Nils Muižnieks: Europe’s war victims need help

More than two million war victims in Europe live in poverty and are need international assistance, according to human rights commissioner Nils Muižnieks.

He describes these internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a 2.8 million strong “lost generation” which is “utterly powerless, surviving but not really existing.”

In an article published today, the commissioner writes: “In addition to substandard housing, IDPs are often destitute with limited access to health services, education, or employment.

“Many are traumatised and remain vulnerable to violence and abuse. Most cannot return to their places of origin because the underlying conflict which led to their flight has not been resolved. Those who try to return are faced with a real threat of persecution.

“The largest number of IDPs, around 1 million, live in Turkey and are the victims of armed conflict and violence by state and non-state forces in areas inhabited mainly by the Kurdish minority.

“Elsewhere in Europe, the vast majority of IDPs were displaced by conflicts when the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia disintegrated more than two decades ago, and more recently, as a result of the 2008 conflict in Georgia. Thus, Azerbaijan has about 600 000 IDPs, Georgia – 274 000, Serbia – 225 000, Bosnia and Herzegovina – 113 000, with the remainder in other Balkan states, Armenia and Russia.

Commissioner Muižnieks (photo) emphasises that the IDPs have rights. “As the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation 2006(6) on internally displaced persons has underlined, IDPs are entitled to enjoy the entire spectrum of human rights, without discrimination.

“Numerous international instruments, notably the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, assert in particular the right of IDPs to return to their homes (if they still exist) in safety and dignity on a voluntary basis and/or to receive reparation. These rights have been recognised in a number of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (e.g. Loizidou v. Turkey 1996, Khamidov v. Russia 2007, and Saghinadze and Others v. Georgia 2010).

“More often, however, their best hope is for integration into their new places of residence or resettlement elsewhere.”

He urges governments to address “all aspects of displacement in a timely and effective manner.

“States should take measures to prevent internal displacement. They should improve the quality of their response to the situation of IDPs and respect their obligation to ensure access to humanitarian aid, where the states themselves are unable to provide relief.

“It is imperative to develop durable and sustainable solutions to displacement.”

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