Refugee Watch

"A South Asian Journal on Forced Migration"

Issue NO.31

The Growing IDP Crisis in the Southern World-Tasks from a Rights and Development Perspective by Jeevan Thiagarajah
The Protected Refugee Life of the Sri Lanka Tamils in India by Gladston Xavier
Relief to Rehabilitation: Towards Policy on Development Planning, Displacement & Rehabilitation by Madhuresh Kumar
Tightening Closer, Securing Disorder: Israeli Closure Policies and Informal Border Economy During the Second Intifada (2000-2006) by Cedric Parizot
Making Sense of Climate Change, Natural Disasters, and Displacement: A Work in Progress by Elizabeth G. Ferris
Build Back Better: Hurricane Katrina in Socio-Gender Context by Elizabeth Snyder
Report of Rapid Assessment Survey on Displaced Bhutanese refugees from the Camps- Discussion Paper I 
Bhutanese Refugees: A Search for a Durable Solution- Discussion Paper II
Film Review by Anita Sengupta

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The Growing IDP Crisis in the Southern World – Tasks from a Rights and Development Perspective 
Jeevan Thiagarajah (Executive Director, Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), Colombo, Sri – Lanka )


            Internal displacement always draws attention as to how it can be brought to an end, but similarly the question must be asked as to how it begins. 

Being Internally Displaced 

            Firstly we must understand the terminology, as for some who do not specialize in the area or work in the area, a difference is often not made between that of a ‘refugee’ and that of an ‘internally displaced person’ (IDP). While IDP refers to someone who has been forced to flee his/her home due to a threat to their life (be it man-made or natural disasters) and hence take up temporary status elsewhere within a state, the term ‘refugee’ denotes an individual who has fled under similar circumstances but has crossed an international border, either once or more. The reality remains that under this mask of “IDP” status are civilians, the majority being women and children, who have been forced to leave their homes due to conflict, however there are several categories under which IDPs can fall, such as natural disasters – earthquakes, floods and the recent and rare event of the 2004 tsunami. On the other hand there are instances where people have left due to development projects taking place[1].
            It is not uncommon that IDPs continue to be exposed to threats against their life and other human rights violations following their displacement; often there is limited access to food, employment, education and health care. Furthermore IDPs are caught up in the midst of conflict or find themselves in remote and inaccessible areas which impacts local and international assistance reaching them. Across the globe there are IDP populations who have been forced to live away from their original homelands for months and even decades in some cases, and hence are essentially left with a precarious and official status as an ‘IDP’[2]

The Response to IDPs: International Law and Bodies 

            Whilst the numbers of IDPs in the world out-number the number of refugees by 2:1, the plight of IDPs receives far less attention, whether it be international media coverage or towards the protection of the most basic of human rights. Refugees at least, prima facie, having crossed international borders in order to escape fighting and human rights violations, are immediately protected by a body of international law. They are also frequently provided with shelter and food. Yet for those who are displaced and remain within the boundaries of their own country, even if they have been displaced for the same reasons as those fleeing the country, they experience much difficulty in accessing the same safeguards and assistance provided for refugees[3].
            Refugees are able to receive international protection and help under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, however the international community is not under the same obligation to protect and assist internally displaced people. Rather the legal obligation to protect is seen to be the responsibility of the national government, but often the governments in question are either at the root cause of internal displacement, unwilling to live up to the obligation of ensuring the security and well-being of their citizens or unable to deal with the problems due to a lack of capacity[4].
            IDP statistics started to materialise in 1982, when the figure for IDPs was 1.2 million across 11 countries. By 1995 the numbers had risen to an estimate of 20-25 million IDPs in more than 40 countries, almost twice the number of refugees. In the absence of a designated body or law to protect and assist IDPs, along with mounting concern for the welfare and lives of IDPs, the UN Commission on Human Rights initiated the review of existing international law in 1992, in efforts to judge the extent to which international law offers protection for IDPs. In response the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were formulated and presented to the Commission in 1998[5].
            The 30 principles (recommendations) are set on the basis of international human rights and humanitarian law, presenting the rights and guarantees relevant to the protection of IDPs in all phases of displacement. This covers the provision of protection against arbitrary displacement; protection and assistance during displacement and during return or internal resettlement and reintegration[6].
            Although the principles are not legally binding, they outline a minimum standard of practice with regards to supporting IDPs and have been applied by a growing number of bodies and countries as a result. Whilst appreciation was duly noted by the main UN bodies and inter-governmental agencies, significant adoptions of the principles are especially noted.

• In 2000, Angola’s government incorporated the guiding principles into its law on resettlement in efforts to guide the return of IDPs following the civil war.
• In 2000/2001 the Constitutional Court of Colombia cited the Guiding Principles as a basis for judgments in support of its IDPs.
• In 2004, the Peruvian Congress adopted a law based on the Guiding Principles, implementing material benefits for IDPs.
• In 2004, USAID issued a policy document to guide its assistance of IDPs, with reference to the Guiding Principles as a ‘framework for response’.
• Other governments such as those of Burundi, Colombia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uganda have developed national policies based on the principles[7].

            Adoption of principles may have taken place, but in hindsight practical implementation by the part of some nation states is questionable. The regard for the protection of IDPs requires greater attention from those providing assistance and from those whose obligation it is to protect them. However when considering the responsibility of national governments to protect, the wide array of global experiences across, mainly the Southern continents, produce interesting debate and thought as to why this has not been the case or why it cannot be in some current country-specific situations. 

The Global Picture 

            According to the United Nations, at the beginning of 2007, 24.5 million IDPs were noted across 52 countries. The number of IDPs has risen across the world from several circumstances yet most illustrate a faltering lack of responsibility and ability to adhere to such responsibility to respond to the endangering conditions that civilians/IDPs face as a result[8].
            Most of the world's five continents have been marred by conflict and hostile circumstances, which are forcing people to flee, both from those states and within those borders. The majority of such cases have occurred in developing countries where instability is rife and international responses have been difficult to materialise for a number of reasons. 


            Africa remains the continent with the highest numbers of IDPs due to conflict. Almost half of all IDPs live on the African continent with Sudan alone accounting for 5 million IDPs, followed by northern Uganda with 1.7 million and the DRC with 1.1 million. During 2006, significant displacements occurred across Chad, the CAR, the DRC, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan’s Darfur region[9].
            When looking at the experiences of several African countries, there has been a trend in the nature of incidents that lie behind the displacement of thousands. In the CAR, Chad, the DRC and Senegal the displacements of thousands of civilians occurred when government forces engaged in fighting with rebel forces[10].

• The Central African Republic - fighting intensified between government forces and rebel groups in 2006 bringing the number of IDPs from 50,000 in 2005 to 150,000 in 2006 – most IDPs surviving without any assistance.
Chad – Conflict displacement deepened with the spill-over effect of the Darfur conflict, leading to ethnic tensions and clashes, reaching a figure of more than 100,000 displaced people.
• The Democratic Republic of Congo – During the first half of 2006 approximately half a million people were newly displaced after government troops sought to disarm rebel groups in the east. Since the July 2006 elections the situation stabilized but there was a lack of integration support.
Senegal – clashes between government forces and hardliner separatist rebel forces led to displacement.
• In the Darfur region of Sudan, the uprising against the central government, which started in 2003, led to a recorded 1.8 million IDPs in 2006. This is exclusive of multiple displacements and unregistered IDPs.
• In Somalia thousands of people fled after fears of renewed violence and in December 2006 with the outbreak of war between the Islamic Courts Union and the Transitional Federal Government. This added to earlier displacement of 400,000 people in the latter part of 2006, after heavy flooding in southern Somalia.
• After inter-ethnic clashes in Ethiopia and ethnically motivated communal violence in Cote d’Ivoire, thousands were displaced and displacement triggered respectively.
• In Burundi, return movements have continued, yet a low pace and new displacement was seen to occur in and around the capital, Bujumbura. 

The Americas 

            While the majority of the civil wars that have ruled the Latin American continent have ended, the historical and structural injustices that triggered these wars and forced displacements remain largely unresolved. The inequalities that exist between the elite classes and the working class continues to foster hostilities and is a contribution to increasing deprivation and poverty amongst the poorest, while wealth continues to be accumulated amongst the elite classes. In particular, the conflict in Columbia remains largely active and has caused the world’s second largest internal displacement crisis after that of Sudan. In the region more than the 3.8 million of the estimated 4.1 million internally displaced are in Colombia. It remains the only Latin American country where civilians are still forced from their homes as a result of an internal conflict. In 2006 alone, 200,000 Colombians were forced to leave their homes due to the conflict. The other countries with conflict-related IDP populations are Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.[11]
            A notable difference in the Latin experience of internal displacement is the nature of events that have sparked displacement, with gang culture posing a significant threat to the safety of people’s lives. The scale of displacements caused by gang violence in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua are unknown and even estimates are not available. In addition to this, the indigenous cultures within the continent dominate IDP figures, due to a high level of landless and dispossessed people, with the largest amounts of wealth being held by the elites in these countries[12].
However in the countries hit by internal conflict over the recent years, concrete figures on IDPs are hard to ascertain.

• In Peru, a government-run registration process noted 100,000 people at the close of 2006 but this remains a dubious figure.
• In Mexico, thousands of IDPs have returned but have largely remained under threat by paramilitaries and have still no access to lost land and property.
• The IDP figures for Guatemala, following the signing of a peace agreement in 1996, varies from 1 million noted by a local IDP organization and 242,000 dispersed IDPs estimated by the UN Population Fund.
• The IDP situation in Colombia is recognized by the State, the UN and I/NGOs, however the magnitude of the crisis is perceived differently as well as the response of the national government. The government stated that it had reduced displacement from 169,000 displaced in 2005 to 109,000 in 2006 yet simultaneously they have acknowledged that the under-registration of IDPs runs as high as 30-40%. [An authoritative NGO reported that more than200,000 people were forced to flee their homes in the first nine months of 2006].

Asia-Pacific Region 

The Asian region demonstrates a variety of reasons for internal displacement. In Africa the root causes of internal displacement have grown from conflicts mainly, which have materialized from the breakdown of state structures, increasing poverty, population pressure, competition for land and scarce natural resources and the breakdown of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms21. Similarly existing tensions between communities or ethnic groups have been capitalized upon in political power plays amongst those seeking power and status. Parallel to this is the Latin American experience of internal displacement which is also, to a certain extent, rooted in the inequalities between the poorest and most marginalized and those with power, who seek only to further their wealth and power.[13] But the Asian region is worth analysing in this respect.       More than two-thirds of Asia’s 3 million internally displaced are concentrated in South Asia, where human rights abuses have caused widespread displacement over recent years and in some cases decades. Year 2006 witnessed increasing violence in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan (to a lesser extent comparatively), with more than 500,000 people being internally displaced.[14]
            New internal displacements also took place in South east Asia-namely the Philippines, Burma and Timor-Leste, where 15% of the populations fled their homes, hence the estimated displacement figure for the Asia region runs close to 900,000 at the end of 2006.[15]
There have been more positive developments in the region with the return of thousands in Nepal after a peace agreement between the Maoist rebels and the government. Elsewhere in Aceh, returns have continued after a peace deal in August 2005.[16]
            A dominating characteristic behind and parallel to internal displacement in the Asian continent is the opinion that internal displacement is a strictly domestic matter, and as a result it is not very high on national priority lists in this region. The inter-state relations in Asia are ruled by the principle of non-interference hence displaced populations remain largely dependent on their national governments, whose actions and sense of responsibility vary greatly from country to country.[17]       

• Several countries experience displacement due to development projects, especially countries with fast-growing economies, such as India, the Philippines, Indonesia and China. In China the Three Gorges Dam (the largest hydro-electric dam in the world, completed in May 2006) has caused the displacement of more than one million people.
• In April 2006, increasing violence and conflict in Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces led to 4,000 people being killed and more than 200,000 displaced. At the close of 2006, conflict-induced IDP figures were at 500,000.
• At the end of May 2006, fighting between security forces and rebel groups in Dili, Timor-Leste, forced an approximate 150,000 people to leave their homes to the outer perimeters of the city.
• In Afghanistan in 2006, over a period of 4 months, 20,000 families were displaced to the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan, as a result of fighting between NATO and Taleban insurgents.

The history of inequality and power struggles in Latin America have been carried forward to the present day, having been transformed significantly over times, and continue to impact the poorest groups in society. Amongst the poorest populations are the indigenous peoples, who simultaneously account for a significant proportion of the most marginalized and vulnerable.[18]

            Thus the more recent struggles in several of the Latin American countries can be viewed in light of military objectives serving political and economic ends, illustrating economically motivated armed evictions in the region as well as human rights abuses and killings of indigenous peoples. Subsequently those IDPs who have fled to towns remain marginalized and have become victims to recruitment by armed gangs, which leads to intra-urban displacement[19].

            As in Africa and Latin America, Asia’s depiction of internal displacement is not that much different with main cause for displacement being armed conflict between government forces and insurgent movements. As in the African experience, tensions and violence between the majority ethnic groups and those smaller ethnic groups who tend to excluded from development processes and the social, economic and political spheres in society, continue to foster. 

Acknowledging Obstacles to Durable Solutions and Finding Ways to Remove them 

            Whilst the root causes to internal displacement are essential to recognize, the path to end internal displacements stands even more poignantly at our feet as individuals pursuing a humanitarian cause and in recognizing the human right of every human being.
            Most are familiar with the depressing conditions that most IDPs face globally in terms of security, livelihoods, education, health and status. Where national governments and humanitarian bodies are responding to the needs of IDPs in camps, issues arise when activities to support and assist IDPs are delayed; access for humanitarian bodies and other actors is hindered and where those who have demonstrated commitments to assist fail to complete or fulfill these commitments.
            Hence IDPs are forced to live in very precarious conditions and in such circumstances there has often been a call for national governments and rebel forces (where applicable) to adhere and recognize the fundamental tenets of international human rights and international humanitarian law and to address prevailing impunities.
            Amidst conflict it remains the responsibility of the national governments to ensure that it adheres to its obligation to protect and secure the life of both IDPs and other civilians, irrespective of ongoing conflict and hostilities. However in several countries tarnished by conflict, the reality of the circumstances is that amongst the main perpetrators of abuse are the national authorities, if not condoning displacement.
            Yet the absence of armed conflict does not always result in political stability and the will to resolve outstanding displacement situations. Many IDPs linger for years in miserable conditions with very little idea of their futures. The lack of responsible authorities to actively seek durable solutions to their return home and sustained livelihood will only serve to keep them under these circumstances. 


            Whilst the voluntary return of IDPs to their original homes is seen as a durable solution by some, the fact is that in many cases IDPs cannot return to their homes until the causes of displacement are addressed. The causes for displacement in the three Southern continents have been noted, yet the end of displacement is essentially when IDPs no longer require protection and assistance specifically related to their displacement.
            IDPs will not return to their original homes without some form of guarantee in terms of their personal security, livelihoods and general security, hence any efforts to initiate returns should be supported by tangible results on the ground providing infrastructure that will encourage voluntary return, and even in circumstances where they have been forced, such efforts will encourage them to stay. Thus IDPs cannot be expected to remain in places where the insecurities that led them to flee in the first place have not been eradicated.
            Protection is largely seen as an invisible ‘pillar’ of humanitarian action; under international law humanitarian bodies seek to uphold the security of all beings yet this is often in accordance with protection strategies or mechanisms drawn up by individuals agencies, and hence they monitor their responsibility in implementing those strategies accordingly. Protection aspects and rights issues usually transpire through reference to specific abuses and so forth.[20]
            With various international laws and legal policies in place, none however serve to emphasise or call for overall minimum standards of protection in humanitarian activities. Standards of protection would potentially move away from temporary and transitional forms of protection and instead would place the rights of people at the centre of a broader development context in the given countries. It must be noted that the quality of protection should not be measured against the numbers of returnees and resettlement, as protection should be secured at all phases of assistances as well as post-assistance.
            Protection enters another sphere of discussion when we address the issue of economic (or otherwise) migration and internal displacement; where do these two differ and do they? There is a significant link between the two as economic migration and the movement of IDPs has often occurred in the same direction, i.e. from rural to urban areas.
            This movement not only hinders and complicates efforts to promote return and reintegration as a durable solution, but also sees both the ‘recipient’ end (urban areas) and the ‘original departure point’ (rural areas) suffering. With the former there is a concern over: increased competition for opportunities; the formation of marginalized communities; increased deprivation amongst the poorest; increased vulnerability for those entering the new areas and having to separate from their families.
            On the other side – the origin of migrants/IDPs, the concern is one of economic contribution and stability within those areas as well as the social make-up of a community, as it will naturally change and this will disturb original ways of life.
            When we question when is migration not displacement, the obvious answer is, when it is not forced. However where migration is voluntary, it is circumstances such as threats to security, hostile communal relations, unequal access to wealth and lack of opportunities in general that make people feel compelled to leave. Hence the question delves deeper and essentially the root causes of migration and internal displacement may very well be the same.
            The International Framework on Internal Displacement notes three durable solutions to ending displacement: return to place of origin; local integration in the areas in which IDPs initially take refuge or settlement in another part of the country. Furthermore in order to be considered durable they must be based upon long-term safety and security, restitution of or compensation for lost property and an environment that sustains the life of the former IDPs under normal economic and social conditions[21].
            If one were to look at the global picture of internal displacement, the majority of countries suffering from internal displacement, and therewith armed conflict and in more rare circumstances natural disasters, are developing nations. Such nations are already suffering from significant levels of poverty, deprivation and inequity. The very nature of engaging in armed conflict/war is derivative of inequality, competition for resources, marginalisation, lack of opportunity and seeking opportunities through desperate and unjust measures.
            The persistence of conflict is thus in line with the struggle against underdevelopment, and the two are seen to give rise to the other. There is then a natural tendency for discriminatory practices to arise between groups of people as well as through policies and practices. The challenge is thereby to move towards positive discrimination in a development context from a rights perspective, with the prospect of sustainability and progress at the centre.


            In the absence of peace agreements, return for IDPs is never a real option. Governments should thereby be taking the necessary steps to improve the living situation of marginalised communities (IDPs become communities after years in displacement), yet in some nations this has not been the case and the legal status of an IDP is noted as 'IDP' on legal documentation and so forth.[22] This is a detrimental state to be in and it is passed down from generation to generation. This is the case for many conflict-induced IDPs in the northern peninsula of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, where communities have been displaced for almost 20 years. Their status as IDPs has been accepted by them, yet their children are suffering as a result in terms of seeking higher education or employment as legal documents note them as 'IDP'.
            The truth of the matter remains that achieving peace is inextricably linked to resolving internal displacement. Yet to end the latter is difficult where peace agreements disregard displacement-specific issues. A cynical perspective may be it is quite simple to acquire peace without addressing displacement, it would be a matter of allowing those IDPs to simply remain displaced and marginalised from mainstream society.
            However after conflict has ended, if the causes of displacement have not been removed - such as militias/terrorist groups and landmines, IDPs will not be willing to return or they may return and end up being displaced again due to insecurity. If IDPs are unable to obtain access to their land or property large scale return is unlikely and this would result in IDPs residing in their area of their displacement and with the given host community. This living relationship alone could give rise to tension on the basis of: ethnicity; competition for economic opportunity; social tensions; children of IDPs may be seen as 'outsiders' or 'second-class' in schools and IDPs may be seen as a security threat and regarded with suspicion in host communities.[23]
            Hence it may be thought that peace has been achieved elsewhere in the country where there are no IDPs residing, but in areas/towns where IDP communities are settled or forced to reside, the original 'landscape' of that area is changed in the instance that IDPs are inadvertently obligated to integrate, and hence the notion of peace does not transpire given the significant possibility of hostilities arising within these areas.
            Thus peace agreements and negotiations must consider the opinion and life of the IDP, with successful return and reintegration being a key component of a successful peace process, yet IDPs are rarely consulted because they either belong to a minority group or may lack necessary resources, education and political sills to participate in a peace process. In such circumstances complementary strategies to ensure their rights and needs are taken into account in peace negotiations must be developed. 

