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IDP News Alert, 6 May

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IDP News Alert is a bi-weekly summary of selected global news on internally displaced persons, compiled by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) of the Norwegian Refugee Council. The IDP News Alert is also available online.

In this News Alert...

Syrian Arab Republic: Civilians flee within and from Syria

Côte d’Ivoire: Greater security allows humanitarian access to IDPs

Nigeria: Tens of thousands displaced in post-electoral violence

Colombia: New paramilitary groups cause mass displacement; government to recognise conflict

Thailand / Cambodia: Ceasefire allows return of displaced on both sides

Syrian Arab Republic: Civilians flee within and from Syria

Internal displacement has been reported following the violent government crackdown on protesters, particularly in Dara’a where the government has deprived the population of electricity, food and running water since 27 April. Government forces have continued to use live ammunition and tanks against protesters in civilian areas. The government’s violent repression of the protests, which started on 11 March, had by 29 April caused well over 400 reported deaths and the destruction of houses, schools and mosques, resulting in displacement.

Reports of Syrian civilians trying to flee have multiplied. As of 29 April there were several reports of over a thousand individuals fleeing Syrian into Akkar in Lebanon in fear of their lives. On the southern border with Jordan, hundreds of families reportedly fled Daraa to Ramtha, despite the closure of the border by the Syrian authorities. Information from within Syria has been particularly difficult to verify. Dozens of cases of extrajudicial arrest have been reported, as well as cases of torture, including of children, despite the lifting of the emergency laws on 21 April.

The international community has been slow in responding to the crisis and failed to secure even a statement by the UN Security Council calling on Syria to stop the violence against civilians. However, on 29 April, the UN’s Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling for an urgent investigation into the killings and other human rights violations in Syria.

Côte d’Ivoire: Greater security allows humanitarian access to IDPs

Improvements in recent days in Côte d’Ivoire’s security situation have enabled humanitarian agencies to access IDPs in some areas in the west and in parts of Abidjan which were previously inaccessible. After former president Laurent Gbagbo was arrested on 11 April, military forces loyal to President Ouattara were able to regain control of the Yopougon neighbourhood in Abidjan at the beginning of May. However this followed heavy clashes with pro-Gbagbo militias which caused new displacement.

As humanitarian agencies regained access, they were able to gather better information on the numbers of IDPs and their needs. IOM, UNHCR, OCHA and the UN Evaluation and Coordination Team estimated after a joint assessment mission in the west that some 150,000 people had been displaced there by the beginning of May. The number of IDPs registered at 31 sites had dropped from 35,000 to 14,000 by then, as people had started returning to their homes. However, while some humanitarian agencies have been making plans to facilitate the return of those IDPs who want to, return is still too dangerous for tens of thousands of displaced people in the west.

Nigeria: Tens of thousands displaced in post-electoral violence

Violence broke out in many parts of the country after incumbent Goodluck Jonathan was declared the winner of the presidential elections held on 16 April over his northern rival Muhammadu Buhari. Despite religious tones, analysts explain the violence as the consequence of poverty and economic marginalisation. The Nigerian Red Cross estimated on 20 April that some 48,000 people had been displaced, mainly in the northern regions, while the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) registered over 10,000 IDPs in Bauchi, Gombe and Yobe states within a week after the elections. At least 12,000 displaced men, women and children found refuge in six locations in Kano in the north, while some 8,400 northerners sought safety at military barracks in the southern state of Anambra, in fear of reprisal attacks. The Nigerian Red Cross and NEMA were among the first agencies to provide relief assistance to the IDPs.

With regional governors to be elected on 2 May, many of those displaced in Kaduna State were at risk of missing the elections. According to NEMA, a total of 26,000 IDPs had been registered in Kaduna State. Many were not planning on going back to the villages where they were legally registered to vote.

Colombia: New paramilitary groups cause mass displacement; government to recognise conflict

Over 1,000 people were displaced in Cauca and Valle del Cauca States on the Pacific Coast following an attack and threats from armed groups which emerged after the paramilitary demobilisation in 2006. About 1,000 people reportedly fled when members of one of these groups arrived in a locality in Cauca, opening fire and injuring two people. Meanwhile, in Valle del Cauca, 250 people fled a rural settlement to escape threats from another group. The government agency Acción Social reported that the people displaced received assistance, but no further details were available. The access of humanitarian organisations in these areas is limited because they too have been repeatedly threatened.

The government announced that it was launching a military operation to combat these groups in Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and neighbouring Nariño. While the initiative refers to the groups as criminal bands, it represents a tacit acknowledgement that their strength and reach go beyond regular criminality.

President Santos also recently signalled that the government would at last recognise that an armed conflict exists in Colombia. The acknowledgment came in a Congress debate on a victim’s law, and the addition of an article stating that the law will protect victims of “the country’s internal armed conflict”. This acknowledgment will be significant for those affected by armed violence, including IDPs, as it may contribute to enhancing their protection through standards contained in international humanitarian law.

Thailand / Cambodia: Ceasefire allows return of displaced on both sides

Villagers displaced by the latest round of fighting between Thailand and Cambodia have continued to return to their homes as tensions on the disputed border have eased following a ceasefire agreed at the end of April. However they have faced difficulties including damaged property, unexploded ordnance, and there is a risk of renewed fighting. The hostilities, which broke out on 22 April and lasted for a week, resulted in the displacement of between 60,000 and 85,000 people on both sides of the border. The fighting was concentrated around two disputed temples 150 kilometres west of the Preah Vihear temple, where fighting had temporarily displaced some 30,000 people in early February. The temple was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by an international ruling but both countries have since claimed ownership of land around the temple.

At least 24,000 of the 37,000 people reported displaced on the Thai side sought refuge in a total of 26 schools in three north-eastern provinces. 11,000 of the 26,000 people reported displaced on the Cambodian side took shelter in Samrong in Oddar Meanchey province, where they were provided with relief assistance by the Red Cross as well as local and international NGOs. On 6 May, Thai and Cambodian NGOs jointly called on ASEAN leaders to deploy international observers in the disputed areas and provide humanitarian assistance to the people displaced.