscated his property.
http://www.irinnews.org/
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
[Nepal] Buddhi Singh Bista wants to go home and get back his property from the rebels who confiscated his property.
Buddhi Singh Bista is afraid to return to his village

The authorities require all the papers from the local police station in his village but Bista doesn't have the money or the courage to travel back home. In 1998, the government had promised that it would compensate families whose relatives were killed or had lost their property to the rebels so they could start a new life. Until now, however, only a few families with political links with the previous government led by the Nepali Congress (NC) party and the Nepal Communist Party (UML) have been able to get full compensation.

"Most the families are living like beggars and starving," said Gopal Tamauli of the Maoist Victims' Association (MVA) who was shot and stabbed by a group of militants after refusing to join their party in the Banke district in the far west of Nepal, one of the worst rebel-hit areas. MVA was formed by a group of IDPs to help each other but many were scared to join the association after the rebels in Kathmandu shot dead the MVA leader, Ganesh Chiluwal, last year in his office, located in the centre of the capital.

COMPENSATION

"The government did try to take an initiative to help the IDPs but the problem was that it failed to have clear plans and the budget was insufficient," Dilli Ram Dhakal, an IDP specialist, told IRIN. "The first step it should have taken was to focus on providing relief materials and not just distributing money," Dhakal added.

Initially, the government established the Victims of Conflict Fund under which IDP families were entitled to nearly $1.3 per day but the problem was that many failed to provide proof that they were in fact IDPs and hence were excluded from state support. In 2004, the government announced that it had distributed nearly $56,000 to the families but IDP activists report that the fund was so haphazardly distributed that the money did not reach most of the IDPs.

"As far as I know, less than 50 people received about $20," said Tamauli from the victims' group MVA. The government finally formed a task force to provide relief to IDPs after a 20-day hunger strike by members of the MVA but the project has already failed to do anything.

"The IDPs face a humanitarian crisis and now the international community should offer some support to the suffering IDPs," remarked Dhakal. "We had so many seminars and pressurised the international organisations but none have taken any initiative so far," he claimed.

NO CLEAR PICTURE

One of the key obstacles for international relief agencies to support the IDPs in Nepal is that there is still no accurate picture or estimate of their numbers. Their population keeps fluctuating as most IDPs have been migrating to India for work. There is also a lack of a specific national policy about the IDPs.

"Nepal is still not a party to the international refugee treaty. We need a guiding principle on how to effectively deal with the IDP issue in the country," Dhaniram Sapkota, a protection officer of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), told IRIN. There should be a provision to provide the safe return of the IDPs and help them with psycho-social treatment, education and health facilities in areas where they are based, he added.

[Nepal] Gopal Tamauli of Maoist Victims' Association with a huge stack of letters from the IDPs requesting help from the government.

IRIN
[Nepal] Gopal Tamauli of Maoist Victims' Association with a huge stack of letters from the IDPs requesting help from the government...
http://www.irinnews.org/
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
[Nepal] Gopal Tamauli of Maoist Victims' Association with a huge stack of letters from the IDPs requesting help from the government...
Gopal Tamauli with a stack of letters from IDPs requesting help from the government

Meanwhile, as the member of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, the NHRC is working with the forum to start a pilot project to help IDPs throughout the country.

"We can also learn from other countries, especially Sri Lanka that has experience in dealing with IDPs. This is a very serious issue and we are working on it," Yagya Adhikari, head of the protection division of the NHRC, which is already working closely with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Red Cross Society to provide interim relief for displaced families, told IRIN.

The two relief agencies are already involved in providing blankets and food for IDPs sheltered in the camps set up by the government in Nepalganj and Surkhet in west Nepal, which house some of the largest numbers of IDPs.

"There is a need for programmes to protect and assist the IDPs by the UN and international agencies in the spirit of guidelines on internal displacement. The problem is getting acute and no more time should be wasted," suggested Dhakal. The UN guidelines launched in 1998 serve as an international instrument to guide governments in providing assistance and protection to IDPs.

The guidelines clearly state that "international humanitarian organisations and other appropriate actors have the right to offer their services in support of the internally displaced. Such an offer shall not be regarded as an unfriendly act or interference in a state's internal affairs."

Based on this, Kathmandu has already asked for the UN's support in this regard. The UN Coordination Unit (UNCT) in Nepal is also planning an initiative for humanitarian assistance of the IDPs.

"Although their numbers vary greatly, there is a growing number of IDPs in urban centres and district headquarters. And at the moment we are still gathering information about the IDPs and the assistance they need," Victoria Lund, IDP adviser of the UNCT, told IRIN. Nepal need protection and support programmes for them, she added.

A 2004 report by the IDP Project, run by Norwegian Refugee Council, sharply criticised the international relief organisations for not providing enough support to IDPs in Nepal. "Many UN agencies and international NGOs have been in Nepal for numerous years providing development-oriented assistance, but almost none provide humanitarian relief or target their assistance to IDPs," the report maintained.

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