Sustainable Development 

            One obvious factor in failing to resolve internal displacement under circumstances where a nation is seeking to develop itself is the sheer loss of skill, human resources and GDP. However more importantly is the disregard for human rights, specifically the right of every being to a life of dignity, which would impede efforts as pockets of marginalized communities are created and the poorest of the poor receive little support. In conditions where human rights are not respected, there is more often than not, the likely possibility of rising tensions, as was mentioned earlier with regards to conflict.
            In terms of peace, it is also a determinant, on many levels, of there being chances of sustainable development occurring. If durable solutions are not found for IDPs, their contribution towards economic rehabilitation and reconstruction is limited and poverty reduction remains difficult.[24]
            A country therefore cannot progress where there are people remaining in poverty and who have unequal or no access to employment opportunities, education, health services and political participation. In seeking sustainable development, sustainable measure to reduce the vulnerability of both IDPs and other civilians is a must.
            The end of internal displacement is a responsibility that rests on the shoulder of national governments, to abide by international law, to adhere to policies they themselves have adopted and to act swiftly and morally to safeguard the lives of those displaced. Parallel to this it is not denied that countries in transit from conflict or natural disasters may need assistance from the international community in pursuing physical safety and security for IDPs. Yet the responsibility to ensure respect for human rights and humanitarian law; the provision of safe transit for IDPS and the offering adequate assistance and protection of physical safety upon relocation, is the responsibility of national authorities.
            In conflict situations, efforts must be made to seek peaceful and all-inclusive solutions and to note the presence of landmines - where applicable, and the disarmament of armed groups. In the case of natural disasters, efforts must be made to ensure that returnees and the general population are less at risk of any other future disasters.
            To be an IDP does not mean that this has a legal status, which is hence a life-threatening situation in many ways, and is in direct conflict with the right to a secure and dignified life. Ending displacement must call for; increased responsibility from national governments, inclusive of adherence to international humanitarian law and in supporting access to IDP communities to assist them; increased consultation and participation of IDPs in decision-making and for root causes of displacement to be addressed.


[1] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 2007, Who is an IDP?

[3] UNHCR, 2007, Internally Displaced People – Questions and Answers,

[4] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 2007, http://www.internaldisplacement/org/8025708F004CE90B/(httpPages)/985E40F60D95A6DF802570BB005EE131?OpenDocument
[5] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 2007 – Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,
[6] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 2007 – Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,
[7] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 2007 – Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,

[8] UNHCR, 2007, Internally Displaced People – Questions and Answers,
[9] IDMC, Internal Displacement in Africa,
[10] IDMC, Internal Displacement in Africa,
[11] IDMC, Internal Displacement in Africa,
[12] IDMC, Internal Displacement in the Americas,
[13] IDMC, Internal Displacement in the Americas,
[14] IDMC, Internal Displacement in Asia-Pacific
[15] IDMC, Internal Displacement in Asia-Pacific
[16] IDMC, Internal Displacement in Asia-Pacific
[17] IDMC, Internal Displacement in Asia-Pacific
[18] IDMC, Internal Displacement in the Americas,
[19] IDMC, Internal Displacement in the Americas,

[20] Sphere Project, 2004, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, Sphere Project; Geneva

[21] Brookings Institution, June 2007, When Displacement Ends; A Framework for Durable Solutions,

[22] Kalin, W, 2007, Statement by Mr. Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons to the 62nd Session of the General Assembly, Third Committee
[23] Kalin, W, 2007, Statement by Mr. Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons to the 62nd Session of the General Assembly, Third Committee
[24] Kalin, W, 2007, No Durable Solutions for the Displaced without Sustainable Peace – No Sustainable Peace without Durable Solutions,


The Protracted Refugee Life of the Sri Lankan Tamils in India 
Gladston Xavier (*
Faculty, Department of Social Work, Loyola College, Chennai)

Bar Dancers and Differing Perceptions

            The Sri Lankan Refugees have lived in India since 1984. Currently there are about 80,000 refugees living in 117 camps spread all over Tamil Nadu  in South India. In addition to this there are an estimated 100,000 refugees who live outside the camps staying in private homes registered with the local police station. The Indian government provides them with basic housing facility, cash doles and subsidized rations to meet their daily needs. This essay examines the present state of the Sri Lankan refugees living in the camps in Tamil Nadu. 

Definition of a Refugee 

            According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “A Refugee is a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality.", Since India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention for Refugees, the refugees in India do not come under this category. In the absence of any domestic law in India the refugees are treated under the Indian Passport Act of 1967 And the Foreigners Act of 1946. For many south Asian countries, India is a host nation. People from Tibet, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka come to India as refugees in search of a safe haven. Refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Armenia and other countries also make their way to India, seeking safety. 

Refugee Policy and Refugees in India 

            Due to the lack of any National Policy on refugees India adapts a preferential treatment of the refugees. This treatment is based on the international lobby and local vote bank politics. The UNHCR is given specific mandates to take limited care of the Chin refugees from Burma, the Afghan Refugees and a few other refugee groups. The Tibetan and the Sri Lankan Refugees in particular have received notable treatment from the Indian government as compared to the Chakmas from Bangladesh or the Chins from Myanmar. This has been primarily because of a strong international lobby and political strategy attached to the refugees or the refugee producing nations.             India’s policy towards the refugees has been thoroughly analyzed by the South Asian Human Rights Documentation Center (SAHRDC). The following section provides excerpts from the Reports of the SAHRDC concerning the status of refugees in India with a special focus on the Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees.
            The juridical basis of the International Obligations to Protect Refugees, namely, non-refoulement including non-rejection at the frontier, non-return, non-expulsion or non-extradition and the minimum standard of treatment are traced in international conventions and Customary Law. The only Convention regarding the refugees that have a near-universal effect is the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees. Since India has not yet ratified or acceded to this convention, its legal obligation to protect refugees is traced mainly in customary international law. An examination of this aspect raises the basic question of relation and effect of international law with the Indian municipal law.

The Constitution of India contains just a few provisions on the status of international law in India. Leading among them is Article 51 (c), which states that "the State [India] shall endeavor to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organized peoples with one another."

It generates confusion in its differentiation between international law and treaty obligations. For convenience of interpretation, "International Law" is taken to represent international customary law and "Treaty Obligations" as international conventional law. Otherwise the Article is lucid and directs India to foster respect for its international obligations arising under international law for its economic and social progress. Article 51 (c) is placed under the Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of the Indian Constitution, which means it is not an enforceable provision. Since the principle laid down in Article 51 is not enforceable and India has merely to endeavor to foster respect for international law, this Article would mean that international law is not incorporated into the Indian municipal law which is binding and enforceable. However, when Article 51(c) is read in the light of other Articles and judicial opinion and foreign policy statements, it suggests otherwise.
            Before India became independent, the Indian courts under British rule administered the English Common law. They accepted the basic principles governing the relationship between International Law and Municipal Law under the common law doctrine. Under the English common law doctrine, rules of international law in general were not accepted as part of municipal law. If, however, there was no conflict between these rules and the rules of municipal law, international law was accepted in municipal law without any incorporation. Indeed, the doctrine of common law is specific about certain international treaties affecting private rights of individuals. To implement such treaties, the doctrine requires modification of statutory law and the adoption of the enabling legislation in the form of an Act of Parliament. These English common law principles are still applicable to India even after its independence, by virtue of Article 372 of the Constitution, which says that:

"all the laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this Constitution shall continue in force therein until altered or repealed or amended by a competent legislature or other competent authority".

This common law practice has been followed by the Indian executive, legislature and judiciary even after the independence of India. For instance, until the specific legislations were adopted India observed the international customary rules regarding immunity from domestic jurisdiction and law of the sea particularly with regard to the high seas, maritime belt, and innocent passage. Confirming the common law principle relating to the specific incorporation of certain treaties, Article 253 provides that:

“Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body."

This Article implies that whenever there is a necessity to incorporate international obligations undertaken at international level or under international instruments into municipal law, the Parliament is empowered to do so. This is also acknowledged by the Indian judiciary as early as 1951. While delivering the judgment in the case of Birma vs. The State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court, quoting the English Common Law Principle, observed that certain treaties such as those affecting private rights must be legislated by Parliament to become enforceable.[1] The judicial opinion is that rules of international law and municipal law should be construed harmoniously, and only when there is an inevitable conflict between these two laws the municipal law should prevail over international law. Against this backdrop when one examines the binding force of international refugee law on India and its relations with Indian municipal law, one can conclude that as long as International Refugee Law does not come in conflict with Indian legislations or policies on the protection of refugees, International Refugee Law is a part the Municipal Law. With this conclusion one hopes to examine the question as to whether International Refugee Law is in conflict in any way with Indian legislations or, in the absence of such legislations, with Indian attitude and policy on refugees.
            India never had a clear policy as to whom to grant refugee status. When the question of adoption of a Convention and establishment of an agency for the international protection of refugees came for discussion in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, in 1949, there were considerable differences in the comments of the delegates. Suggestions regarding the International Organisation for Refugees taking up the work of drafting conventions on the legal protection of refugees, instead of setting up a new organization, came up. It was also ensured by some of the delegates that India would not shirk its responsibilities as far as humanitarian activities for the refugees were considered. But, after the Convention was adopted, India did not ratify or accede, and the reasons for not doing so are never disclosed except that it was stated in the Parliament by the former External Affairs Minister, Mr. B R Bhagat that since the Government had come up with certain basic difficulties, the implications, if India ratifies these Conventions, were under study.[2] In other words, India's initial stand on the treaty regime of the refugee law was declared to be a subject of review.
            On the question of admission and non-refoulement, however, the Indian attitude is rather bleak. Even though India accepted the principle of non-refoulement as including non-rejection at the frontier under the "Bangkok Principles 1966", it did not observe that principle in its practice. Ignoring the fact that refugees leave their homes suddenly due to threats to their life and liberty, and by the nature of their flight they are unable to get the necessary travel documents from their home states, India deals with the question of admission of refugees and their stay until they are officially accorded refugee status, under legislations which deal with foreigners who voluntarily leave their homes under normal circumstances. The chief legislation for the regulation of foreigners is the Foreigners Act, 1946 which deals with the matters of "entry of foreigners in India, their presence therein and their departure therefrom". Paragraph 3(1) of the Foreigners Order, 1948[3] lays down the power to grant or refuse permission to a foreigner to enter India, in the following terms:

"No foreigner shall enter India--

(a) otherwise than at such port or other place of entry on the borders of India as a Registration Officer having Jurisdiction at that port or place may appoint in this behalf; either for foreigners generally or any specified class or description of foreigners, or
(b) Without leave of the civil authorities having jurisdiction at such port or place."

This provision lays down a general obligation that no foreigner should enter India without the authorization of the authority having jurisdiction over such entry points. It is mainly intended to deal with illegal entrants and infiltrators. In case of persons who do not fulfill certain conditions of entry, the sub-para 2 of the Para 3 of the Order authorizes the civil authority to refuse the leave to enter India. The main condition is that unless exempted, every foreigner should be in possession of a valid passport or visa to enter India.[4]
            As observed earlier, if refugees contravene any of these provisions they are liable to prosecution and thereby to the deportation proceedings. The practice shows that when the courts were approached by many Afghans, Iranians and Burmese against whom the Government of India initiated deportation proceedings under Sections 3 and 14 of the Foreigners Act, 1946 for their illegal entry into India, courts responded positively by accepting their plea that if they were returned they would face threats to their life and liberty and India had a long tradition of extending protection to many refugees. In the fitness of things, the courts have initially stayed the deportation proceedings[5].
            As for the minimum standard of treatment of refugees, India has undertaken an obligation by ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to accord an equal treatment to all non-citizens with its citizens wherever possible. India is presently a member of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR and it entails the responsibility to abide by international standards on the treatment of refugees.
            As early as 1953 the then Prime Minister of India, Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru informed Parliament that India would abide by international standards governing asylum by adopting similar, non-binding domestic policies. According to Article 51 of the non-binding Directive Principles of State Policy, India endeavors to "(a) promote international peace and security; (b) maintain just and honorable relations between nations; (c) foster respect for international law and treaty obligations.....; and (d) encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration." Since then, the Indian Government has consistently affirmed the right of the state to grant asylum on humanitarian grounds. Based on this policy, India has granted asylum and refugee status to Tibetans and Tamils from Sri Lanka. The 1971 refugees from Bangladesh were officially called "evacuees", but were treated as refugees requiring temporary asylum.
            No other community or group has been officially recognized as `refugees'. India claims to observe the principles of non-refoulement and thus never to return or expel any refugee whose life and liberty were under threat in his/her country of origin or residence. Non-refoulement is an important principle to international refugee law, which acts as a complete prohibition against the forcible return of people to a place where they will be subjected to grave human rights violations or where their life or personal security will be seriously endangered. The principle of non- refoulement applies equally to refugees at the border of a state and to those already admitted, and it remains in force until the adverse conditions which prompted people to flee in the first place are alleviated. Refuting this claim, Indian human rights groups do point to specific cases of refoulement, where clear evidence and refugee testimony prove that forcible repatriation has taken place. A closer examination of India's refugee policy reveals a number of intricate problems. 

Refugee Categories 

            The plight of refugees in India generally depends upon the extent of protection they receive from either the Indian Government or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Below is brief definition of the three primary categories followed by a description of the living conditions faced by each refugee category
Refugees who receive full protection according to standards set by the Government of India;
Refugees whose presence in Indian territory is acknowledged only by UNHCR and are protected under the principle of non- refoulement;
Refugees who have entered India and have assimilated into their communities. Their presence is not acknowledged by either the Indian Government or the UNHCR.  

The Tamil Refugees 

            The Refugees belonging to the first category receive full protection from the Government of India. Tamil refugees have fled to India in several waves following the four episodes in Sri Lanka. When the conflict in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese majority community and the Tamil minority took a violent turn in 1983, the Tamils fled to India on their tiny boats from the northern peninsula of Sri Lanka. During the first wave 134,053 Tamil refugees are reported to have come to India between 1983 and 1987.[6] Following the 1987 Accord with Sri Lanka and the Indian Government, which sought to create a power sharing agreement between the two warring communities, the Indian Government repatriated 25,885 Tamil refugees during 1987-1989.[7] India had to stop the repatriation programme in 1989 when its shores were flooded again with another refugee wave fleeing Sri Lankan violence.
            During this second phase of Tamil flight in search of a safe haven (1989-1991), 122,037 Tamil refugees reportedly reached India but 113,298 of them were held in 298 camps along the coastal Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Orissa. Once again, the Indian Government repatriated a large number of Tamil refugees with the cooperation of UNHCR. About 31,000 refugees have been returned to Sri Lanka between 1992-1995. The current influx of refugees started in January 2006 with the conflict escalating in Trincomalee and Batticoloa areas, since then about 20,000 refugees have arrived in India. Among these a few are reported to have returned spontaneously in addition to the returnees during the active ceasefire period that amounted to about 6,000 returnees.  As a result of these repatriations and returns, roughly half of the original 85,000 refugees remain in Tamilnadu, India. 
            Though the refugees were originally welcomed to Tamil Nadu, the assassination of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991 by a suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam turned public sentiment and government authorities against the Tamil refugees. Soon after Rajiv Gandhi's death, India began a programme of "voluntary" repatriation, under which more than 23,000 refugees were repatriated without international supervision. It is now apparent that most of those refugees were coerced in various overt and covert ways to leave the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu.  

The Special Camps 

            In addition to the regular camps, the State Government has converted sub-jails into so-called special camps. As per the reports of the Department of Rehabilitation of the Government of Tamil Nadu, at present, two Special Camps are functioning, one at Chengalpattu, Kancheepuram District and another in Cheyyar, Tiruvannamalai District. The following categories of Sri Lankan Tamils are lodged in the Special Camps: (1) Those involved in the criminal cases, including those on bail, (2) those released after disposal of the cases, (3) those with other adverse reports such as involvement in smuggling/criminal activities and members of families of those who fall under these categories. As their movements are restricted, cooked food is being supplied to them instead of Cash Doles.[8]
            Since 1990, hundreds of refugees have been detained in these facilities. The SAHRDC and the National Human Rights Commission of India have compiled numerous reports of non-militant refugees, particularly young Tamil males, being arrested and detained under the Foreigners Act. Many of these individuals have been languishing in detention facilities for more than three years and still do not know why they were arrested. When pressed, the government justifies these Special Camps as necessary measures to deal with alleged Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam terrorists. 

Repatriation of Refugees 

            On the Sri Lankan repatriation, UNHCR states that, "Between 1992 and 1 January 1996, 54,059 persons returned from India and benefited from UNHCR's Special Program in Sri Lanka. Of this number, 7464 persons were staying in government centres as of 30 April 1996, while the remainder had returned to their home areas. A total of 10,013 persons returned in the first quarter of 1995. The UNHCR statistics on the voluntary repatriation of refugees from India are not supported by evidence. The UNHCR has allegedly connived with the Government of India in hastily repatriating the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. Many of these refugees who could not reach their native places but live in the refugee camps back in Sri Lanka are fleeing back to India. By October 1996, 2000 reached the Indian State of Tamil Nadu to seek refuge again.[9]
            As a part of its protection mandate, UNHCR is expected to share the information on the conflict situation in the country of origin but failed to do so for the last five years to the Tamil refugees. Rather, it was informing the refugees that "certain liberated zones" were available for the refugees to return to. Refugees shifted to the Pesalai camps in Sri Lanka from India in 1994 could not go to their places languished in UNHCR transit camps till 1996 when conflict broke out. Many of them returned to India. These are some 56,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees accommodated in Indian camps and another further 45,000 reportedly living outside the camps. A court order forced the government to halt the repatriation program and gave the UNHCR the right to interview the returnees.[10] However, the UNHCR is not allowed access to the camps and cannot speak to the refugees until they have already consented to leave India. It is clear that the token presence of UNHCR in Madras only provides respectability to what is essentially a programme of involuntary repatriation.
            Following up on rumors of forced repatriation and deplorable conditions in the Tamil refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, a SAHRDC researcher visited the camps in July 1996 and published a report which details the systematic violations of Tamil refugee rights and the implicit involvement of the Government of India. The report also claimed that “the Indian Government appears determined to allow conditions to deteriorate to the point where refugees would rather return to the violence of Sri Lanka than stay in the camps”.
            The fact that the Indian Government has not acceded to the International Refugee Convention has adverse effects upon the Tamil refugees. The Convention established basic rights such as food, water and shelter that the host country should provide its refugees. Since India is not a signatory, Tamil refugees are subject to the whims of the political party in power. The State Government in Tamil Nadu, though originally sympathetic to the refugee's cause, consistently failed to maintain the refugee camps in accordance with well-recognized international standards. Thus, the policies of India and the State of Tamil Nadu directly contravene conventional human rights laws as well as customary international law regarding non-refoulement.

            However, the refugees, who are willing to go back to their homeland or to any other country at their own cost, are allowed to do so. During 2005-06, 770 Exit Permits were issued to Sri Lankan refugees by various District Collectors.

The Camp Refugees 

            This particular section will concentrate on the situation of the Sri Lankan Refugees who live in camps in the State of Tamil Nadu. Owing to the violent ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, the Tamils started pouring into India in 1983 following the July riots. In 1987 following the Indo-Sri Lankan accord almost all the refugees went back to their country. When the violence erupted again in 1989 people came to India as refugees only to go back in a year’s time. In 1990 there was a major influx of refugees as an impact of the Eelam war II. Most people who live in the camps today are those who made it to India in 1990. However about 5000 people are being claimed to have returned to Sri Lanka during the active ceasefire time from February 2002 to December 2005 when the violence was downscaled. Again in January 2006 refugees started to pour inside India as soon as the fighting resumed. Currently there are about 80,000 refugees living in 117 camps in Tamil Nadu.  

The process of Refugee Arrival and Reaching the Camp 

            With the conflict raging in Sri Lanka thousands of Tamils are internally displaced in their own country. Some of them have been displaced multiple times. When the conflict grows intolerable they make the tough decision to seek safety in another country. Interviews with those ready for departure suggest that moving to another country is the toughest decision for a person who is affected by the conflict, yet they decide to leave because safety is the only consoling fact. Dodging the coastal surveillance and the militant groups they negotiate an affordable price with a local boat man. Usually they pay between Rs. 6000 to Rs.12,000 to get a safe ride to India. Depending on the intensity of the conflict, the boats are loaded. A high-intensity violence would ensure, for the boatman, a hefty sum.
            In the rough seas they set sail. A boat that can carry 8 people always carries about 25 people along with their basic belongings. Invariably the boat meets with some disaster such as engine damage, fiber breakage, fuel loss and so on. The boatmen take longer routes. The ride that would normally take 1 hour from Thalai Mannar to Dhaushkodi ends up taking 3 to 5 hours. The boatmen in fear of the Indian Navy drop the refugees on the sand mounds near Rameshwaram in Tamilnadu, where they wait to be rescued by the Indian Coast guards. According to the Department of Rehabilitation[11] of the Government of Tamil Nadu the Reception and Registration of Refugees takes places in the following way:

“On arrival of refugees, the local Police Inspector will enquire the refugees to ensure whether they are genuine refugees really affected in the ethnic problem and arriving in India to save their lives. After enquiry by the local Police Inspector, the refugees will be screened by Police authorities of ‘Q’ Branch and intelligence Bureau to segregate the militants if any mingled with the refugees and to check the antecedents of refugees. During the verifications, if LTTE. drop outs, smugglers etc came to notice, action is being taken to lodge them in the Special Camp to restrict their movement and safeguard the security of State U/s 3(2)e of Foreigner’s Act. After screening by Police authorities, the Revenue Officials will register the refugees in the admission register after verifying the documents if any, such as Identification Card, School records etc and records showing the details of such as name of the refugee, occupation, address in Sri Lanka etc. Then the refugees will be photographed to record identity of each member and to paste in the Identity Card”.

