Posted by: bklunk | October 22, 2006

A Classic Dilemma

Welcome to the blog, s-berg who makes this post.

What’s it like in a refugee camp?

In this blog, I would like to take a look at the living situations of refugees in refugee camps.  A New York-based organization put together a website [] that explains the situation that many refugees encounter once they flee their current situations. 

There are some interesting points about the life of a refugee that an international analysis would not look at.  First of all, refugee camps are usually set up very quickly, in an impromptu fashion by governments or NGOs.  They have very basic services that strive for little more than the survival of the refugees.  This means that food is often scarce, medical supplies are limited, and there is little communication equiptment.  Refugees therefore flee their homes for stark camps that give them little more than the tools for survival.  There is a need for more information services, since refugees are often not told about their rights guaranteed by the UNHCR.  These rights include a) the right to seek asylum; b) the right to be protected from violence or forced repatriation; c) the right to receive assistance (food, water, shelter, medical care); d) the right to a lasting solution, whether to return home when it is safe, to stay in the country of refuge, or to resettle in a third country. 

This final right to a lasting solution is one that people in refugee camps are not receiving, though there is work being done to find them something permanent.  The lasting solution, however, does not always provide an easy way for refugees to continue their lives.  It may mean moving around the world to a country whose language you don’t speak or whose culture you do not understand.  Although it is a wonderful thing when another country accepts a refugee for resettlement, the problems are only beginning, and years of struggles still lay ahead. 

The other major difficulty that many (21.3 million) face is taking refuge within their home country.  these people are called “internally displaced persons” (IDP) and they do not receive the same rights that refugees (those who take refuge outside of their own borders) receive.  Your goverment should protect these people, but it is often one of the major actors in whatevre violence caused them to leave their homes in the first place.  This means that food, shelter, and safety are not guaranteed by any outside body, just the state.  International law is not looking out for these people.  So, it looks like the only difference between IDPs and refugees is that refugees were able to cross a border, whereas IDPs were not, either because of the difficulties of travel or because of border security by the oppressors themselves. 

This structure of distinguishing between refugees and IDPs follows a very realist criteria.  While the UN has some jurisdiction on inter-state actions, it still has no control over what goes on inside any state.  If a corrupt government destroys a community AND has strong border patrols, not much can happen to them.  However, if a corrupt government destroys a community and does NOT have strong border patrols, they won’t get away with it as easily?  State sovereignty still seems to be the way of the world, even where humanitarian crises come into play.

In our Westphalian system even global responsibilities depend on the actions of individual states to be realized.  Global civil society and interngovernmental organizations can have an impact but ultimately must depend on states to act.


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  1. I find the information on the refugee camps extremely interesting and heartbreaking, especially the piece about how refugees have certain rights, however, internally displaced persons
    do not. It shouldn’t matter whether the people in harms way are on one side of the border or the other, either way they should be receiving aid. This is one of the reasons I believe that the U.N. needs to look at possibly changing the laws around sovereignty. There are millions of people being displaced and thousands murdered in Darfur, however, because the Sudanese Government won’t give the “O.K.” for U.N. troops and aid to move in the people remain helpless. We need to look for a reform on sovereignty. While states should be allowed to deal with their own internal issues, there are some issues that have figuratively spilled over the borders.

  2. I do not think that the UN needs to change its sovereignty laws in order to better provide aid. I do feel bad for the refugees who already coming out of a bad situation end up in another. I do not see how there is a enough funding however to support more necessities and communication systems. I think that the UN is in the right postition by not stepping over its boundaries. The UN has to uphold and respect this sovereignty laws. If this were allowed, then every case would give the UN the freedom to step in regardless of the state’s wishes. This could cause even more conflict and could eventually affect the UN’s capabilities in the long run. The UN is supposed to remain fairly neutral, and by forcing itself into a country to provide aid, I see more conflict arising.

  3. I think that it it is awful that refugees are taken from one bad situation and thrown into another. It is unforntunate that these people were placed into this situation, however I do not feel that by getting rid of state sovereignty this issue is going to be solved. Because whether or not the UN goes in to help these people with or without the countries approval there are still econonimic strains that will be there that prevent giving these refugees the help that they need. Also by getting rid of state sovereignty would create a whole bunch of other problems that would probably arise that would far out weight the problems currently in regards to refugees. Now this is not to say that nothing should be done, but I think that there has to be a better solution than giving up state sovereignty. Getting rid of state sovereignty may be the easy solution, but in my opinion is not the best solution.

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