Belfast Telegraph

This Christian Aid Week, please think of the internally displaced as well as those forced into exile

By Rosamond Bennett

What does home mean to you? For me, it's a place of happiness and safety. It is somewhere I look forward to being; that sense of peace and belonging. It's where my family creates special times and memories. Home has an emotional connection that goes beyond bricks and mortar. It's where my roots are put down and part of who I am.

How, then, would I react if war came to my village in the middle of the night? Or an earthquake. Or a hurricane. How could I leave my home and where would we go? In that brief flash of existence between a life-and-death choice, what would I bring with me?

Christian Aid Week starts tomorrow and this year we're remembering people who have faced this terrifying ordeal. Remarkably, more than 40 million people have had to abandon their homes to escape war and violence to save their lives.

A further 24 million were forced to flee by natural disasters in 2016 alone. Yet, because they haven't crossed a border, they remain hidden and we rarely hear about them.

There is a frightened, traumatised person leaving their home in fear for their lives every single day, every single second. But as they remain unrooted within their own country, they receive almost no political attention, funding or support, and are among the most vulnerable to poverty and exploitation in the world.

Nobody makes the decision to leave their home and never go back easily. People taking this path try to stay as close to home as they can and, when they do cross borders, they tend to stay in neighbouring countries.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. These set out, for the first time, a definition of an internally displaced person, a person who is effectively "on the run" at home, and outline some of their vulnerabilities.

In just two decades, the context has changed dramatically. In 1998, there were twice as many refugees as there were internally displaced people.

Today, there are up to 65 million internally displaced, compared to around 25 million refugees, taking conflict and natural disaster into account. These numbers are set to increase. More countries today experience violence than at any time in the last 30 years, with estimates that, by 2030, more than half of the world's poor will be living in countries affected by high levels of violence.

In Syria, as bloodshed continues, there are over six million people internally displaced. Other conflicts, such as in Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, shine a light on the failure of the international community to adequately provide for people at risk and without their homes.

I visited camps for displaced people in Rakhine, Myanmar before the more recent mass movement of people. In one camp, which took five hours to reach by a small boat, there were about 770 families, crammed into prison-like conditions, with limited food and healthcare. The dirt, the squalor, the lack of food and water, the lack of privacy and the lack of dignity for these people was beyond inhumane.

Christian Aid is campaigning to raise awareness of the rights of internally displaced people and the need for their protection.

We are calling for the UN to ensure a fair deal for internally displaced people; one that is funded in the long-term, ambitious to meet the scale of the problem, provides inclusive protection for all people on the move, including those who have been trafficked, and that respects international law, which protects all people and respects the fundamental human rights of internally displaced people.

We are working with local organisations across the world, including in South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide relief and protection to displaced people. In Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, we are supporting the Rohingya, formerly displaced in Myanmar and now refugees.

Rebuilding lives is possible and new homes can be created by and for people forced to flee, with some support. Christian Aid Week this year tells the story of Vilia from Haiti who lost her home and her mother when the earthquake struck Port-au-Prince in 2010. Christian Aid worked with our Haitian partner, KORAL, to build a new, disaster-resistant home for Vilia and her family. When Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016, Vilia sheltered over 50 people in her home.

This Christian Aid Week, we will speak up for people like Vilia, before even more become forgotten. And as our red collection envelope hits doormats across the province, we know that you, too, will remember people forced from home this week.

Rosamond Bennett is chief executive of Christian Aid. To support Christian Aid Week, visit www.christianaid.ie or call 9064 8133

Belfast Telegraph

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