After a day’s wait they are taken to the Mandapam Camp’s Special Deputy Collector’s office. Here the men and women are quarantined separately and queried for militant links. After this process they are medically examined and registered as refugees.  The refugees are allotted houses inside the Mandapam camp and are given basic amenities to start a new life. Within a fortnight the refugees receive their refugee card with a unique number. They also receive a family card to avail the government dole and the rations. The refugees can also opt for camps where their relatives live and apply for a camp transfer. In most cases the refugees get a chance to stay in proximity to their social contacts.  

Life in a Refugee Camp 

            Initially the refugees were assigned to stay in camps temporarily for a period of three to six months. But the insecure climate in Sri Lanka has prolonged their stay to 17 years now. Refugee camps are broadly classified into three categories. The first type would be located on the outskirts of villages, where the refugees were allotted individual temporary houses measuring 10 X 10 length and breadth. To an outsider it looks like a small village community. Initially the houses were made of lite roof material that would radiate heat. This made living in the houses impossible. Hence the refugees would add on thatch to the roof to provide a cooling effect. Over the years the lite roof gave way to locally available materials.
            There used to be a common toilet in the camps. Since majority of the camps are located in dry areas, the acute water shortage made the toilets unusable. Hence the refugees use the barren lands or thorn bushes to relieve themselves. In the recent years water facility has been made available in many camps. Hence new toilets are resurfacing to take care of the sanitary needs of the camp members. The camps would have a fence surrounding it and was guarded by a police outpost. Eventually in many camps the fencing disappeared but the police outposts still remain in a few camps. The second type was known as a godown camp. These were grain storehouses of the Food Corporation of India. They were huge halls that could accommodate 100 families of four or five members each. Every family was given a small space inside the hall and they had to make their own walls with sarees or card boards to avail themselves of some privacy. Toilet facilities are located just outside the camps. Due to the paucity of proper toilets, many camp residents would defecate in the nearby open places. Special Camp is a third category of the refugee camp. Refugees who have militant affiliations, those caught on grounds of crime or suspicion of crime is kept in a special camp. The special camp has the status of a sub-jail.

1. Refugee Assistance[12] 

            While living in the camp the refugees receive a refugee card which acts as an identification card. In addition to this there is a card for the procurement of the rations. In order to take care of the immediate food and other basic needs of the refugee community the State and the Central Governments started assisting the refugees with a subsistence allowance of Rs.200 for the head of the household, Rs.144 for the adult members, Rs.90 for the children below the age of 12 and every subsequent child got Rs.45. Currently the following is the dole pattern:

S. No.

Members in Family

Amount per month


Individual member (above 12 years of age)/Head of Family



Each additional member



First child (less than 12 years of age)



Each additional child


 A sum of Rs.17.71 crores has been provided in the current financial year. From August 2006, the monthly expenditure on cash dole will be in the order of Rs.1.58 crores. The Government has to incur an additional expenditure of Rs.9 crores annually.




Subsidized Rice

      Rice at a subsidized rate of 0.57 paise per Kilogram as per Government of India guideline is supplied to the refugees accommodated in the refugee camps, as below:


S. No.

Members in Family



Adult (8 Years and above)

400 grams per day


Children (Below 8 years)

200 grams per day

Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation distributes the rice through their public distribution outlets and through the shops run by Co-operative Institutions. The differential cost is reimbursed by the Government. A sum of Rs.9.5 crores has been provided in the current financial year for the supply of subsidised rice. The Government of India has discontinued the subsidised rice scheme from 05.08.2005. However, the scheme is now being funded by the State Government. The State Government has been requesting the Government of India to restore the rice subsidy scheme for the Sri Lankan Refugees. 

2.      Clothes, Mats and Blankets 

            Clothes and Mats are supplied free of cost to the refugee families staying in various camps every year at the scales prescribed by the Government of India. Blankets are also supplied free of cost to them once in two years. 

3.      Utensils  

            Household utensils are supplied free of cost to all the refugee families accommodated in camps once in two years. As new inmates to the refugee camps arrive every day, the above mentioned facilities have to be provided to them also. This increases the expenditure. A sum of Rs.3.13 crores has been provided in the current financial year for clothing and utensils. 

4.      Infrastructure Development Program 

            Under the Infrastructure Development Programme during 2005-06, the Government sanctioned an amount of Rs.23.81 lakhs for provision of basic amenities such as provision of street lights, construction of compound wall to Kottapattu Refugee camp and special repairs to sewage pipe lines in the camp colony in Mandapam refugee camp. Recently a special sanction of Rs.27.42 lakhs has been made on 27.06.2006 to provide special repairs to hutments, toilet blocks, road, electrification of huts, street lights and other connected works in Mandapam Refugee Camp and the work is in progress. The Revenue Inspector (RI) is in-charge of every camp. He is responsible for the registration of the refugees, distribution of rations and doles, maintenance of law and order and overall camp maintenance. 
            The Revenue inspector also monitors the movement of the refugees. The refugees are expected to leave the camps only after 6:00 am and should be back by 6:00 pm. If for some reason the refugees have to exceed the time limit they have to seek prior permission stating the purpose of not abiding to the timing. A bi monthly checking is done in every camp. During the checking all the residents of the camp are expected to answer a roll call of the Revenue inspector. Failure to answer the roll call certainly results in the cancellation of the registration. Moreover it will also lead to the suspension of the doles and rations. This may even lead to the refugees being moved out of the camps. 

5.      Educational Facilities 

            When the refugees arrived they were not allowed into the local schools for education. Even in the year 1984 the refugees realized that the only asset they would take back upon return was education. With the ethnic conflict displacing about 8.5 lakh Tamils to developed countries who have settled there the forced brain drain is permanent.  Some refugee community leaders believe that when peace is restored in Sri Lanka the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora will not return to rebuild the nation.  The process of rebuilding the nation rests with the refugees who will definitely return. Hence with the strong advocacy of the activist groups such as PROTEG refugees were admitted into local government schools.
            In the case of higher education there was a quota system of 5 seats for engineering and medicine respectively, 25 seats for law and unlimited merit based entry into government Arts and Science colleges. From 1990 to 2003, about 2500 refugees graduated out of colleges. In 2003 the quota system was challenged in the court and brought to a halt. Henceforth the refugees were disadvantaged without access to professional education in the government institutions. The only resort was the private institutions, which were unaffordable for the refugees. Due to this the enrollment of refugees in colleges has drastically dropped. Further appeal has changed the decision of the courts in favor of the refugees. Yet there has been no change in the admission procedure. Activist groups are still campaigning for the right to access to higher education in government colleges.
            The Government of Tamil Nadu provides educational facilities to the children of refugees. The children of refugees are admitted in schools without production of transfer certificate from the schools last studied in Sri Lanka and are allowed to continue their studies. The school going refugee children are provided with free uniforms, mid-day meal, bus pass, text books, note books and bicycles. The refugee children are allowed to continue their studies anywhere in Tamil Nadu and are given cash dole and other assistance admissible for a refugee through their parents who stay in camps. Special Educational Reservation in higher education, which was in existence till 2002-2003, has been recommended by the State Government to Government of India for restoration
            The majority of the camp refugee population currently belonging to the age group of 35-50 has very little technical qualifications. The maximum education of these refugees is up to Advanced Level (A/L), an equivalent of the Higher Secondary education in India.

Occupation and Livelihood 

            Most refugees who came to India were engaged in agriculture or fishing in Sri Lanka. Some were involved in daily wage jobs or running small businesses. Upon coming to India they are given a subsistence dole but are legally not permitted to work. Additionally the camps located far from the coastal areas and fertile lands. Both fishing and agriculture were not possible in the new refugee settlement. With the stringent camp regulations restricting their movements they were unable to go in search of alternative jobs. This situation did not last very long. Once they were able to convince the local authorities and build a rapport and win their sympathy they were able to move out of the camps in search of new occupations.
            Some of the potential areas of labour were laying underground cables, construction of roads, cement loading, iron smelting, brick making and so on. These occupations readily engaged the refugees for the non availability of local labour, unwillingness of the local people to engage in such activities, hazardous nature of the jobs on one hand, and trustworthiness of the refugees on the other.
            With the known occupations being impossible the refugees looked for ways to survive. Despite the dole and the subsidized rationing of a few food items the refugees find it impossible to make ends meet. This has forced them to take several initiatives to learn new jobs to look after their family. Some of the new jobs they undertook were, masonry, painting, scaffolding, laying concrete centring, tailoring, carpentry, fence erection, roof construction, brick making, jewelry making, basket weaving, chair seat weaving, iron smith, cycle repairing, motor mechanic, automobile driving, welding, digging wells, kitchen gardening, poultry, cattle rearing, and many more.
            Some of the occupations are done in groups. Painting, laying concrete, fencing, centring for buildings are done by a few refugees who work as a unit, in contracts. Some refugees work as daily wage earners. Many women start raising chicken or goats, have a kitchen garden and other domestic income generating activities. A few refugees set up petty shops inside the camps. Some of the educated refugees work for service organizations such as OFERR, JRS, ADRA and others as teachers, counselors, health workers, anganwadi helpers and so on. Obtaining permission to leave the camp often depends on the vagaries of the camp authorities. Moreover travel restrictions make search for employment almost impossible. Hence the refugees are confined to jobs that are around the camp locations. Confronted with strict regulations and inadequate doles the refugee’s life is an endless struggle. Most of them try to manage the situation by winning the good will of the camp authorities and go in search of jobs. Most of the camp refugees work as laborers for daily wages in a various fields.

6.          Health and Sanitation 

            An SAHRDC report claims that camp conditions vary from district to district, depending on the sympathies of local officials. The camps closest to Madras are, for the most part, well-maintained, while in Pooluvapatti Camp near Coimbatore, 4700 refugees use eight latrines. Accumulated waste, cramped quarters, lack of adequate electricity and poor sanitation all contribute to the miserable state of the Camps. Additionally, the health of the refugees has deteriorated significantly since NGOs were banned from entering the camps. Previously, NGOs had been allowed to provide primary health care and supplement meager monthly stipends and food rations such as rice, sugar and kerosene provided by the Government of Tamilnadu. Now, without supplements from NGOs, most refugees are forced to spend their meager savings on expensive open market food because payment of the stipend rarely coincides with the arrival of subsidized rations. Also, camp officials are known to use the stipends and rations as bargaining chips, telling the refugees that they will only receive their stipends if they agree to leave the country.
            The Indian Government restricts the movement of the Tamils in Tamilnadu. Members of the police and "Q" branch[13] of the state intelligence agency are stationed at the gates of many of the camps to carefully monitor their activities. “One government official claimed that the police protect the refugees, but the Tamils themselves believe that the guards are more concerned with controlling their movement"[14](SAHRDC 1996).  One field visit report of the SAHRDC says that the Camp authorities employ indirect measures to restrain the Tamils.  In the case of Poolvapatti camp in Tamil Nadu the refugees were told by the Village Administrative Official that they could leave the camp to visit other areas if they wanted to, but that their daily allowances would be cut if they did so (SAHRDC 1996).
            According to an OFERR survey conducted in the year 2005 the causes of child malnourishment are outlined as: There is inadequate dietary intake because of insufficient access to food. This is attributed to the poor income and also 15 percent of the refugees were without camp registration and missed the monthly rations. A healthy food basket with 2800 calories would cost Rs.2266.50 but most of the refugees spend only Rs.1500 for a family of four.  The protein consumption of the refugees is less than 50 grams per day and the fat calories are also less than 15 percent which is required. The cost of coconuts being high and fresh vegetables also out of reach the refugees also suffer from a protein and oil inadequacy. Due to the poor buying capacity they are faced with severe micronutrient deficiencies and with compromised immunity making them vulnerable to diseases. Additionally they are unable to go to the doctor and comply with the medication as it is unaffordable for them. The situation is further complicated by the lack of access to safe drinking water and unsafe waste disposal. The refugees are given free medical attention in Government Hospitals and Primary Health Centres situated near the camps
            Based on its 1996 field study the SAHRDC recommended that “if the Indian Government is serious about maintaining the camps it should allow NGOs to resume their former duties. Furthermore, UNHCR, accustomed to treading lightly in India where it is not an officially recognized UN agency, should arm itself with the International Conventions to which it owes its creation and take a more pro-active role in the protection of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees”[15](SAHRDC 1996).


The only imaginable reason that people give for living in such difficult conditions is safety. Many times when I have asked the refugees, “Why do you live here?” The answer is “there are no guns around and we really need not worry about coming back when we go out. Hence we tolerate all the hardships and will continue to live here till we are sent back” Similar sentiments are heard in every protracted refugee situation around the world. Sometimes one wonders if it will end at all but it is only hope that keeps them going.  


[1] A.I.R (1951) Raj, p.127. The judgment was not delivered in relation to Article 253 but is relevant in its context as it was delivered after the entry into force of the Constitution of India.
[2] India, Lok Sabha Debates, vol.XVII, 7 May 1986, col.32.
[3] The Foreigners Order, 1948 is made by the Central Government in the exercise of the powers conferred by section 3 of the Foreigners Act, 1946.
[4] Para 3(2) (a) of the Foreigners Order, 1948, read with Rule 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950.
[5] Writ Petitions Nos. 450/83; 605-607/84; 169/87; 732/87; 747/87; 243/88; 336/88; and 274/88; SLP (Cr) Nos. 3261/1987; 274/1988 and 338/1988.
[6] "Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in Tamilnadu Camps - Voluntary Repatriation or Subtle Refoulment", South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi, January 1996.
[7] "Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in Tamilnadu Camps - Voluntary Repatriation or Subtle Refoulment", South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi, January 1996.
[9] "Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in India: Accords, People and the UNHCR", presented by the Jesuit Refugee Service, South Asia in a seminar on "Refugees, migrants and displaced peoples in South Asia", organized by South Asia Forum for Human Rights in Kathmandu, Nepal, October 1996.
[10] SAHRDC News, New Delhi, July-August 1995, Volume 1, Number 2.
[13] The "Q" branch is the Special Branch of the Tamil Nadu Police. It is known for illegal arrests, unacknowledged detention, torture, harassment and intimidation of Tamil refugees. It is also used against political opponents and trade union activists.
[14] "Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in Tamil Nadu Camps - Voluntary Repatriation or Subtle Refoulment", South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi, January 1996.
[15] "Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in Tamil Nadu Camps - Voluntary Repatriation or Subtle Refoulment", South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi, January 1996.


Relief to Rehabilitation: Towards Policy on Development Planning, Displacement and Rehabilitation
Madhuresh Kumar (*Programmes Coordinator with CACIM)

            This essay is on one section of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in India, who have been displaced due to specific developmental projects. They have been called variously as displaced persons (DPs), project affected persons (PAPs), developmental refugees, or at times even part of the broad category called environmental refugees. By and large international law has nothing to say on the victims of displacement (except some provisions on property rights of the indigenous people, etc.) who possibly constitute today the largest chunk of the forced migrants in the world. The Guiding Principles only distantly touch the question of developmental displacement. The Principles do not take in cognisance some of the root causes of violence induced displacement, for instance the fact that developmental displacement may finally result in large-scale violence, bitterness, hatred, and ethnic polarisation. The phenomenon of developmental displacement may not have been much noticed half a century ago, but certainly in the wake of globalisation in the last fifteen-twenty years its significance in terms of the rights of the victims of displacement and forced migration has increased greatly. Yet, development and developmental displacements are taking place; developmental displacement is a great tragedy unfolding worldwide before our eyes. In many cases this displacement is globalisation induced, yet global wealth, power, and resources perform almost no responsibility in confronting and mitigating the tragedy; and notwithstanding roles of UN agencies such as the UNDP, development and developmental displacements fall under national responsibility. How are nations and nations-states faring in discharge of this responsibility?
            In this context, this essay attempts to delineate the patterns of displacement, resettlement, and rehabilitation in colonial and post-colonial India and traces the evolution of national rehabilitation policy. It seeks to study and present handling of displacement due to man made disasters through developmental projects in pre independence era, and show the colonial attitude to development, DPs and PAFs, which unfortunately continues till today, after 60 years of independence. The issues, debates and conflicts over the natural resources and the path of development that aim at benefiting the powerful and privileged have changed very little since then. We see in fact a heightened conflict over resources between people who own it and the private corporations and the state, which use the principle of eminent domain to claim everything in the name of public purpose or national interest. The essay tries to portray how case after case in each decade since independence promises of development, dignity and livelihood to those affected has been betrayed, except for the partition refugees who were treated very differently. B D Sharma, a foremost crusader for the rights of the displaced people calls it as one of the shining examples of unbroken history of broken promises in the national history of India. Divided in five parts, part one of the essay addresses the colonial history of displacement and loot of natural resources by the colonial government under the Land Acquisition Act and Forest Acquisition Act for various developmental projects and the timber needs of the Raj. Part two deals with the disasters created by the industries (Nehru called them the “modern temples of India”) in the early decades of independence and other continued disaster and betrayal of sufferings and sacrifices of PAFs in the name of national interest. Part three takes a look at the rehabilitation of the partition refugees, which stands in contrast with that of the developmental refugees Part four then discusses the evolution of the rehabilitation policies from post independence to subsequent decades, and a gradual shift in approach from compensation to rehabilitation. Part five concludes the paper and offers an insight into the continued lacunae in various policies and argues for an enactment on national development planning, displacement and rehabilitation.  

1. The Pre-Independence Time  

Developments and Displacements in the Colonial Time 

            The principle of ‘eminent domain’, the bedrock of all the policies that ensure state control over natural resources and its usurpation has its legal root in colonial times. The destruction of natural resources in colonial times was a by-product of Britain’s own need fuelled largely by the Industrial Revolution. As a result by around 1860, Britain had emerged as the world leader in deforestation, devastating its own woods and forests of Ireland, South Africa, and north-eastern United States to draw timber for ship building, iron smelting and farming (Gadgil and Guha, 1992: 118). Due to increased expansion of the Railways network and the growing timber need[1] the Imperial Forest Department was formed in 1864, headed by Dietrich Brandis with the dual aim of checking deforestation, but at the same time bringing in effective legislation to assert legal ownership right of the state over forests and waste lands, leading to enactment of Indian Forest Act of 1865 replaced later in 1878. It is not that the complete control of the state was not challenged at that moment but the majority view favouring complete control of the state and denial of rights of the villagers held sway over the moderate views of Brandis. The Act was a comprehensive piece of legislation establishing the ‘rights’ of state and reducing those of the village communities to that of ‘privilege’ thereby severely limiting the rights to forest produce. Starting with meeting the needs of railway the Act later played a very crucial role in meeting the timber needs during two World wars.
As seen the Act largely benefited the colonial designs and went completely against the interests of the indigenous people, jhum cultivators, forest dwellers, settled cultivators, artisans and various others village communities. It was then in 1878 that Poona Sarvajanik Sabha anticipated the resulting alienation of the peasantry due to the Act and contested its excessive reliance on state control (Guha and Gadgil, 1992:144). This understanding resulted in protest in the form of non-payment of taxes, non-cooperation, giving false information or other peaceful means and the protest turned violent when all peaceful avenues failed. The attempted control of natural resources and abrogation of the traditional rights of villagers brings forth the conflict between the commercial interests of the state and the subsistence ethics of the peasant. Using the argument made by late E P Thomson in the case of food riots, we can say that if the customary use of the forest rested on a moral economy of provision, scientific forestry rested squarely on a political economy of profit (Guha and Gadgil 1992: 175)
It is also to be noted that at a conservative estimate 35 million persons were displaced due to planned destruction of Indian industries in the 19th century. By 1947 an estimated 16 million of people had been displaced only through the acquisition of 99,000 sq miles of forest with the help of 1878 Forest Act (Fernandes and Paranjpye 1997: 7-10). It is also to be noted that in the absence of any provision for the rehabilitation or compensation they were forced to simply move to other places or end as labourers in the plantation colonies, textile mills, and urban centres, something very much prevalent in today’s India too. 

