Nepal

Refugee voices: Nepalese displaced by violence

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In a small, rural Maoist-controlled village outside the town of Nepal Ganj, a family of thirteen internally displaced persons fleeing Maoist violence had arrived just weeks earlier to seek assistance from their relatives. When the Maoists put a bomb in their house, injuring their daughter-in-law and young son, they decided it was time to leave. The young son still has shrapnel in his leg, but his parents cannot afford to take him to the hospital.
According to members of the village, the village population has been on the increase in the past year. There are now 32 displaced persons living with relatives. According to the family's father, "We are worried about our survival here. Of course we want to return home, but it is not safe for us. We are living here due to the generosity of our relatives, but everyone here is poor. Because there is no room for us, some of us are living in cow sheds. We do nothing all day. We are just waiting for the rains to come so we can help our relatives to plant. There are six children in our group. They try to go to school, but the school is usually closed. No government agents have come to this village in the past several years."

One of the men in the family recently went to India in search of work. He had returned to his family but plans on going back to India in the near future. He told us, "Life is a little difficult in India. The work is hard, and we get harassed. When it is time to get paid, the employers verbally harass us and call us Maoists. They do not want to pay us." It is too expensive for the entire family to go to India, so for the time being, he will return to India to try to earn money to help his family.

The family went on to explain that their biggest concern is meeting their basic needs. Other than assistance they have received from their impoverished relatives they have received no assistance from the government, the Maoists, or non-governmental organizations. The father went on to add, "What we really need is peace. We are begging the international community to help build peace in Nepal."

This family's experience is fairly typical of the experience for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nepal. People flee both generalized violence and direct attacks and make their way to district headquarters where they settle in slums on the outskirts of town or seek assistance from relatives. There are few large, visible groups of IDPs in Nepal so until recently the IDP problem in Nepal was ignored.

There are an estimated 200,000-500,000 IDPs in Nepal, but there is only one small IDP camp with around 200 families, Regina camp. The people living in this camp are some of the more visible displaced persons in Nepal but their situation is not typical. The camp is only a 10-minute drive from the village where the IDP family is living, but the situation there is totally different. The camp is in Government-controlled territory, and the land for the IDP camp was actually provided by Government officials. Most of the residents of the camp are political party leaders, Government officials, or land owners. Many of the camp residents themselves admit that they are middle class. One individual explained, "In our villages, our lives were good. We had land, we had animals, and we had jobs." In fact, some of the displaced persons in the camp are able to rent accommodation in Nepal Ganj; others, however, particularly the Dalits (untouchables) in the camp, are extremely vulnerable. Until recently, the displaced were receiving food. Some received shelter assistance, and NGOs build latrines and wells.

The most visible displaced persons in Nepal are not necessarily the most vulnerable, and this has given rise to the misperception that IDPs in Nepal are not in need of assistance. The UN and NGOs are planning on undertaking a vulnerability assessment, and this will assist aid agencies in developing a response that targets the most vulnerable among the displaced population.

Kavita Shukla and Michelle Brown just returned from a three-week assessment mission focusing on internal displacement in Nepal and the situation for Nepalese migrants in India.