Conflict of Interests – Antecedents of the Struggle of the Displaced 

            The British exploited the natural resources for constantly feeding their industries and maintaining consumption levels back home and to facilitate this process set up railways, textile mills, hydroelectric and irrigation projects on the lands of the Indian peasant and used the labour of Indians in the process ensuring destruction of the traditional artisans and their skills. However, one or two industrial conclaves of J N Tata and some others did develop in this time too. The British regime exploited sea coasts, forests, inland water bodies, grazing lands, farm lands, created environmentally non sustainable urban centres, and undermined the hitherto existing ecosystems, along with changing the political, social and economic structures. As the need for land grew they promulgated the Land Acquisition Act in 1894, further extending the eminent domain to all kinds of private land as well, which since then became the chief tool of acquiring land for all kinds of purposes.
            Of significant interest in the current context of our discussion on development and displacement from that era is construction and opposition to the Mulshi Dam to be built by the Tatas near Poona in 1921. The opposition to the dam led by Senapati Bapat is also perhaps one of the few documented evidence of protest movement against the construction of a hydroelectric project in India. The stand taken at that point by those who resisted still remains valid and shows how the thinking on development has remained till date fundamentally biased. As quoted in (Gadgil and Guha 1995: 69) The Times of India in May 2 1921 edition published an account of the Mulshi Satyagraha[2] where the correspondent succinctly noted various positions and origins of the struggle:

 1.       A strong sense of wrong and deep feeling of resentment among the peasantry, whose lands were affected by the project, against the government for sanctioning the scheme without taking them in its confidence, that is without consent, knowledge or consultation of the peasant-owners of the land.
Suspicion and distrust of government and the company, due chiefly to the procedure of acquisition, as to the bona fide intentions toward giving full compensation, or equivalent amount and quality of land somewhere else, and other facilities enjoyed by them or necessary for fresh agriculture.
Reluctance to part with the land on account of its extreme productivity, natural facilities of irrigation, and nominal amount of land revenue.
Reluctance to part with the lands, ancestral homes, and traditional places of worship and see them submerged under water.
Natural reluctance in this class of peasantry to emigrate from one place to another. 

On the other side the main claims of the project promoters were: 

1.       One and half lakh of electrical horse power would be created by the Mulshi Peta dam.
It would save 5,25,000 tons of coal every year. This quantity of coal at the then rate cost Rs. 18,300,000.
The saving of coal meant a corresponding saving of Rs. 10,750,000 worth of fuel to the mill industry of Bombay.
The quantity of coal saved on account of the scheme would have required 26,250 wagons for transport. These could be now utilised and saved for other public purposes.
Water once used could be directed for agricultural purposes after electrical power had been created.
Electricity thus created would give work to 300,000 labourers. If it was utilised for cotton mills, everyday 51 lakh yards of cotton would be manufactured.
The project electrification of the Bombay suburban railways lines would give to Bombay city much faster and most frequent trains, thus enabling the development of housing schemes in purer air and healthier circumstances.
            This in a way represents the roots of the ideological conflicts or conflict over claims, which we witness even today, conflicts between the livelihood interest of the farmers and other communities to those of the needs of urban centres for power, and other resources. It also illustrates the fact that serving the needs of the urban centre is considered as part of the larger public purpose more than the livelihood needs of the villagers and other affected communities are considered from that angle. Till today things have not changed much. The Mulshi Satyagraha ended with the agitators being divided by the Tatas and the government with help of sahukars (local money lenders), but nevertheless the farmers got a better monetary compensation because of the Satyagraha.

2. The Post-Independence Euphoria 

Sacrifice or Sacrilege: The Case of Bhakra[3]  

            Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, during the dedication of the Bhakra dam to the nation said on 22 October 1963, “Bhakra Nangal project is something tremendous, something stupendous, something which shakes you up when you see it, the new temple of resurgent India, is the symbol of India’s progress.” Bhakra is a legend, used and abused by the politicians, bureaucrats, judges, ordinary citizens, media, and many others to silence all opposition to the large dams in India. Built in the initial years of nationalistic euphoria and idealism of nation building, it was credited to be largely responsible for achieving self-sufficiency in the food grain production with Haryana and Punjab earning the distinction of being the granaries of nation. In April 2005, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra in a significant study however completely demystified the hallow around the Bhakra. The study said,
            We found that as in the most other dam projects, the figures put forward for areas to be irrigated by the Bhakra project were highly aggregated. Indeed, even the areas that it could ultimately service, it was able to do so by virtually drying up the river and cutting off areas previously irrigated. The startling finding was that Bhakra did not add any new areas under irrigation – it only transferred or shifted the irrigation from one set of the areas to another – from areas that were already irrigated to other areas.

            Further it added, “in other words, in the best analysis, the contribution of Bhakra to India’s food grains production and Punjab / Haryana’s agricultural prosperity has been limited, and no where near the perception. Bhakra happened to be in the right place, at the right time, and has been given the credit for things it never did.”
            On the other hand if we look at the human cost, which went behind creating this myth then the findings are equally startling. Even in the 50 years after the process of displacement started people have not been fully rehabilitated, and remain unable to integrate in the new social milieu, they are called Bilaspuriyas in Hissar, Haryana where most of them were given semi-arid and bushy land. According to Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB), the Bhakra dam submerged 44,153 acres (17876 ha) of land due to which residents of 371 villages were displaced. BBMB further states that 7,206 families were affected comprising about 36,000 persons. But these counts are only for landowning families there are no figures available for those affected by the project in other ways. There was no uniform resettlement policy for the displaced and those displaced by the level of 1280 feet were given only cash compensation and those above 1280 feet up to 1700 feet were given an option for cash or land compensation. The policy was that no oustee would be given more than 25 acres of land, but also not less than his acquired holding, subject to his compensation amount being adequate to meet the cost. This was not thus exactly the land for land policy. Landless tenants were also declared eligible for the allotment of land equal to the extent of their submerged tenancy subject to a maximum of 5 acres. The price of the land was to be recovered in 20 equal half yearly instalments with a 5.25% interest. Similarly it was decided to allot half acre of land free of cost to each artisan and labourer of the rural area who did not own or cultivate land provided he shifted and settled to the Hissar district. The price of such land was recovered from the other oustees allotted lands through a 1% surcharge.

             In the initial euphoria and faith in the nation building project the oustees cooperated at each and every step from land acquisition to the construction of the project. Oustees did not complain of any hardship due to inadequate resettlement plan, and treated it as a case of inexperience of the young nation in handling projects of this magnitude. However, as years have gone by, the experience of oustees suggests that it is not lack of learning or experience but the insensitivity of officials responsible for their plight. Today the third generation of the displaced has a growing sense of betrayal. The insensitivity is clearly visible in the way cost of the land allotted was recovered from the oustees themselves, and the sole reason of settling them in Hissar was the fact that the unarable land, covered with thick overgrowth in a semi arid zone was available cheaply.
            Nehru had once said that the oustees were going to another land; and the government would will make such arrangements for them that they would forget their homeland…the government would give them water, school, electricity, roads. However, reality is something else, as one of the oustees says that when they went, there was not even drinking water, there was no electricity, they were shifted in 1956, but they got electricity only in 1972. In fact most of them received proprietary ownership only in 1980, which prevented them from taking any loan even till then. Those settled in Himachal Pradesh (HP) had no better luck; some of them got land by the HP government but mostly got cash compensation and were left to fend for themselves. Some of them decided to move to the upper height of the mountains adjacent to reservoir. But mostly they could never recover because the infrastructure in the region was completely disintegrated due to submergence and displacement. The biggest problem for these people continues to be that of drinking water. It is ironic that people displaced for such a huge reservoir, living on the banks of the same continue to suffer from serious drinking water problem.  There are other cultural, social and emotional problems displaced communities face till now.
            After 20 years of completion of the dam, the Government of India’s Rehabilitation Committee submitted its report in 1983. In it, it claimed to have rehabilitated all displaced families. However, in 1999 the Committee was called again to look in to the 3,000 applications, which were submitted claiming inadequate rehabilitation. Out of these, finally 787 were found to be valid by the committee without specifying any parameters, and of these only 153 families have been promised, land for lost land.
             This is ironic for we all say that someone has to pay the price of development. The Bhakra people suffered willingly in the name of nation but even then they did not receive a honest deal. It was a breach of trust and an example for future.  

The Case of Jaikwadi Dam[4]  

            There are numerous documented instances of failure of justice mechanisms and the inability of the government to resettle various project affected people across the country. Another instance is that of Jaikwadi Dam in Paithan, Maharashtra on Godavari River, completed in 1976 with a dam wall 10.2 Kms. long and a reservoir of 34,000 hectares. The project submerged 118 villages and 34,000 hectares of land and displaced 70,000 people. From the beginning there was no provision for any land based rehabilitation and each of them got compensation at a paltry rate of Rs. 700 and Rs. 1100 per acre only. Only few well off people from the region after fighting it out in the court got compensation close to Rs. 6,000 per acre; but large number of them got a sum which did not ensure even purchasing of some land for survival. The promised 4-acre land in the command area to be made available to the displaced people was also never made available to them. Another provision announced at the time of commencement of dam in 1965 that 5% of government jobs would be reserved for the dam-affected people in recruitment never actualised. After 30 years of the completion of the dam the displaced people are struggling for their rightful claim under the banner of Jaikwadi Prakalpagrasta Sangharsha Samiti (Jaikwadi Project Affected People’s Organisation) and Nisarga Mitra Mandal (Nature Friends’ Organisation). They petitioned the government on many occasions, held demonstrations, and took out rallies but the pleas fell on deaf ears.
            The instance of Jaikwadi DPs is significant because Maharashtra is one of the first states, which which came up with a rehabilitation law in 1976 for the DPs by irrigation projects. The Act was amended in 1986, which received the presidential assent in 1989. It was considered a bold move in those times because as opposed to the Government of India, or other states which started working on a rehabilitation policy in 1990s due to various other factors, the Maharashtra law was solely guided by its own experience of constructing many big irrigation and power projects such as Koyna and other industrial and infrastructural projects. The Law had many flaws, to be discussed later, but nevertheless it was a beginning. However in spite of a law being in place and government showing its concern for the DPs the concrete experience was not substantially different. 

The Continued Suffering  

            The experiences of deprivation after displacement and consequent struggles of DPs in Narmada, Koel Karo, Tehri, Rengali, Tawa, Indira Sagar, Kashipur, Kalinganagar and elsewhere in the country has gone a long way in broadening the discussions on development and contributed to the strengthening of the democratic and ethos in the country. One might not talk here of the Narmada Valley development project, comprising of 30 big, 135 medium size and 3,000 small dams over the Narmada and its tributaries referred as “one of the worst planned environmental disasters of the century”. The Narmada Bachao Andolan led the demand for adequate resettlement and rehabilitation. The Narmada case has been documented and discussed in many forums and on many pages. So we are leaving that out of the current discussion.[5]Even though the Central Water Commission brings out a detailed directory of the various power and irrigation projects but there is no information available about the numbers of DPs and PAFs. Whatever data there is, it exists mainly because of the efforts of the people’s movements, academics, and researchers. A peep in to the available data will give us a picture of the real victims of the development.  

Table 1: A Conservative Estimate Of The Number Of Total Persons Displaced And Tribals Displaced By Developmental Schemes 1951-1990 In India (In Lakhs) 


All displaced persons

Tribals displaced

Category of Projects

All DPs

DPs resettled


























Wildlife sanctuaries





















 Source : Tribals displaced; the price of development, by Walter Fernandes, India Social Institute, New Delhi (Fernandes and Paranjpye 1997)

            The data presented above is only till 1990; however the situation has not changed much in terms of continuance of displacement due to developmental projects, if only it has increased in this hyped up economic boom as never before, or in implementing rehabilitation programmes. The percentage of those rehabilitated is still as low as 25-30 percent of the total number of displaced population. A discussion in this context on the evolution of the rehabilitation policies in the country since independence would be of some significance to us.
            However, before that as a study in contrast we can have brief look into government’s treatment of development refugees in colonial or post-colonial India in the wake of massive refugee influx in the aftermath of partition.  

3. Resettling the Partition Refugees 

Partition Refugee: Critical Component of the Nation Building

            Independence of India and Pakistan came at a great price, acknowledged as the largest mass migration in the recorded history; approximately 14 million people crossed over – roughly seven million from each side of the border; Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims in Punjab and Bengal.[6] It was not a normal case displacement of population from one’s homeland but created under special circumstances where there were no chances of going back. The government of India was faced with this problem when it had no experience of handling such a massive challenge and or the resources. However there was a political will that made it possible with the help of various non-governmental national and international agencies to provide a working level of resettlement and rehabilitation. The very fact that Nehru and others viewed the refugees as a critical component of nation building rather than a burden testifies to the will of the government in rehabilitating them. The following quotes are testimonies to this:

            Sir, we may have to be grateful to the refugees for having drawn our attention to the urgency of the problem of planning for the development of this country, and perhaps future generations will acknowledge their gratitude to the so-called refugees for having furnished the manpower which is necessary for the purpose of developing the resources of the country as a whole.[7] 
                                    - K. C.Neogy, Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation  

            The problem was seen thus as a national tragedy, and this feeling was visible in the efforts at the level of centre as well as states, and among both governmental and non-governmental agencies. The refugees were welcomed with open arms as a result of which they quickly assimilated in the existing society in many ways. One of the reasons accounting for this response was the fact that they were seen as sons of soil who were coming back home from a land which no more belonged to them. As a matter of fact this attitude meant they were resettled not only in Punjab or Bengal but in other states also such as Delhi, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, Tripura. However, more important to our purpose here is the way the government understood the problem; for instance it did not view it as a problem of displacement only. The issue called for rehabilitation; this the government established the Rehabilitation and Development Board.
Talking of this Nehru said,
            You will notice that we call it the ‘Rehabiliattion and Development Board’, meaning thereby that we are combining the two functions or rather, looking at the two problems – rehabilitation and development – together.[8]
                                                - Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India

To quote Neogy again
Sir, what is meant by permanent rehabilitation? Permanent rehabilitation means creation of employment because it ultimately comes to that; creation of employment for millions of people at a time when production is admittedly at a dangerously low ebb, and when the volume of trade and commerce in the country is shrinking …
            Sir, permanent rehabilitation can be achieved satisfactorily only as a feature of the general development of the country as a whole… it is simply impossible to think in terms of rehabilitating them without at the same time proceeding with measures which would lead to the development of the resources of the country as a whole.[9] 
                                                                        - K C Neogy

            This approach mean that not only relief was offered to them but efforts were made to provide them land, compensate for lost property, recovering lost property in some cases, providing plots for houses, skills for gainful employment, helping find employment, provide loans for starting businesses, purchasing food, seeds, fodder, bullocks, psycho-social counselling and meeting other needs. In short attempts at making them stand on their own feet once again were undertaken. The state took on paternalistic role of caring for its citizens, especially women – widowed or abducted, infirm or old – for a longer time and turning them in to valuable citizens. The sincerity of efforts are visible in the fact that in final reckoning, the refugees in West received 24,48,830 standard acres in quasi-permanent settlement, in lieu of 39,35,131 standard acres left behind by them in West Punjab. The government devised a carefully planned system of allocating land for agriculture and or housing plots. There were separate departments created by the government to deal with specific needs of the refugees, and a number of Bills were introduced in the Parliament covering practically every aspect of refugee rehabilitation and rehabilitation – The Evacuee Property Act, 1947; the Finance Administration Bill, 1948 dealing with loans to small businesses and urban refugees; the Displaced persons (Institution of Suits Bill) August 1948; Resettlement of Displaced Persons (Land Acquisition) Bill, September 1948, Interim Compensation Scheme, 1953 and many others. In this endeavour the government got support from International Red Cross, UNICEF, Hindu Mahasabha, RSS, INA, All India Women’s Conference, YWCA, DAV College, St. John’s Ambulance, Ramakrishna Mission, Marwari Relief Society, National Council of Women and a large number of Ashrams and Deras.[10]
            The overwhelming support from cross section of society also meant a different understanding and acceptance of the problem, which is in contrast to the way the problems of the DPs from developmental projects are handled. The enormity of problems has never been seen as a national tragedy but has always remained a local problem - that too of displaced people only. This is in contrast with the emotions one finds in the wake of disaster induced displacements, for instance, as witnessed after the earthquakes in Latur, Jammu and Kashmir, Bhuj or cyclones in Orissa or Tsunami in South India. It is ironical that these so-called development projects fail to provide for the development of those who pay for it.

4. Journey of a Policy  

Displacement, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy: A Journey  

            Displacement due to ‘development’ in India is not new, though resettlement and rehabilitation as a policy measure certainly is. The colonial period has produced a vast segment of displaced people. The forest resources, river systems and mineral base that attract the ‘developmental projects’ have already occasioned a ‘displaced’ segment of the Indian society. In the Indian context, it is of interest to note that most of the developmental projects are located in the most backward areas and populated by various small nationalities – otherwise called tribals. These segments, with the enactment of land settlement laws, forest laws and commercialisation of forest products and minerals, have undergone a metamorphosis, where the access of local population groups to the various natural resources are legally denied and these segments of population are treated as hostages in their own environment. The same fate has overtaken the poor peasantry, the artisan, groups and the traditional service groups.  QUOTE "(Bharathi and Rao, 1999)"Any resistance to displacement is now treated as a ‘law and order’ problem, so there is often no question of a Relief and Rehabilitation (R & R) policy. Land in several places has been acquired by the use of the draconian provisions of the Land Acquisition Act 1894, which still continues, with some amendments in 1967 and 1984. It is now a weapon in the hands of independent Indian state for acquiring land from its citizens.
            The situation just after independence was not much different. Independent India’s Nehruvian development model based on development of heavy industries[11] found a nationalistic fervour with planners and its privileged citizens. That there would be large-scale displacement was not a hidden fact and Nehru while speaking to displaced persons of Hirakund Dam in 1948, said, ‘If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the nation’. It was much more a matter of government’s largesse and R & R depended solely on the whims and fancies of the project authorities. Rehabilitation and resettlement as a term also did not exist in the government lexicon in those days; it was all a matter of dealing with displaced people - that too marked with callousness and insensitivity on the part of the administration.

             In this period resettlement was undertaken on a case-to-case basis. To mention a few, there were projects like the Nagarjunasagar, Hirakund, Tungabhadra and Mayurakshi dams; the Rourkela, Bhilai and Bokaro steel plants, several defence establishments, coal mines, etc, which did offer resettlement to the displaced in the form of house sites. Only National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), and Coal India Limited (CIL), two government undertakings have formulated an R and R policy and have constituted R and R departments to administer it. In addition, resettlement colonies were demarcated near all their project sites to resettle the displaced
 QUOTE "(Asif, 2000)" As a result of this ad hoc approach, many of the displaced are left out of the process, and even though there is an absence of accurate national database studies on displacement, a study for 1951-1995 completed in six states and other researches show that their real number in the period 1947-2000 is probably around 60 millions  QUOTE " (Fernandes, 2004). 

Recognising Displacement as a Problem  

            As mentioned before the state of Maharashtra was the first to enact a rehabilitation law in response to the demands of the DPs of a large number of dams constructed during the first five five-year plans. In fact in 1965 only the government officially accepted the need to rehabilitate DPs and declared that:  

·          The DPs will preferably be allocated land for cultivation
A residential plot will be provided.
A Gaothan (settlement) necessary for it is to be established.
In the newly established Gaothans various civic facilities will be provided.
All the expenditure incurred fort these rehabilitation measures should be met from the budget of the project.
            It also admitted that independent machinery for rehabilitation was required and established the Rehabilitation Directorate at Sachivalaya to implement its policy.  (Bhuskute: 1997).  
            The act was only applicable to the irrigation projects in Maharashtra and not to the inter-state projects but could be applied to others kinds of projects if government felt the need to do so. This however, did not mean that government recognised rehabilitation as a legal right of DPs. It remained enshrined in the language of the welfare and relief necessary to ensure timely implementation of the various developmental projects. We will take the problems of various legislations cumulatively in next section.

Responding to the Peoples Movement Against Displacement  

            The agitation of DPs of Rengali dam in 1970s forced the government of Orissa to formulate a rehabilitation package and approach the resettlement issue in a systematic manner. These guidelines were then amended and applied for all medium and major irrigation projects in the state and promulgated through a Government Order on April 20 1977 (resolution no. 13169). A number of other government orders followed in 1978, 1989, 1990, and 1993. Finally in 1994 putting together all these orders, the main displacing agency, Department of Water resources, came with a comprehensive policy on resettlement and rehabilitation. Known as The Orissa Resettlement and Rehabilitation of Project Affected Persons Policy, 1994, it was promulgated on August 27, 1994. The government then again initiated discussion to address various problems in the policy and also extend it to other projects in the state. (Dey: 1997)
             By 1980s a substantial awareness began to emerge out of these issues and experiences of the DPs. Unrest began to spread, and without tackling the unrest the governmental options of beginning new developmental projects were getting restricted. Even though the resettlement of the oustees had been the responsibility of the state governments and project authorities, in 1980 Government of India issued an order (No. 27/(9)/30-P.I. dated 19.05.1980) to all the State Governments that unless satisfactory safeguards were provided for protection of the interests of the oustees particularly the weaker sections, the Union Government might not accept the project for approval, since rehabilitation issues might hold up the progress of the project and result in excessive cost escalation (Verma 1997). Even though the order only reflected the concerns with regard to completion of the projects, it did mean that a little more attention was being paid now to the problems of the DPs.
             It was also during 1980s that the World Bank, one of the major financiers of these big projects, issued its first R&R policy titled, “Social Issues Associated With Involuntary Resettlement In Bank Financed Projects”, which after subsequent revisions finally became a mandatory operational directive in 1990 to be taken seriously by the project holders and borrowers. This policy was based on the feedback from the field experiences and can be still described as one of the most effective ones framed as a major condition for financially assistance for any project that involves displacement, in Bank’s parlance ‘involuntary displacement’ (Paranjpye 1997). However, it has been pointed out now that in current neo-liberal era the Bank has now come to dilute its own provisions in order to facilitate quick clearance of the projects. The Bank’s guidelines have also been accepted and applied more or less in totality by the OECD countries for the developmental projects they finance.
              With regard to the formulation of the rehabilitation policies, we should refer to the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Coal India Limited (CIL), two of the biggest public sector agencies, responsible for a large number of population displacements. Initially like any other agency they also considered displacement as a non-issue and not of much concern, and only paid cash compensation to DPs at the market rate. In some cases they also started the practice of giving jobs in category C and D to DPs and as a result their records have been somewhat better. For example as on September 1996, NTPC successful rehabilitated 10,342 families (40.5 per cent of the total displaced), 2,977 (11.6 percent) were given employment with NTPC, while another 4,321 were employed with other agencies working for NTPC, and 134 were issued contract licences. It also engaged in imparting vocational training in over 20 different trades to DPs (Paranjpye and Kewalramani 1997).
               In case of Coal India Limited, all its activities were earlier guided by the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957 which was very much similar to the provisions of Land Acquisition Act 1894 and did not have much in way for the rights of those affected. However, the only concession has been the jobs offered to them in category C and D, and in some cases resettlement colonies being built by them.  

1990s: A Significant Watershed  

            With the opening of the Indian economy in 1991 there was a rush for investment in major infrastructure projects. It also led to heightened agitation by the people’s movements; there was increased awareness also; there was increasing pressure on the international financial institutions. All these led to a flurry of activities for R & R. Starting from the World Bank, other states and agencies such as Orissa (1994), Karnataka (1994), Rajasthan (1997), NTPC (1993), and CIL (1994, the Union Ministry of Water Resources (1994), Ministry of Rural development (1993 and 1994), all came out with policy statements on resettlement and rehabilitation. This was seen as happening especially due to two significant happenings. First, in the wake of the strident opposition from the Narmada Bachao Andolan and worldwide pressure, the World Bank also received negative reports from the Morse Committee about irregularities in the resettlement and rehabilitation procedures, and withdrew from the Sardar Sarovar Project. Second, as a result of the withdrawal of the World Bank, other lending institutions and governments became stricter about these issues and made instituting R & R measures a mandatory condition for the sanctioning of developmental loans. These conditions are very much visible in two of the clauses in the Government of India’s 1994 draft policy.
1.1)   With the advent of the New Economic Policy, it is expected that there will be large scale investments, both on account of internal generation of the capital and increased inflow of foreign investments thereby creating and enhancing demand for land to be provided within a shorter time-span in an increasingly competitive market ruled economic structure.
2.2) An interesting feature of the growing protest movement has been the creation of a national awareness of the problem. The Press, the activists groups, the social workers and judiciary have combined together to not only educate the masses about the problem but also to the build-up by the political parties and even by the international organisations to give to it wider than national connotation. The international conference of nations on environment at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 has served sufficiently to internationalise the issue. The world financial institutions can go to the extent of withholding loan and aid so as to get fulfilment of the conditions for its ecological concerns (this was a reference to the Sardar Sarovar Project)
            Another significant development in 1990s was the constitution of World Commission on Dams (WCD) comprising of all the stakeholders in the issue. It led to greater awareness on the issue of displacement, but government attitude hardened. Ramaswamy Iyer, former water resources secretary who has been involved with the whole process in some way or the other for past two decades notes recently,

            In the earlier period (prior to 1998), a degree of enlightenment was gradually beginning to emerge; there was a growing awareness of environmental and displacement problems in the context of big projects; new guidelines started appearing; and as mentioned earlier, a debate began on a National Rehabilitation Policy. However, the appearance of the WCD changed all that. Official attitudes to the WCD were perhaps more hostile in India than anywhere else; and eventually the Government of India totally rejected the Report of the WCD (November 2000). There was a hardening of attitudes, a strident re-assertion of the engineering point of view and a down gradation of other concerns, and a volte face on our own principles and guidelines. Two decades of slow emergence of enlightened thinking were washed out in the flood of rhetoric against what was perceived as an international conspiracy to prevent India from developing. [Iyer 2007]
            This signified governmental rejection in mid 1990s of all previous relevant discussions, which went down the drain, and the change in attitude led to a much watered down draft by the then National Democratic Alliance government in 2003.

Shaping a National Legislation on Resettlement and Rehabilitation  

            At the national level, the first policy draft was prepared in 1985 by a committee appointed by the department of tribal welfare when it found that over 40 per cent of the DPs and PAFs in the period of 1951-1980 were indigenous people (Government of India 1985). The next draft came eight long years later in 1993 and the third in 1994 from the Ministry of Rural Development, in response to which the civil society alliance struggling for a national rehabilitation policy proposed its own draft to the Ministry in 1995. There was silence till 1998 when another draft came out, but the Ministry that prepared it also prepared amendments to the Land Acquisition Act (1894). The civil society alliance found about half of the policy provisions acceptable but thought that the amendments rejected all the principles enunciated in the draft policy. So they came together again to dialogue with the Ministry and work on alternatives. Many principles evolved out of this interaction.
            A meeting convened by the Minister of Rural Development in January 1999 ended with an implicit unwritten understanding that a policy would be prepared first and that any amendments to the Land Acquisition Act would be based on the principles it enunciated. However, the subsequent draft policy prepared in 2003 by the then government completely ignored the whole process which had gone behind the work in 1990s  QUOTE "(Fernandes, 2004)"  Once again popular movements got together to draft a policy statement on ‘National Development Planning and Displacement’ and passed it to the government through the National Advisory Council. This draft has not been accepted completely by the Ministry of Rural Development but the 2006 draft based on which the UPA govt now intends to enact a Rehabilitation Act draws from it and presented it in Parliament recently in December 2007. It is an improvement over all the past policies; nevertheless problems persist.     

5. Concluding Remarks

            The recent decision of the government of India to finally move towards enactment of a National Rehabilitation Act rather than a policy is welcome, because it will provide the provisions the much needed teeth for implementation, and will enable the DPs to demand their due share. In the third section of this article we saw the gradual evolution from the principle of relief (in which the ideas of charity and relief are embedded) for the displaced to the realisation that displacement is a problem of development, and then finally to a recognition that rehabilitation is a due entitlement and a right of the displaced. There have been different critiques of the various policies enunciated by the government at different points of time offered by popular movements launched in protest of displacement, also by academics, researches and political parties. A discussion of these critiques will require a separate essay. But in any case, the government will have to take these in serious consideration.

            But while concluding we can point out at least some of the continuing malaise in the various policies pursued by different agencies.  

1)      Each of the policies takes displacement as given and does not make it a priority to put the onus on the agencies concerned to find the least displacing measures, alternative projects, plans, measures, etc.

2)      Problem always persists in determining the identity of the PAFs; and the policy never encompasses every person directly or indirectly affected by the project in the widest sense of the term.
Policies lack institutional mechanisms for strict implementation of the measures related to R & R.
Till today we do not have a definition or parameter to determine if a project being considered is of public interest or purpose.
There is no strict provision for time bound resettlement of DPs and PAFs from the time their land is taken till they are fully rehabilitated and if their economic status will better than or at par with their pre-displacement condition.
There is no limit to the amount of land to be acquired by an agency; as a result on several occasions agencies acquire excess land, which remains unutilised and later sold to private agencies for other purposes. But this excess land is never returned to those from whom land was acquired.
None of the policies recognises rehabilitation as a right of the displaced, and a provision under the natural justice of law.
The oustees, relevant popular organisations, or Gram Sabhas are never consulted when a project is planned, executed, or during the process of displacement or rehabilitation; they are never made participants in the benefits accruing from the particular projects.
Rehabilitation provisions are always meagre and never satisfactory in terms of restoring to the displaced their condition prior to displacement.
Last, but not the least, no policy till date has addressed the needs in retrospective manner, which is to say the needs of the DPs or PAFs, displaced due to projects planned prior to the enactment of that particular policy.
            To conclude, it is time the government learn from its own experience of dealing with the partition refugees or the Tibetan refugees, and show necessary political will in rehabilitating DPs. One can only hope that the government of India will take various critiques into account and move ahead towards creating a National Policy on Development Planning, Displacement and Rehabilitation and not just a National Rehabilitation Policy.




[1] Each mile of railway construction requires 860 sleepers, each lasting between 12-14 years. In the 1870s it was calculated that well over a million sleepers were required annually. [Gadgil and Guha 1992 : 122, footnote]

[2] a little more detailed account is available in Bhuskute 1997.

[3] Much of the information presented here is based on the path breaking research done by Sripad Dharmadhikari and his team at Manthan Adhyayan Kendra in early 2000. See Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, 2005.

[4] For details see Vijay Diwan 2004

[5] See Sangvai 2000

[6] For a detailed account of the partition and related issues in East see Bose, 2000 also Das in Samaddar, ed; and in West see Bhasin and Menon; also Menon in Samaddar, ed. 2003

[7] Constituent Assembly of India (Legislative) Debates, Vol. I, February 3. Delhi : Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, 1948, p. 187. As quoted in Menon in Samaddar, ed. 2003

[8] Constituent Assembly of India (Legislative) Debates, Vol. I, February 3. Delhi : Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, 1948, p. 179. As quoted in Menon in Samaddar, ed. 2003

[9] Constituent Assemly Debates, Vol. III, 12 March 1948, p. 202. quoted in Menon in Samaddar, ed. 2003

[10] See Menon in Samaddar, ed 2003

    [11] The best represented in Nehru’s oft quoted statement, ‘Dams are modern temples of India’. 


Aniruddha Dey, 1997 – ‘A critique of the Orissa Rehabilitation Act 1989’ in Walter Fernandes, Vijay Paranjpye, edited Rehabilitation Policy and Law in India.  Delhi: Indian Social Institute
Arvind Anjum and Manthan, 1997 – ‘A review of the policy of Coal India’ in Walter Fernandes, Vijay Paranjpye, edited Rehabilitation Policy and Law in India.  Delhi: Indian Social Institute

Government of India, 2004 – ‘N
ational policy on resettlement and rehabilitation for project affected families-2003’. Published in the Gazette of India, Extraordinary Part-I, Section 1, No- 46, dated 17th February, 2004
M Bharathi and R S Rao, 1999 - 'Linking Development to Displacement', in Economic and Political Weekly, Issue July 10-16 1999

Madhav Gadgil and Ramchandra Guha, 1992 – This Fissured Land. New Delhi: Oxford University Press
Madhav Gadgil and Ramchandra Guha, 1995 – Ecology and Equity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press and UNRISD

Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, 2005
Unravelling Bhakra: Assessing the temple of resurgent India. Badwani : Manthan Adhyayan Kendra
Mohammed Asif, June 2000 - 'Why Displaced Persons Reject Project Resettlement Colonies', in Economic and Political Weekly, Issue June 10 2000, pp 2005-2008

Nikhil Verma, 1997 – ‘A critique of the draft rehabilitation policy of the ministry of water resource development’ in Walter Fernandes, Vijay Paranjpye, edited Rehabilitation Policy and Law in India.  Delhi : Indian Social Institute
Pradip Kumar Bose, ed, 2000 – Refugees in West Bengal. Kolkata : Calcutta Research Group
R V Bhuskuta, 1997 – ‘The Maharashtra Rehabilitation Act 1989’ in Walter Fernandes, Vijay Paranjpye, edited Rehabilitation Policy and Law in India.  Delhi: Indian Social Institute
Ramaswamy Iyer, 2007 – ‘Towards a Just Displacement and Rehabilitation Policy’, in Economic and Political Weekly, Issue, July 28 2007

Ranabir Samaddar, ed. 2003 – Refugees and the State. New Delhi: Sage
Ritu Menon, 2003 – ‘Birth of Socil Security Commitments: What Happened in the West’, in Ranabir Samaddar, ed Refugees and the State. New Delhi: Sage
Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, 1998 – Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition. Delhi : Kali for Women
Roopee Sahaee, February 2003 - 'National Rehabilitation Policy: Many Loopholes', in Economic and Political Weekly, Issue February 8 2003

Samir Kumar Das, 2003 – ‘State Response to the Refugee Crisis: Relief and Rehabilitation in the East’, in Ranabir Samaddar, ed Refugees and the State. New Delhi: Sage
Sanjay Sangvai, 2000 – The River and Life. Kolkata : Earthcare Books
Vijay Diwan, 2004 – Jaikwadi : the large dam that failed to deliver. Aurangabad: Jaikwadi Project Affected People’s Organsiation & Nisarga Mira Mandal
Vijay Paranjpye, 1997 – ‘A review of the World Bank’s rehabilitation directives’ in Walter Fernandes, Vijay Paranjpye, edited Rehabilitation Policy and Law in India.  Delhi : Indian Social Institute.
Vijay Parannpye and Lolita Kewatramani, 1997 – ‘Swamped by NTPC Fly-Ash : A review of the Rehabilitation policy’ in Walter Fernandes, Vijay Paranjpye, edited Rehabilitation Policy and Law in India.  Delhi  Indian Social Institute

Walter Fernandes, 2000 - 'Pawns in the 'Development'', in S Parasuraman and P V Unnikrishnan, eds, India Disasters Report Human - Instigated Disasters, pp 276-279
Walter Fernandes, March 2004 - 'Rehabilitation Policy for the Displaced', in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 39, Issue 12, pp 1191-1193
Walter Fernandes, Vijay Paranjpye, eds, 1997 - Rehabilitation Policy and Law in India.  Delhi: Indian Social Institute

Walter Fernnades, 1997 – ‘the draft policy for the rehabilitation of DPs: is displaceemtn inevitable ?’ in Walter Fernandes, Vijay Paranjpye, edited Rehabilitation Policy and Law in India.  Delhi : Indian Social Institute


Tightening Closure, Securing Disorder: Israeli Closure Policies and Informal Border Economy during the Second Intifada (2000-2006)  
Cédric Parizot  (* Centre de Recherche Français de Jérusalem, CNRS)


            This paper analyses the informal social and economic exchanges that have been taking place since the beginning of the Second Intifada (September 2000), between Israeli Palestinians and Palestinians from the West Bank. The analysis of the economy of border which has emerged from these interactions in the region of the Northern Negev (Israel) and the Southern Hebron Hills (West Bank), allows us to better evaluate the capacity of Israeli closure policies, along with the construction of the Separation Fence around the West Bank (since 2002), to separate Israelis from Palestinians, and to provide a degree of security on the Israeli side. I would argue that while reasserting and putting on stage the power of the State at 'its borders', these policies also contribute to open spaces for different kinds of trafficking and of criminal activities.  The tightening of the closure has the paradoxical effect of promoting a degree of disorder.
            Indeed, the study of informal mobility and exchanges across the borderlands separating Palestinian enclaves from Israel proper (inside pre-1967 borders) and from Israeli controlled areas in the West Bank, throws some light on Israeli mechanisms of control over the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). First, the analysis of the readjustments that have affected these cross “border” relations and exchanges help us understanding the changing shape, nature and thickness of borders between Israeli and Palestinian space. This is all the more significant as, ever since 1967, the status and location of “borders” have remained rather unclear and unstable[1].
            Second, studying mobility and exchanges across these borderlands provide a better perspective on Israeli mechanisms of control, as monitoring Palestinian movements into Israel or into Israeli controlled areas has been a main tool to assert Israeli power over the West Bank and Gaza. Between 1967 and the first Intifada (December 1987), the Israeli authorities encouraged Palestinians to cross into Israel and to integrate into the Israeli market. Rendering Palestinians dependent on the Israeli economy was a part of the policy of 'Carrot and the Stick' introduced by Moshe Dayan after the 1967 war (Bornstein 2002). Later in the 1990s and during the second Intifada (2000-) the Israeli government has often used the increase or reduction of work permit allocations as a means to inflict collective punishment on the Palestinians, or to put pressure on the Palestinian National Authority (Kemp and Raijman forthcoming). Moreover, during the second Intifada the Israeli system of checkpoints and barriers appear to have been intended to channel and regulate the intensity of Palestinian flows in the West Bank, rather than stop them. By slowing and prolonging the journeys of people, the army and the police were able to better monitor their movements, and at the same time enhance their ability to intercept suspected individuals or groups intent on carrying out an attack on an Israeli target, whether in the West Bank or inside Israel proper (Ben Ari et al.2004). In point of fact, despite increasingly tough Israeli closure policies since the start of the second Intifada a significant number of Palestinians still enter Israel. In the third quarter of 2005, there were still 65,000 Palestinian workers employed in Israel and in the Israeli settlements (PCBS 2005, 9).
            Third, observing informal Palestinian mobility and exchanges across borderlands also provides a unique perspective on the effects of Israeli closure policies on the ground, both in the short and the long term. Relations between partners on the borderlands have been deeply impacted by the Israeli system of checkpoints, closure and curfews. The growing number of juridical and physical obstacles imposed upon Palestinians has been an open invitation to skilled individuals and networks (Arab and Jewish) to help border-crossers. Furthermore, the deepening gap between the Israeli economy which is relatively prosperous, and that of the Palestinians, which is gradually deteriorating, has engendered new levels of trafficking and smuggling. In other words Israeli closure policies have fostered the emergence of a new economy of border that impacts on the very context in which these policies intended to establish a separation. The present readjustments of economic interdependencies between Israeli Palestinians and Palestinians from the West bank could have future security repercussions for the region as the wall nears completion; this 'economy', situated along the borderlands, has over the last seven years become a hotbed of illegal and criminal activities.
            Fourth, by viewing Israeli closure policies through the lens of the border economy, it is possible to make a clearer assessment of their efficacy in terms of security on both Palestinian and Israeli sides.  This study, essentially one of the connections between the tightening of borders on the one hand, and criminal activity on the other, could have relevance to other areas of the world. Drawing on the case study of the US-Mexican border, Peter Andreas (2001) as well as Jorge Santibañez-Romellon (2005) have stressed the direct link of causality between the two. I wish to follow this argument, introducing only the micro-analytical perspective of ethnography.
My research is based on the data collected during successive periods of fieldwork that I have carried out between 1996 and 2006 in the region between the Northern Negev (Israel) and the Hebron Foothills (Southern West Bank). By listening, following and then observing sometimes directly, the everyday adaptations of people to circumvent Israeli closure policies in this region, I could better observe the mechanisms through which this economy of border engendered more extreme power relations, and more antagonisms and conflicts between people, thus radically impacting the perceptions of the actors.
            Before beginning to analyse the economy of border that has developed between the Southern Hebron Hills and the Northern Negev, I would like to briefly present this region, its inhabitants and the evolutions of their exchanges over the last sixty years. This contextualisation will help to better locate and grasp the importance of this instance of cross- border relations in the Israeli Palestinian space. It will also provide us with a better understanding of the nature and shape of local border and borderlands.

Smugglers Need Borders  

            From the point of view of observers located in the main population centres of the Occupied West Bank and of Israel such as Ram Allah, Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv, the Northern Negev and the Hebron Foothills are considered to be remote margins, ends of territories or even borderlands. In other, they are regarded as two distinct regions. Yet, once scrutinized from a closer perspective, it appears that over the last 60 years, movement and exchanges between local populations have maintained strong socio-economic networks and interdependencies between these places and their inhabitants.
            The shape and content of these exchanges have changed according to the periods, showing a direct link between the institution of borders and the development of smuggling. From 1948 to 1967 when the Green Line functioned de facto as an international border between Israel and Transjordan, these exchanges took place through smuggling and clandestine travel. After 1967, when Israel invaded the West Bank and integrated it into its own economic space, these contacts were able to develop more intensively. The smuggling returned during the 1990s when the Israeli authorities imposed systematic limitations on Palestinian movement. While these limitations did not stop Palestinian mobility, they set the basis for the emergence of a parallel economy on the border, based on illegal traffic.  

Marginal Populations 

            At the beginning of the 21st century, the Negev is inhabited by both Jews and Arabs. Jews represent the majority of the population (around 75%). They reside in the main city of Beer Sheva and its suburbs, in the poor development towns built in the 1950s, and in small kibbutzim and moshavim. The Arabs inhabiting the Negev live separate from the Jews. They constitute a poorly qualified proletariat residing mainly in dormitory suburbs and slums at the periphery of Beer Sheva.
            The Arabs of the Negev are the descendants of the 11,000 Bedouin who remained within the limits of the Beer Sheva district after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Most Bedouin fled or were expelled manu militari to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan and Egypt (Marx 1967, Parizot 2004). Those remaining in Israel obtained Israeli citizenship at the beginning of the 1950s. Yet, at the same period, they were displaced to the north east of the Negev to an enclosed zone, which was subject to military administration until 1966. Excluded from Beer Sheva and from the labour market the Bedouin remaining in the Negev had no choice but to withdraw to agriculture and livestock rearing (Marx 2000). In the mid 1960s, upon the abolition of the military administration, the Israeli authorities decided to urbanize the Bedouins in seven planned townships: Tell as-Saba’, Rahat, ‘Ar‘ara, Ksîfa, Shgîb as-Salâm, Lagiyya and Hûra (Map 1). At the beginning the 21st century, the 140,000 Bedouin living in the Negev area constitute a semi-urban proletariat, half of them living in these planned townships and the other half, residing in slums scattered around the main road axis, being unrecognized by the authorities (Meir 1997). The lack of economic and commercial activities in the townships and in the slums, as well as the low qualification of the manpower, renders them highly vulnerable to economic fluctuations (Abu Rabia 2000, Jakubowska 2000). The economic stagnation provoked by the second Intifada, further aggravated the situation there.
             From the point of view of Palestinians living in the Center or in the northern West Bank, the south Hebron Mountains, called Jebel al-Khalîl, constitute a marginal territory; it is the limit before the desert where the Bedouin live. This Bedouin population is often considered by Palestinians as 'traditional' and 'brutal', with little loyalty to the national cause (Parizot 2001). Far from the main axis and urban centres, the Jebel al-Khalîl is hardly visited by northern West Bankers. In 2005, on the Palestinian side north of the Green Line, the four main towns (Dhahriyya, Sammu’, Yatta and Dûra) and the surrounding hamlets (kharab, plur. of khirbet) contained a population amounting to 120,000 individuals. Like the Bedouin in the Negev, the peasants of the Hebron Mountains have undergone a process of proletarianization, which began in the 1970s and was largely encouraged by the integration of the Palestinian economy into the Israeli one, beginning in 1967.

1949-1967 Integrated Margins 

            Throughout the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the Bedouin living in the plain of Beer Sheva and the peasants of the Hebron Foothills have been linked through regular social and economic exchanges. Hence, after the first Israeli-Arab conflict (1947-1949) and the establishment of the Green Line[2], many people regularly crossed illegally this new border in order to maintain their contacts with the southern Hebron Hills population. Some engaged in importing goods from the neighboring Arab countries into the Israeli market. In some instances, these smuggling activities developed on a large scale and were encouraged by the Israeli authorities (Abu Rabia 1994; Parizot 2004). The aim was to supply the then fragile Israeli economy with additional goods.
            In 1967, after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel, the Green Line stopped functioning as an international border. The Israeli authorities encouraged the flow of people and goods between Israel proper and the newly occupied territories (Arnon and Weinblatt 2000; Bornstein 2002). In this context, Bedouin and Palestinian peasants intensified their economic relations, and now in the open.
Following the Israeli call for labour in the building and agriculture sectors,, peasants from the South Hebron Mountains abandoned their fields to work as wage-earners in Israel proper, and as such they conformed to a general trend observed in the rest of the OPT during this period (Arnon et al. 1997). As with the entire Palestinian population, the residents of this region became extremely dependent on the Israeli labor market. By the end of the 1980’s, 30% of the whole Palestinian labor force was working in Israel providing half of the Palestinian labor earnings; at the end of the 1990s, under conditions of relatively open but controlled borders, more than one-fifth of the Palestinian labor force was working inside Israel and providing one third of the total wage earnings (Rupert Bulmer, 2003, 657). Bedouin started to frequent the markets of Hebron and the surrounding villages, where they found products as well as an atmosphere more congenial to their socio-cultural expectations. Furthermore, Bedouin and Palestinian peasants developed deeper social relations through marriages: During the 1970s and the 1980s, many Bedouin contracted matrimonial alliances with brides coming from the Hebron Foothills whether from Bedouin or Peasant origins (Parizot 2004).
            Social and economic ties ensured a flow of goods, people and values that eventually fostered the dissemination of cultural practices and representations. Many examples can be drawn from the literature on the Negev Bedouin. The mutual influences between the Bedouin and the Palestinian peasant society were observed by scholars as early as the 1970s in marriage celebrations (Lewando-Hundt 1978), religious beliefs (Jakubowska 1985), genealogical techniques (Parizot 2001a, 80-81), models of authorities (ibid., 135-143), etc. Between the 1970s and the 1980s, and to a certain extent until the 1990s as we shall see, cross-border relations extended the social, economic and political spaces of the Bedouin and their peasant neighbors and integrated these marginal territories. Between 1980 and 1985, the Hebron Foothills were further integrated to the Beer Sheva region, with the creation of nine Jewish settlements[3] on the Palestinian side of the Green line:
In 1992, the population of these settlements reached 1,923 people and was doubled by 2004.  

1987-2000: Back to Smuggling 

            This process of integration came to an end with the outbreak of the first Intifada (December 1987). During the Palestinian uprising a sense of border re-emerged (Bornstein 2002) with the Jews living within the 1949 borders starting to fear to cross the Green Line into territories they now regarded as increasingly hostiles, and Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip experiencing the first limitations on movement.
            In the beginning, the Israeli army imposed curfews and closures in the Occupied Territories as ad-hoc security measures. Progressively, these measures became part of a more articulated project of separation from the Palestinians (Kemp and Raijman, forthcoming). The intent to separate started to be clearly expressed during the Gulf war, when the Israeli authorities revoked the general permit of entrance into Israel granted to Palestinians, and imposed a system of individual permits (Hass 2002; Hertzog 2005). Later, the Israeli authorities reinforced their control on Israeli employers and introduced new legislations to allow Asian and Eastern European workers to enter the country progressively in order to replace Palestinian workers.
            Yet, despite of the tightening of the closure and the increasing importation of 'foreign workers' the number of Palestinians working in Israel remained significant throughout the 1990s. It took a number of years for the limitations on movement to effectively reduce the number of Palestinian workers entering Israel. In the first years of their implementation (1987-1992), the Israeli authorities had to deal with resistance on the part of Israeli employers. Because they were accustomed and well adapted to their Palestinian employees, Israeli employers continued to employ Palestinian workers massively. In point of fact, their numbers continued to grow, and reached 112,000 in 1992. It took time for Israeli entrepreneurs to associate more systematically the safety and security factor with the influx of Palestinian workers. Murder and attacks on Israelis progressively made these employers more anxious, and this finally brought about the reduction in the numbers of Palestinians employed. As Adriana Kemp and Rebecca Raijman put it (forthcoming, n.28) “This [changing] ‘mood’ acquired highly tangible expression; in 1992, the number of workers from the territories in Israel peaked at 115,600, but in 1993, it plunged to 83,800. This drop was the result of government decisions on closure and on bringing in labour migrants [from Asia and Eastern Europe], but it also reflected decisions by Israeli employers not to engage Palestinian workers any longer”.
            Although the tightening of the closure between 1992 and 1996 reduced the number of Palestinian workers by 51%, by 1997 the numbers had started to return, reaching 145,110 on the eve of the second Intifada (August 2000). It seemed that Palestinian workers could not be completely replaced by 'foreign workers'.
In the context of the economic prosperity enjoyed by Israel as a consequence of international investors’ reaction to the Peace negotiations, the need for workers remained very high (Farsakh 2000, Bucaille 2002, 118-122). Moreover, the 'foreign workers' allowed in by the Israel Ministry of Labour were mostly directed to the larger Israeli outfits, leaving aside small and mid-size companies (Amir 2000)[4]. Finally, those Palestinian workers who had long-term relationships with their Israeli employers, generally kept their jobs.
            The limitations on movement imposed on Palestinians workers affected less their overall number than the way they worked, the percentage they represented in the total labour force in the OPT, and the orientation of labour fluxes; the number of working hours per employee dwindled
(Arnon et al. 1997: 76-77).  In the meantime, Palestinians entering Israel represented a lower proportion of the total Palestinian labour force than previously.  By the end of the 1990s, Palestinians working in Israel represented only a fifth of the total Palestinian labor force, and provided one third of the total wage earnings (Rupert Bulmer, 2003, 657). But, the Gaza Strip was more affected by movement limitations than the West Bank. The percentage of Gazan workers entering Israel fell from 45.8% in 1987 to 15.4% in 2000, while the number of West Bank Palestinians working in Israel dwindled from 35.6% in 1987 to 24.8% in 2000. According to Leila Farsakh (2005, 141), the reorientation of the worker fluxes bore witness to the readjustments of borders during the Oslo period (1994-2000); while Gaza was progressively separated economically from Israel, the West Bank remained integrated in the Israeli market.
            Furthermore, the limitations on movement condemned Palestinian workers and small Israeli companies to resort to illegal traffic. Before the first Intifada many entrepreneurs used to employ non-declared Palestinian workers. In 1987, 60% of Palestinian workers did not have work permits (Kemp and Raijman, forthcoming, n.10). Yet, during the 1990s, Israeli employers and their workers had to further breach the law by crossing illegally the limits separating the Palestinian enclaves from Israeli controlled areas.
Indeed, while small Israeli companies still employed Palestinian labour, Israeli Jews often entered the region of the Hebron Hills to pick up their workers in local towns such as Dhahriyya, Sammu‘, Yatta to help them avoid police and army controls. The authorities could not stop the ongoing flux of clandestine passages of Palestinians who were being actively aided by Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab employers, only too eager to circumvent controls.

            During the mid 1990s, the building of a fence around Gaza, and the delimitation of 'borders' between Palestinian Authority enclaves and Israeli controlled areas, fostered the development of new exchanges and new traffic. Trade between the Negev and the Southern Hebron Mountains was indirectly bolstered with the fencing of the Gaza Strip. The fencing of the Strip reoriented the flows of Bedouin and Jewish clients towards the Hebron Foothills. The market of Gaza city ceased to be the main competitor of the market of Beer Sheva. The Hebron market and later the market of Dhahriyya took over. In the second half of the 1990s, the small border town of Dhahriyya witnessed incredible prosperity. Its market grew beyond the needs of its hinterland and became an important center of exchange where both Bedouin from the Negev and Jews from Israel proper and from the settlements came to buy goods and services that were much cheaper than on the Israeli side of the Green Line (Parizot 2004).
            The creation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the delimitation of the new administrative borders corresponding to Palestinian autonomous (area A) and semi-autonomous areas (area B) generated fresh difficulties for the Israeli police, as these new administrative borders often put smugglers beyond the reach of the Israeli authorities. As a result, during the mid 1990s, car theft within Israel increased significantly[5]. Thieves started stealing cars within Israel in order to smuggle them into the West Bank and Gaza (Moailek 2005; Hertzog 2005). In the Hebron Foothills, the towns of Dhahriyya and Yatta became the main centres for this traffic, and the Bedouin the main smugglers. At the end of the 1990s, Negev Bedouin organized other kinds of smuggling operations that became even more profitable in the context of the second Intifada.

The Second Intifada: Tightening Closure, Securing Disorder 

            This traffic, and the informal economy it fostered, developed further during the second Intifada. Its rise was directly connected to the tightening of the Israeli closure policy during the first years of the second Palestinian uprising. On the one hand, between 2000 and 2005, the increasing number of juridical and physical limitations[6] imposed by the Israeli authorities created new obstacles which reduced dramatically the entrance of Palestinian workers inside Israeli controlled areas. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, this number dropped to 65,000 during the third quarter of 2005 (compared to 145,110 in August 2000). On the other hand, the growing number of obstacles called for increasing mediation and assistance of suitably skilled people and networks that could help the workers and others to cross inside Israel These individuals and networks profited from new opportunities - given the context of the growing gap between the Israeli and the Palestinian economies - to develop different forms of traffic around the emerging 'borders'. Hence, the earth mounds, the trenches and the check points actually stimulated new exchanges, often entailing more extreme power relations between cross border partners. Paradoxically, the tightening of Israeli closure policies opened new spaces for criminality and insecurity. 

Tightening Closure, Motivating Crossing 

            During the second Intifada, in addition to drastically reducing the number of work permits[7], Israel progressively reinforced its closure system in the southern Hebron Mountains. In the spring of 2002, bypassing police or army controls became more difficult. During operation “Defensive Shield”, the Israeli army re-invaded the towns of Dhahriyya, Dûra, Sammu‘ and Yatta (Map 1).  The Palestinian police stations were partially destroyed or, as in Dûra, transformed into a base for the newly occupying army, and the towns were then placed under prolonged curfew[8]. In order to stop the car smuggling, the Israeli authorities were extremely severe in the way they dealt with the towns of Dhahriyya and Yatta: Even if the border towns were evacuated few months later, the army continues to enter them regularly in order to carry out targeted assassination or arrests.
            In 2004, closures entered a new stage. Until then, it was mainly reliant on the checkpoint located close to the Green Line on the road linking ad-Dhahriyya to Beer Sheva, and on random patrols (Map 1).  Border Guard patrols would stop Palestinians trying to enter area C (OPT areas under Israeli administration) or trying to use settlers’ by-pass roads (n° 317, 60, 348 and 325). During summer 2004, more visible signs of a tightening closure policy emerged. Earth mounds and temporary checkpoints[9] were added to the existing structures in order to cut off Dhahriyya, Yatta and Sammu‘ from Hebron and from the Center of the West Bank. Later, following a suicide bombing committed in August in the Israeli town of Beer Sheva, the Israeli army created two new checkpoints on road 317: one south of Sammu‘ and another north of the Jewish settlement of Metzadot Yehuda. Finally, in 2005, parts of the separation fence have been built more or less along the Green Line, East of Dhahriyya and South of Sammu‘ and Yatta (Map1). While in July 2007, the Fence has still not been closed completely East of Dhahriyya and South East of Sammu‘, the Israeli authorities have made it increasingly difficult for Palestinians of these areas to enter Israel proper.
            The closure policies dealt a sharp blow to the Palestinian economy and increased the gap between it and the Israeli economy. At the global level, while the GDP per capita in Israel remained relatively stable between 1999 and 2003 (from $16,940 to $16,240), in the Palestinian territories it fell from $1,850 to $1,110. According to OCHA it reached $934 in 2004[10]. In the Southern West Bank, the general crisis increased the impoverishment of a population which was already among the poorest of the West Bank (World Bank 2001). Paradoxically, Israeli closure policies reinforced the need to cross into Israel. In the context of the collapsing Palestinian economy, the need to find jobs elsewhere became more critical for the population. Moreover, growing economic inequalities between the Bedouin and their Palestinian neighbours became evident. Combined with increasing difficulties to move across what used to be the Green Line, these inequalities changed the terms of borders exchanges and encounters between the two populations. The extent of transformations within border exchanges is well exemplified by the readjustments that occurred in worker smuggling. 

Smuggling and Extorting Workers 

            During the 1990s, Bedouin and Palestinian drivers shared the market for transportation from the Hebron Hills to the region around Beer Sheva. After the outbreak of the second Intifada, the restrictions on movement, and the barriers, prevented the Palestinians from competing with the Bedouin. Drivers of the West Bank have remained limited to the main towns of Dhahriyya, Dura, Yatta and Sammu’ and their surroundings. As a result, Bedouin have progressively obtained a monopoly on the worker traffic and have imposed much higher prices on their Palestinian clients.
            Under these conditions, the transportation of Palestinian workers quickly became a coveted source of enrichment for Bedouin drivers, as workers from the Hebron Foothills went on crossing the Green Line in search for work inside Israel. New Bedouin groups grasped this activity to fight for monopoly. Being overwhelmingly dependant on Israeli work, Palestinian workers had little choice but to continue crossing the Green Line in order to ensure the survival of their families. Little work was available in the Palestinian territories and work in Israel paid three times as much. Between 2005 and 2006, in the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority, an unqualified day of work was paid 50 NIS[11] (10€) compared with 100 to 150 NIS (20-30€) paid in Israel for an illegal worker.
            Consequently, Palestinians had to accept the high fees charged by the Bedouin who could now claim that the passage had become riskier than previously. During the first years of the second Intifada, workers came into Israel from Sammu’, Dûra, Yatta, Dhahriyya and the surrounding villages of these towns. They would pay up to 150 NIS (~30€) each, for a one way trip to the Bedouin towns of Hûra, Lagiyya, or the Jewish towns of Beer Sheva and Qiryat Gat. Many would thus remain in Israel for a week, sometimes or even a month in order to spread the cost of the journey.
            Between 2002 and 2005, the construction of the separation wall in the North of the West Bank drove newcomers to the Hebron Foothills. People from the regions of Nablus and Ramallah travelled all the way to the south in order to cross the Green Line. Then, they rode Bedouin or Jewish Israeli taxis to reach the regions of Hadera, Kufr Qara, Baqqa al-Gharbiyya. The cost of such a one-way trip would reach more than 500NIS (100€), the equivalent of 3 to 4 days of work (map 2).
            The sharp rise in prices, and the tightening of Israeli police controls, drastically changed the circumstances of the stay in Israel. Palestinian workers travelled less frequently and prolonged their stays sometimes for months. The wealthiest and the luckiest would rent places to sleep in Bedouin planned townships. However, as increased controls by the police started to scare off local landlords, most of the workers were condemned to improvise places to hide at night for protection from the cold. In the North of Israel, they gathered in public dumps (Hass 2004), in Beer Sheva they slept in the sewers.
            According to my estimations, between 2003 and 2005, an average of 40 Bedouin minibuses crossed daily through the border zone between the South of Sammu‘ and the West of the Ramadhîn. Each month, between these two Palestinian towns, 8,000 to 12,000 one-way individual trips would be executed across the Green Line[12]. This traffic was worth around 800,000 to 1,200,000 New Israeli Shekels (~160,000-240,000 €) per month. These figures include neither the workers who crossed into Israel by foot or by private cars, nor the workers who took Israeli Jewish private cars or taxis.
            The appropriation of worker trafficking by the Bedouin is only one instance of the progressive hold they have gained on the local economy within the last five years. Individuals and groups of Bedouins also smuggle fuel in order to supply illegal petrol stations inside Israel. Smuggling of livestock, clothes, furniture have been organized on both a small and a large scale. The profits from this traffic stand in sharp contrast to the dwindling incomes of households which have characterized the economic crisis in the OPT. 

Paradoxical Effects: Separation or Blurring Borders? 

            The changes that have taken place at the level of worker trafficking reveal the broad readjustment of power relations between the two populations: the Israeli Palestinians (the Bedouin) and the West Bank Palestinians. While Bedouin have become by degrees the enabler and patron, Palestinian workers have seen their situation continuously deteriorating. The scarcity of work and the increasingly severe controls over clandestine workers entering Israel, made the Palestinian labourers even more vulnerable in relation to their smugglers. The picture is even grimmer when considering the growing vulnerability of Palestinian workers once they are inside Israel, in relation to both Jews and Arabs.
            The deterioration in relations between Palestinian workers and their employers has directly impacted on perceptions between border populations, and especially on those prevailing between Israeli Palestinians and their kin and networks in the OPT. I have shown elsewhere (Parizot 2004) that, Israeli policies notwithstanding, exchanges between Palestinians from the Negev and Palestinians from the West Bank have been redefining the notion of 'border.' During
the end of the 1990s, and the beginning of the 2000s, these exchanges were increasingly marked by bitter and violent encounters, with the result that there is now distrust and even fear on both sides. They have fostered a feeling of differences and fragmented experience between cross-border partners. Practiced on daily basis, and over a long period of time, these differences and antagonisms have been internalized and have often been perceived as a given. This is all the more true as people have been using these experiences to reconstruct dominant narratives that stress the distinctions between them. Each experience is added to other stories that people have either heard or witnessed personally. Narratives about “us” and “others” are often presented as facts; they are built upon sedimentation of multiple stories about “ourselves” and “others” (Vila 2003, 107; van Dijk 1993, 126). These cross-border encounters and the experiences people have drawn from them validate antagonizing categories and narrative such as the one opposing “peasants”(fellahin) to “Bedouins” (bedu). This old dichotomy (referring to pre 20th century period) comes back to distinguish these two populations despite the fact that they share very similar style of life: both have been for a long time sedentary and have recently been involved in a process of proletarianization.
            Moreover, the tightening of the closure policies during the second Intifada, and the economy of border it has engendered, has created the impression of established borders, or at least of a kind of separation between Israeli and Palestinian spaces. The readjustments of the exchanges and of the perceptions taking place between Palestinian populations on both sides of the Green Line reveal a process of growing dissociation between these two groups. The Jewish population in Israel is also feeling that an actual separation has been achieved between Israeli and Palestinian spaces. Indeed, Palestinians seem to have completely disappeared from the landscape of ordinary Israeli citizens.
            Yet, this feeling of growing separation should not mask the complex readjustments fostered by the closure policies and the new economy of border. As a matter of fact, Palestinian workers still enter Israel to work. Even if their number has dramatically dropped, and even if from the point of view of the dominant Jewish Israeli society they have slipped from view, their numbers in Israel are still significant: In 2005-2006 there were approximately the same number of workers inside Israel as in 1996.  The difference is that they have actually been integrated into increasingly marginal areas and economic activities where, over he last six years, wild forms of capitalism have become the rule. The imposition on Palestinians of incremental obstacles to movement has created the following paradox: on the one hand, the State is seen to assert its authority at the "borders", while on the other, these very actions have inadvertently engendered the emergence of networks and economic activities deep within Israel that remains beyond State control. In a way, rather than clarifying borders and setting up an actual separation, Israeli border policies seem to have secured spaces of disorder, and to have blurred borders. 

Entrepreneurs Without Borders  

            The feeling of blurring borders in the Israeli Palestinian space becomes all the more apparent when considering the networks of entrepreneurs that organize this economy of border. Indeed, in this economy of relations and exchanges, it would be wrong to ascribe fixed positions to groups according to their administrative status (Israel citizens, non-citizens, etc.) and their ethnic background (Jews, Arabs). Positions and power in this border economy are not only determined by these criteria. As I shall demonstrate, networks of border entrepreneurs are highly heterogeneous and involve complex collaborations between the different populations of the Southern Israeli Palestinian space including State representatives. These networks are not a new phenomenon. Such collaborations have always prevailed in this region. Rather, the new configurations of these networks, and especially the way they spread along spaces and between groups, shows the extent of the readjustments in the economy of border provoked by Israeli closure policies. Looking at such networks provides us an interesting perspective on local power mechanisms during the second Intifada and the way the Israeli State maintains its control over borderlands. 

Readjusting Trans-Border Markets  

            In the Northern Negev and the Hebron Foothills, economic networks involve as many Bedouin as Israeli Jews. For in the region all these different actors tend to profit from the opportunities of the border economy. However, Israeli border policies have progressively reoriented the fluxes of Palestinian workers inside Israeli society. During the second Intifada, the importation of Palestinian labour by Israeli Jews dropped significantly while it seems to have remained stable with regards the Bedouin. In other words, Israeli border policies readjusted the role played by Palestinians in the Israeli economy and readjusted interdependencies.
            Indeed, Palestinian workers do not play the role they used to play in the Israeli economy before the second Intifada. In 1999, they still had a significant place in the building and the agricultural sector, 27% and 12%, respectively. In 2004, they represented only 8% of the manpower in building and 4% in agriculture. The Israeli economy relies less on “in situ delocalization” (délocalisation en place)[13], i.e. it relies less on the importation of cheap Palestinian labour into Israel to lower the costs of production, and to improve productivity. With the closure policies and the obstacles imposed upon Palestinian workers to working within the Jewish Israeli society, it is as if the authorities had indirectly turned this form of “delocalization” into a “delocalization at the margin”, i.e., to import cheap labour into specific marginal group of its citizens, such as the Bedouin or the Jewish population living in the development towns of the Negev (Sderot, Ofaqim, Yeroham, etc.).
            Moreover, we can also speculate on the extent to which the Bedouin economy has become dependent on the import of Palestinian manpower and goods. During the second Intifada, the Bedouin also suffered an economic downturn, exacerbated by cuts in child allowance. Stopping the exchanges by closing the Separation Barrier between the Negev and the Hebron Foothills might be an additional blow to their fragile economy. Without the possibility of hiring cheap Palestinian labour and without the possibility of importing cheap Palestinian building material, the cost of house building would double. This would have a deep impact on local household expenses. Moreover, the high rate of natural growth (5,5% per year) of the Bedouin population creates a strong demand for construction in a context where there is already a lack of residential areas.
            Finally, households’ expenses will grow as people would have to purchase daily consumption goods within the more expensive Israeli market, instead of being able to buy in the cheaper Palestinian market. As we have noticed earlier, over the last forty years, Bedouin have been purchasing a large amount of goods inside the Gaza market and later inside West Bank markets. The outbreak of the second Intifada and the tight closures imposed on Dhahriyya limited the access of Bedouin to these markets. However, Dhahriyya and Hebron merchants adjusted to this new reality. They opened new shops in the Bedouin town of Rahat in Israel contributing to the market’s rapid growth. In the last 6 years, this market has become, for the Bedouin, the main market aside of that of Beer Sheva. Merchants from Hebron have bought a significant number of shops in Rahat. The need to register their shops under local names led them to engage in joint ventures with local Bedouin. Inhabitants of Rahat believe that more than 60% of the shops in their town market are actually held by West Bankers. 

Informal Security Collaborations 

            The heterogeneity of border entrepreneur networks is also linked to their instrumentalization by the Israeli authorities. Informal collaborations exist between Israeli authorities such as the police, Border Guards and the General Security Services (Shabak) on the one hand, and the smugglers of Palestinian workers on the other. The State agencies often pressure the Bedouin drivers into becoming informants. When they arrest a driver, the authority representatives threaten to confiscate the smuggler’s vehicle, to impose a hefty fine, or even to send him to jail, unless he agrees to collaborate with them, in some cases even to identify suspects or wanted individuals. It is difficult to avoid this indirect form of surveillance. Furthermore, competition between drivers is harsh, and some do not hesitate to denounce new competitors.
            The State authorities are also indirectly involved in trafficking in work permits through Palestinian collaborators who nevertheless remain in close contact with their family in the Occupied Territories. Sometimes they use their position and their links with Shabak in to obtain work permits for their family members and their neighbours. By interceding on behalf of their kin they are able to maintain favour with them while acting out their role as informant for the benefit of their Israeli masters.
            The tolerance shown towards the new economy of the border provides a double benefit for the Israeli authorities. First, it allows for the constitution of cheap sub-contracting networks of information. Second, the privileges granted to the smugglers and to the clandestine workers allow Shabak and the police to create de facto patron-client relations with a part of the local population. This practice creates a system of controls similar to that identified by Amira Hass (2002, 14-15) between the Israeli authorities and a part of the Palestinian elite during the Oslo period. This system of controls was based on the granting of the VIP card. The VIP cards allocated to members of the Palestinian National Authority and to members of NGOs, would allow the holder to travel almost freely in the whole Israeli Palestinian space. According to the author a person privileged by this system of exception would not take the risk to publicly protest against measures taken by the Israeli Authorities. She or he would fear to lose her/his right of movement, her/his source of wage and eventually her/his social or political capital. In the Hebron Foothills, this system of exception could also be regarded as mean to maintaining certain stability. 


            In sum, between 2000 and 2006, before the completion of the Fence in the Southern West Bank, Israeli policies of closure have not established a clear cut separation between Israeli and Palestinian spaces. Rather, they have changed the shape and nature of the already instable local borderlands. Indeed, if these policies have reduced the flows of people and goods between the Negev and that living in the Hebron Foothills, they did not stop them. These reduced exchanges have taken new shapes, as people organized new ways of circumventing the Israeli obstacles and controls. During the second Intifada, Palestinians from both sides of the Green Line set up well-organized networks to smuggle people and goods into Israel. They gave rise to a highly organized economy of the border that readjusted the existing social and economic integration between local regions. This economy also led to deep readjustments of power relations between local populations as is demonstrated by the emergence of wild forms of capitalism that directly impact on mutual perceptions between Palestinians. The new economy of border has thus to be understood on three levels: it is a new economy of exchanges, a new economy of power relations and a new economy of perceptions.
            This new economy of border reveals a certain blurring of boundaries between the people involved.  It is actually structured around extremely heterogeneous networks of border entrepreneurs, where the place and position of the actors is not necessarily defined according to ethnic origin or to citizenship. Sometimes, the identification of the oppressed and the oppressor depends on the perspective of the observer. In some cases of trafficking, even the border between smugglers and the State authority is blurred. To paraphrase Pablo Vila, the metaphor of resistance is not consistent with border situations. He explains (2003, 325): “Most current mainstream border studies [in anthropology]…identify a subject who is clearly and undoubtedly 'resisting', and a structure of power that, without contradictions, is always 'oppressing'. This makes us lose sight of the much more complicated picture of the actual border, where people constantly move from positions of 'resistance' to positions of 'oppression'.”
            Moreover, the instrumentalization of smuggling networks by the Israeli authorities further blurs borders. Temporarily, the instrumentalization of smuggling networks by the Israeli authorities might reinforce their control over local borders, yet down the line this instrumentalization could affect the functionality of the whole mechanism of control. Furthermore these heterogeneous networks enjoy a certain degree of autonomy, as has already has been seen in Israel in the past. It is not rare for soldiers to pass information to smugglers, or close their eyes to certain illegal practices. In the mid 1990s, on the border with the Gaza Strip, informal collaboration between Border Guards and local thieves allowed the development of significant trafficking in stolen cars that extended temporarily beyond the control of Israeli State authorities (Moailek 2005). At the end of the 1990s on the Egyptian border, young Bedouin with good connections in both the army and the police were able to exploit the poor coordination between the two agencies to manage a successful drug-running operation.
            The completion of the Fence in the southern West Bank and the implementation of effective separation between Palestinian and Israeli spaces and populations will bring new challenges to Israeli authorities. First, the Fence will not merely strike a sharp blow to the Hebron Foothills economy; it will also deeply weaken the neighbouring Bedouin economy, a process that might have later repercussions on the local Negev economy. The completion of the Fence will then create new frustrations among a population already involved with the State in a durable conflict over land. The second challenge to the Israeli authorities, and to a certain extent to the Palestinian National Authority lies in gaining mastery over smuggling networks that have been structured around the economy of border. What if these entrepreneurs find themselves without border to trespass? If they do not find way to circumvent the fence, these entrepreneurs might go in search of alternative illegal sources of incomes inside Israeli and Palestinian spaces. This will not merely increase the rate of criminality in the Negev it will also endanger security and the economic prosperity of neighbouring Israeli and Palestinian areas.  All in all, in the Israeli Palestinian context, as it is often the case in many other region in the world (Andreas 2001) the tightening of borders policies tend to open margin for criminal activities and disorder around the borders. 


[1] In 1967, Israel has de facto integrated the newly occupied West Bank and Gaza strip under its administrative rule, the local Palestinian population in its economy, but it has refused to incorporate them as citizens (Bornstein 2002). Later in the 1990s, the implementation of the Oslo agreements (1994-2000) defined limits delineating the autonomous zones of administration attributed to the newly created Palestinian National Authority. Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada (September 2000), these “borders” have been again challenged by Israel. West Bank Palestinian enclaves have been invaded by the Israeli army during the operation Defensive Shield (spring 2002), and ever since, they have been regularly entered during Israeli incursions and military operation.

[2] The Green Line was the Armistice Line of 1949. It functioned de facto as a border between Israel and the neighbouring Arab countries until 1967.

[3] Eshkolot and Tene, East and South of ad-Dhahriyya; Shim‘a and Otni’el, on the road 60 between Dhahriyya and Sammu‘, and finally, Shani, Karmel, Metzadot Yehuda, Susiya and Ma‘on south and South East of Sammu‘ and Yatta.

[4] Quoted by Farsakh (2006, 140).

[6] In February 2005, the number of earth mounds, checkpoints, trenches and barriers set in the West Bank to monitor the movement of the Palestinian population rose to 600 (Cf. UNITED NATIONS OFFICE FOR THE COORDINATION OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS, mars 2005) , site read on 16 february 2006

[7] During the second Intifada, the number of work permits dropped from 60,000 in 2000, to less than 10,000 in the third quarter of 2005, cf. UNITED NATIONS OFFICE FOR THE COORDINATION OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS, OCHA protection of civilians. Weekly briefing notes, Jerusalem : OCHA, 7-13 September 2005 et 30 November-6 December 2005.

[8] Palestinian Media Center, April 11, 2002.

[9] Such as that close to the Jewish settlement of Shim‘a (route 60), that of Rifa’iyya, North of Yatta on the road 356 (June-August 2004), or that of al-Fawwâr

[10] Between September 2000 and December 2002, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OCHA), the damages caused by the conflict on the Palestinian infrastructures amounted to 1,7 Billion US dollars. Poverty reached almost 47% of the population.

[11] NIS = New Isreali Shekels.

[12] This number refers to the number of individual trips and not workers who enter Israel. It is hard to evaluate how many workers cross the Green Line through this mean as many come back few times per month.

[13] The expression is borrowed to Emmanuel Terray (1999, 15-17) 


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 Making Sense of Climate Change, Natural Disasters, and Displacement: A Work in Progress  
Elizabeth G. Ferris (Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement;

            There has been a lot of talk lately about climate change and displacement.  Predictions have been made that millions of people – perhaps a billion people – will be displaced because of climate change in the coming years[1].  The terms being used for those displaced by environmental factors vary.  Some scholars and policy-makers refer to ‘environmental refugees’[2] which is in turn criticized by others (particularly by those coming from a refugee background.)[3]  Anke Strauss of the International Organization for Migration predicts that by 2010 – 3 years from now – we’ll see an additional 50 million ‘environmental migrants’ which she defines as “persons or groups of persons who, because of sudden or progressive changes in the environment affecting adversely their livelihoods, have to move from their habitual homes to temporary or durable new homes, either within their country or abroad.”[4] The 2006 Stern Review by the UK government refers to permanently displaced “climate refugees” while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change refers to ‘climate change refugees” or just “refugees.” The issue of climate change and displacement has become a popular issue in the public debates with major conferences organized on the issue, including this year’s International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November 2007.[5]   More will certainly be written about these connections in the coming years.
            Many of those who are writing about climate change and displacement are not from the traditional humanitarian community where distinctions between refugees, internally displaced persons, and migrants are generally well-understood.  Rather, many from the environmental community are raising the alarm about large-scale potential displacement due to climate change – perhaps as a way of drawing attention to the urgency of the situation and mobilizing governments to take action.  Some of the articles about environmentally-induced displacement seem to add a security ‘scare factor’ – if Western governments don’t control their emissions, they may be faced with hundreds of millions of migrants seeking entry to their territory. Or as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “In the long run, the problems of the poor will arrive at the doorstep of the wealthy, as the climate crisis gives way to despair, anger and collective security threats.”[6]

In my presentation today, I would like to do three things:

·          briefly review what we know about climate change

·          consider alternative ways that climate change relates to environmental factors which in turn influence displacement, and 

·          discuss some of the problems with the current debate on climate change’s impact on displacement.

            This is not a definitive study, but rather a work in progress.  Your comments and suggestions are most welcome and indeed, most needed.   

What We Know about Climate Change 

            Climate change has, of course, been a part of our planet’s history since its creation.  However, since 1970, there has been growing scientific concern about global warming and climate change as a result of human action.  Many studies have been carried out and a consensus seems to have emerged in the scientific community that human-induced climate change is, in fact, underway.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment (released in April 2007), “most of the observed increase in the globally average temperature since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”[7] These results are based on more than 29,000 observational data series from the 75 studies used by the IPCC in their Fourth Assessment and show “significant change in many physical and biological systems, more than 89% are consistent with the direction of change expected as a response to warming.”[8]             
          The IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to “assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.”[9]  The IPCC is open to all members of the WMO and UNEP and meets annually at the plenary level of government representatives at sessions attended by officials and experts from relevant ministries, agencies and research institutions from member countries and from participating organizations.  Its first Assessment, released in 1990, was the impetus for the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1994, whose purpose is to serve as an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change.[10]  Two and a half years after the formation of the UNFCCC, its principal product, the Kyoto Protocol, was released.  The purpose of the Kyoto Protocol was to bind signing nations together in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 baselines.  While the exact percentage of emissions that must be cut varies country by country, the average reduction is around 5% of 1990 emission levels by 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires.  Most UNFCCC member states have ratified the Protocol, with Australia and the United States being two notable holdouts.[11]  Both countries have been reluctant to accept the logic and necessity of the Kyoto Protocol for many reasons, not the least of which involves internal politics.  Developing countries, such as India have signed on, granting them access to technology transfer and foreign investment, but are exempt from the emission reductions listed in the framework.[12]
            Some tension does exist between the developed and developing world on the politics of climate change.  The richer developed countries are responsible for most of the buildup in emissions over the past century and the subsequent climate change that has occurred.  However they are asking developed countries to adopt policies that are seen in some communities as limiting their development and the accruement of wealth.  China has been particularly insistent about allowing for the “right to develop” within the confines of any climate change agreement.[13]  It believes that the responsibility for climate change lies with rich Western countries, not the developing world. While there is a  “reluctance to accept binding emissions targets, asking that richer nations take action first, [developing countries] are undertaking efforts that have significantly reduced the growth of their own greenhouse gas emissions. In most cases, climate mitigation is not the goal, but rather an outgrowth of efforts driven by economic, security, or local environmental concerns.”[14]

Climate Change and Displacement of People:  Conceptual Connections 

            On a conceptual level, there are several possible ways to model the impact of climate change on the displacement of people.

1.       Climate change causes an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters which in turn displace people.

            As discussed below, this model seems to have the most empirical backing.  Those displaced by natural disasters (at least sudden-onset natural disasters) who remain within the borders of their own country are internally displaced persons (IDPs).  The status of those who cross international borders as a direct result of natural disasters is not clear.

2.       Climate change has specific environmental effects over time such as desertification and other changes in weather patterns (sometimes referred to as slow-onset disasters), which means that people’s livelihoods are no longer sustainable and they are forced to migrate to other places. (e.g. Sahel)

            Also as argued below, this model is the most difficult to assess because the relationship between environmental change, poverty, and displacement is a complex one.  People make decisions over time to leave their communities for a complex interplay of reasons and, it is difficult – actually so far, impossible -- to single out the impact of the environmental effects of climate change on these decisions.  At the present time, those who leave because they cannot sustain their livelihoods are considered as migrants (internal or international).

3.       Climate change has environmental effects, which lead to increased conflict over resources, which in turn displaces people. (e.g. Darfur)

            While this model makes intuitive sense, it is also difficult to ascribe the particular contribution of environmental factors to conflicts, which are usually more complex than simply competition for scarce resources.  In any event, people fleeing conflict are considered as either IDPs or (usually) treated as refugees when they cross an international border in developing countries or often as international migrants when they seek entry into developed countries. 

4.       Climate change causes environmental effects to which the government responds inappropriately, forcing people to leave their communities. (e.g. Ethiopia 1984-85)

            As the literature on famine illustrates, it is rare that an environmental change is solely responsible for famine.  Rather famine usually results from the interplay of poor environmental conditions, inadequate governmental policies, and poverty, often exacerbated by existing social or ethnic conflict.  People displaced by this combination of factors are either IDPs or often treated as refugees, though they may not have this legal status.

5.       Climate change causes negative, long-term environmental effects, which the government/international community tries to alleviate by means of large-scale development projects.  The construction of these projects in turn displaces people.

            While this also makes intuitive sense, further research would be needed in order to show a relationship between climate change and specific environmental effects which lead governments to embark on large-scale development projects which displace people.  In particular, the relative impact of environmental effects and population growth need assessment. Virtually all of those who are displaced by large-scale development projects are IDPs. 

Climate Change and Displacement: The Evidence 

Most of those writing about climate change and displacement argue that climate change has effects on the environment, which force people to leave their homes.  But there is little consensus about the types of environmental effects caused by climate change, which contribute to displacement.  Jeffrey Sachs writes that:

Climate changes affect crop productivity through changes in temperature, rainfall, river flows and pest abundance.  Droughts and floods are becoming more frequent.  Tropical diseases such as malaria are experiencing a wider range of transmission.  Extreme weather events such as high-intensity hurricanes in the Caribbean and typhoons in the Pacific are becoming more likely.  Changes in river flow already threaten hydroelectric power, biodiversity, and large-scale irrigation.  Rising sea levels in the coming decades may inundate coastal communities and drastically worsen storm surges.[15]

Thomas Homer-Dixon, writing 16 years ago, pointed to seven major environmental problems which may contribute to population displacement and which in turn may contribute to conflict: greenhouse warming, stratospheric ozone depletion, acid deposition, deforestation, degradation of agricultural land, overuse and pollution of water supplies, and depletion of fish stocks.[16]  Lonergan suggests looking at environmental stressors as: natural disasters, cumulative changes or slow-onset changes, accidental disruptions or industrial accidents, development projects, conflict and warfare.[17]  Geisler and de Sousa argue that more attention needs to be given to Africa’s ‘other environmental refugees’ – those displaced by the creation of national parks and protected areas without mitigation.[18] 
            While there is a consensus that climate change is real and that it is producing environmental effects, which have the potential to displace large numbers of people, there is little consensus on which environmental changes are the direct result of human-induced climate change. 
            Furthermore, predictions of how many people will be displaced over a particular time period vary tremendously.  In fact, these predictions are all over the map – depending in part on assumptions that are made about which environmental changes are caused by climate change and in part on assumptions about how the international community will respond – or fail to respond.

            The two areas where there seems to be the most consensus is that: climate change is leading to rising sea levels and to increases in severe weather events, particularly hydrometeorogical events. 

Rising Sea Levels 

Perhaps the clearest relationship between climate change and displacement is that global warming will cause a rise in sea levels.  The most recent IPCC report projects temperatures to increase by  between 1.8 degrees C and 4 degrees C, resulting in sea levels rising by between .2 and .6 meters by 2100, with a greater rise a possibility.  According to a World Bank study, sea levels rising a single meter would displace 56 million people in 84 developing countries.[19]  Further, if rising temperature trends continue, widespread deglaciation of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets would occur over an extended period of time.  The complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet would raise sea levels 7 meters; the melting of the West Antarctic sheet would raise levels another 5 meters, drastically impacting the Earth’s population centers.[20] While this projection comes from the IPCC, other scholars raise even more alarming scenarios and projections.  A recent report by the International Peace Academy, for example, argues that in the worst-case scenario, the breakoff of the west Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets would raise sea levels by 15 meters.  If the more stable east Antarctic ice sheet melts, sea levels could rise by 60 meters.[21]
            Countries most affected by rising sea levels are small island states, such as the Pacific islands, and countries with low-lying coastal areas.  A recent study by Sugata Hazra found that during the last 30 years, roughly 80 square kilometers of the Sundarban islands in India have disappeared, displacing more than 600 families and submerging two islands. The Sundarban islands are among the world’s largest collection of river delta islands with 4 million people living on them, on the Indian side of the border.  While there is a natural process of islands shifting size and shape, the study concludes that there is little doubt that human-induced climate change has made them particularly vulnerable.[22] The small island country of Tuvalu has reportedly reached an agreement with the government of New Zealand that its citizens can resettle in New Zealand in the event that rising sea levels make continued residence on Tuvalu impossible.[23] 

Tropical Cyclones (Typhoons and Hurricanes) 

            The evidence seems to be fairly clear that the incidents of natural disasters are increasing and that within the category of natural disasters, hydrometeorogical events are rising even faster, as evidenced in the 2 graphs below from the UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction. 


            The above data is taken from the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), which is maintained by WHO’s Collaborating Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). For the purposes of this table, hydro-meteorological disasters include floods and wave surges, storms, droughts and related disasters (extreme temperatures and forest/scrub fires), and landslides & avalanches.[25]  


            While some of the increase in the frequency of natural disasters is undoubtedly the result of better data collection (particularly in comparison with the earlier years of the 20th century) there does seem to be evidence that the number and severity of hydrometeorogical events are increasing.  Some have argued, for example, that warmer water in the Atlantic is contributing to the ferocity of hurricanes in the Caribbean and North America while others have made similar arguments in the case of Pacific typhoons. 
            The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that “those systems that do approach their upper-limit intensity are expected to be slightly stronger in the warmer climate due to the higher sea surface temperatures.”[27]
            The IPCC found observational evidence that intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic had increased since about 1970 and states that “it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs [sea surface temperatures].”[28]

What Seems Strange in All This 

            In reviewing the literature on climate change and displacement, I was struck by the lack of reference to natural disasters.  This is the natural point of connection for those working on humanitarian response, but it is rarely mentioned by those working on climate change.   A natural disaster is defined as: “a situation or event, which overwhelms local capacity, necessitating a request to national or international level for external assistance; an unforeseen and often sudden event that causes great damage, destruction, and human suffering.[29]  An alternative definition of natural disasters is “the consequences of events triggered by natural hazards that overwhelm local response capacity and seriously affect the social and economic development of a region.”[30] It should be noted that the burning debate in the humanitarian field is just how ‘natural’ are natural disasters – which raises interesting opportunities to relate to those working on human-induced climate change.
            The evidence is pretty clear that natural disasters are increasing and the evidence seems fairly solid that human-induced climate change is also taking place.  This isn’t enough, of course, to demonstrate causality, of course, but does indicate the likelihood of a connection.  As Margareta Wahlström has pointed out, “over the past 30 years, disasters – storms, floods and droughts – have increased threefold according to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR).  In 2006 alone, 134 million people suffered from natural hazards that cost $35 billion in damages, including the devastating droughts in China and Africa, in addition to massive flooding throughout Asia and Africa.”[31]

What We Seem to Know 

            It seems fairly certain that climate change has the potential to displace more people by increasing both the sea level and the frequency and severity of tropical cyclones.   We don’t know how many people are likely to be displaced by these events, but their number will likely rise.[32]  It is also likely that most of those displaced by these types of events will remain within their country’s borders.[33] The prevailing international normative standards would apply to these individuals: they are internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“internally displaced persons are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.”[34]

            Considerable work has been done in recent years – particularly since the 2004 tsunami – to improve systems of response to natural disasters.  The Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of IDPs (RSG) has developed Operational Guidelines for Protecting the Human Rights of those affected by Natural Disasters[35] to ensure that the basic human rights of those affected by natural disasters, including IDPs, are upheld.

            The legal status of those who are forced to leave their countries because of natural disasters is less clear.  The 1951 Refugee Convention defines as refugees those who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”[36]  Those who are forced to flee their countries solely because of natural disasters are not refugees under international law.  In the case of the eruption of the volcano on Montserrat in 1995, which (unusually) permanently displaced about half of the country’s inhabitants, the response to the displaced was developed by Caribbean and the UK governments[37].  In other cases where people have crossed national borders because of natural disasters, such as those fleeing the Ethiopian famine in 1984-85, the humanitarian community has responded as if they were indeed refugees.[38] 

            But there is no international legal definition for those who cross into another country because of natural disasters.  The use of the term ‘environmental refugee’ is confusing and inaccurate because those forced to flee their countries because of natural disasters are not entitled to international protection and assistance under refugee law – unless of course they also have a well-founded fear of persecution.

            I argue here that we can be reasonably certain that climate change will lead to growing displacement as a result of rising sea levels and growing risk from hydrometeorogical events. This would give rise to policy recommendations to strengthen both systems of mitigating the risk of natural disasters and to improving the systems of responding to natural disasters.  And there is significant evidence that the risks of natural disasters can be diminished with planning, foresight and commitment of resources.[39]  One has only to look at the tremendous progress made by the Bangladeshi government in protecting its population from the regular cyclones which affect that country.[40]  

What is much Less Certain 

            When we move into the area of changing long-term weather patterns, the relationship between climate change and displacement is much less clear.

            Many have argued that climate change has impacted the traditional weather patterns that much of the developing world depends upon.  The IPCC states that in Africa, by 2020, 75 to 250 million people will be impacted by water stress and rain-fed agriculture yields could be reduced by up to 50%.  These changes would “further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition in the continent.”[41]  Some believe that an example of what looms in Africa’s future can be seen in Darfur.  The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon wrote in a June 2007 editorial “[a]mid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.”[42]  The drop in water levels is linked to the decline in rainfall, with some estimates saying rainfall has decreased nearly 40% over the past 50 years, forcing nomadic ethnically Arab herders and sedentary black farmers in to conflict over arable land and access to wells.[43]  Secretary-General Moon warns that “violence in Somalia grows from a similarly volatile mix of food and water insecurity. So do the troubles in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.”[44]
            The forecasted impact of climate change on Asia is similarly drastic. The IPCC says that melting glaciers will result in increased flooding and rock avalanches in the Himalayas followed by decreased river flow over the next several decades.  Further, freshwater availability in “Central, South, East and South-East Asia, particularly in large river basins, is projected to decrease which, along with population growth and increasing demand arising from higher standards of living, could adversely affect more than a billion people by the 2050s.”[45]  Moreover, “endemic morbidity and mortality due to diarrhoeal disease associated with floods and droughts are expected to rise in East, South, and South-East Asia due to projected changes in the hydrological cycle…increases in coastal water temperature would exacerbate the abundance and/or toxicity of cholera in South Asia.”[46] 

Weather and Displacement: Lots of Questions 

            While there is little doubt that changing weather patterns affect livelihoods, the relationship with displacement is much more complex.  Norman Myers, for example, argues that “environmental refugees are people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty.”[47]  Traditionally, people who have left their communities because they are poor or in search of other livelihoods are considered to be migrants: internal migrants for those who remain within the borders of their own country and international migrants for those who travel to other countries.  Weather patterns clearly play a role in contributing to poverty, but are certainly not the only factor.
            In fact, the interconnections between poverty and the environment need much more analysis.  As Longeran argues, generalizations about the relationship between environmental degradation and population movement mask a great deal of the complexity which characterizes migration decision-making.  Moreover, it is extremely difficult to isolate the specific contribution of environmental change in many forms of population movements.[48]  
            We know that poor people are disproportionately affected by natural disasters. Twenty years ago, the World Commission on Environment and Development argued that “poverty is a major cause and effect of global environmental problems.  It is therefore futile to attempt to deal with environmental problems without a broader perspective that encompasses the factors underlying world poverty and international equality.[49] According to the IPCC, poverty is the factor that can most negatively affect a society’s vulnerability to climate change.[50]  However, many of those writing about climate change and displacement do not systematically consider the impact of poverty on displacement or the inter-relationship between  poverty and environmental changes.
            If we are to demonstrate a causal connection between environmental change and displacement, we need to demonstrate – as Richard Black argues -- that migration increases when environmental degradation gets worse and those studies simply don’t exist.[51]
            There are also conceptual difficulties. For example, some use the term ‘slow-onset disasters’ to refer to the impact of climate change on livelihoods.  Strauss argues that the scale of migration resulting from gradual changes is likely to be far greater than the displacement resulting from individual catastrophic events.  She also argues that long-term environmental changes are more likely to cause permanent migration than sudden catastrophes.[52]  But the term ‘slow-onset’ cries out for further clarification:  how slow is slow?  Does it occur over years? Decades? Centuries? Millennia? All of the above?  How does this term relate to concepts such as increasing poverty or environmental degradation or social marginalization and exclusion?  How permanent is ‘permanent migration’?             


            I was intrigued by the argument made by Lisa Schipper and Mark Pelling that those working on climate change and on disaster risk reduction are often talking past each other.  Schipper and Pelling argue that the Climate Change convention only mentions disasters in terms of countries that are the most vulnerable to climate change, including nations with disaster-prone areas. Those working on disaster management usually don’t refer to climate change (perhaps because of the perception that there’s nothing that can be done about it.)  While climate change policy is almost exclusively discussed at the global level, DRR is guided by an international framework but requires national or sub-national action.[53]    Those working on natural disasters see disaster risk reduction as a way of mitigating the effects of disasters and for the past  decade, considerable energy has been devoted to these DRR initiatives.  Those working on climate change are beginning to talk not just about preventing further climate change but also about adaptation mechanisms by which communities can adapt to the changed environment.  It would be interesting to systematically review the recommended actions by both DRR initiatives and adaptation to climate change to identify areas of common ground.

            In conclusion, what we know is that:

1.       Human-induced climate change is real. The scientific evidence is clear.

2.       Climate change will clearly displace people in at least two ways: rising sea levels will affect populations living in low-lying areas and by increasing the intensity of tropical cyclones and other (sudden-onset) natural disasters.

3.       The relationship between climate change and slow-onset disasters is more complex and further work is needed to explore the relationship between poverty, climate change, and displacement.

4.       Similarly the relationship between environmental changes and both conflict and governmental decisions to implement large-scale development projects needs further research.

5.       Arguments which may be useful in mobilizing a political response to prevent climate change are generally not very helpful in building bridges between the valuable work on climate change with the equally valuable work on disaster risk reduction.   


[1] Humab tide: the real migration crisis; Christian Aid report, May 2007, page 5. Accessed online November 26, 2007;

[2]While the term was used in the 1970s by the World Watch Institute, it was first publicly used in 1985 by Essam El-Hinnawi,  Environmental Refugees.  UNEP: Nairobi.  It is also frequently associated with Jodi Jacobson’s, Environmental Refugees:  a Yardstick of Habitability.  World Watch Paper, no. 86, Washington, DC: World Watch Institute, 1988.

[3] See for example, Richard Black, “Environmental Refugees:  myth or reality?”  New Issues in Refugee Research, UNHCR, Working Paper no. 34, March 2001.

[4] Anke Strauss, Address to the High Level Segment of the Fifteenth Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, 5 September 2007.

[5]$File/Bulletin-IC-EN-7_LR.pdf   Also ee for example, International Organization for Migration, Environmentally-Induced Population Displacements and EnvironmentalImpacts Resulting from Mass Migration.  International Symposium, Geneva, April 2006 organized by IOM, together with UNHCR and the Refugee Policy Group.  See also the UN Development Program’s Human Development Report 2007/08 “Fighting Climate Change:  Human Solidarity in a Divided World,”  New York:  UNDP, 2007.

[7]  Summary for Policymakers, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment, April 2007, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, page 9. Accessed online, 13 November 2007

[8] Ibid, page 9






[14] Climate change mitigation in developing countries: Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey; Pew Center on Global Climate Change, October 2002

[15] Jeffrey Sachs, “The Climate Adaptation Challenge,” Address to the Global Humanitarian Forum,” Geneva, 11 October 2007, p. 1.

[16] Thomas F. Homer-Dixon, “On the Threshold:  Environmental Changes as Causes of Acute Conflict,”  International Security, vol. 16, no 2 (Autumn 1991), pp. 88-89.

[17] Steve Lonergan, “The Role of Environmental Degradation in Population Displacement,”  Environmental Change and Security Project Report, issue 4 (Spring 1998),pp. 8-9.

[18] Charles Geisler and Regendra de Sousa, “Africa’s Other Environmental Refugees,” Africa Notes, September 2000, p. 2.

[19] “Climate changes and impact on coastal countries”,,contentMDK:21215328~pagePK:64165401~piPK:64165026~theSitePK:469382,00.html

[20] page 17, Summary for Policymakers, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

[21] Nils Peter Gleditsch, Ragnhild Nordas, and Idean Salehyan, “Climate Change and conflict:  the Migration Link,” International Peace Academy, Coping with Crisis Working Paper, May 2007, pp. 8-9.

[22] Somini Sengupta, “Living on the edge:  Indians watch their islands wash away,” International Herald Tribune, 10 April 2007.





[28] Summary for Policy Makers, from Working Group 1 report. Page 9.

[29] This definition comes from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (Belgium) and is used by the International Strategy on Disaster Risk Reduction:

[30] IASC,Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters,  Washington:  Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, June 2006.

[31] Margareta Wahlström, “the Humanitarian Impact of Climate Change,” UN Chronicle Online Edition,
[32] However, we should also note that while the number of people affected by these natural disasters may rise as a consequence of climate change, the number of people affected is also likely to increase because of growing  population density in disaster-prone areas. 

[33] With the exception, of course, of those inhabitants of small island states who find that their islands disappear as a result of rising sea levels.

[34] UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Introduction, Scope and Purpose.  New York: OCHA, 1998.

[35] IASC, Operational Guidelines, op.cit.

[36] 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. 1 A.2.


[38] Note, however, that in many cases, the cause of famine is an interplay between natural disasters and governmental policies.

[39] See for example the many resources available at:

[40] See for example, Margareta Wahlström, op cit.

[41] Page 13, Summary for Policymakers, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

[42] “A Climate Culprit in Darfur” Ban Ki Moon, The Washington Post June 16, 2007, A15

[43] “Climate change escalates Darfur crisis” Scott Baldauf, The Cristian Science Monitor, July 27, 2007

[44] “A Climate Culprit in Darfur” Ban Ki Moon, The Washington Post June 16, 2007, A15

[45] Page 13, Summary for Policymakers, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

[46] ibid

[47] Norman Myers, “Environmental Refugees:  An Emergent Security Issue,” Paper presented at the 13th Economic Forum, Prague, May 2005.  He makes many of the same arguments in “Environmental refugees:  a growing phenomenon of the 21st century,” Phil. Trans. R. Soc.Lond. B (2002) 357, 609-613.

[48] Lonergam, op cit., 1998, pp. 11-12.  Note the contrast with Normal Myers who states “But those people who migrate because they suffer outright poverty are frequently driven also by root factors of environmental destitution.  It is their environmental plight as much as any other factor that makes them economically impoverished.” 2005, op cit.,p. 2.

[49] World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future.  Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 13.

[50] As cited by Gleditsch et al, 2007, p. 3

[51] Black, op cit., p. 6.

[52] Strauss, op cit.

[53] Lisa Schipper and Mark Pelling, “Disaster risk, climate change and international development:  scope for, and challenges to, integration,” Disasters, 30 (1) 2006, p. 32.



Build Back Better: Hurricane Katrina in Socio-Gender Context
by Elizabeth Snyder
( Professor in International Relations, University of North Carolina, Ashvellie)

            This paper examines issues of race, class and gender in the U.S. government response to Hurricane Katrina. Specifically, I will investigate the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and analyze the socio-gender dimensions of three key FEMA activities: evacuation, resettlement, and recovery. The Category Five hurricane hit the Gulf Coast of the United States on August 29, 2005 and devastated large areas of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. This study will focus on federal disaster relief in New Orleans, a city of 1.3 million that lost 73% of its housing and 80% of its population (Brown 2005). My analysis highlights how issues of social and economic marginalization in New Orleans figure largely in debates about FEMA’s efficacy and accountability. Perceived governmental bias against New Orleans’ poorest citizens has major implications for the city’s physical reconstruction, economic reorganization and cultural renewal. The sources used in this analysis cover a range of discourses regarding FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina: FEMA policy statements and briefing papers, U.S. congressional documents, assessments by outside agencies, and selected media reports. My investigation of FEMA’s role likewise draws on eyewitness accounts by local residents, allowing survivors of Hurricane Katrina to speak for themselves.
            Central to my analysis is the position of women in New Orleans, who represent the most vulnerable and disadvantaged of the city’s residents. I propose that the multiple disadvantages faced by women of color posed unique challenges for evacuation and displacement and require gender-specific measures for resettlement and recovery. This does not mean, however, that the women of New Orleans perceive themselves as victims. My analysis reveals that African American women are on the forefront of sustainable initiatives for post-Hurricane recovery. Their grassroots efforts identify the differing needs of women and men in post-disaster New Orleans and offer concrete strategies for enhancing women’s immediate participation and long-term advancement. These local initiatives, in conjunction with FEMA’s federally mandated relief programs, offer the most sustainable framework for ‘help to self-help’ action plans. They also present the best possibility for dismantling New Orleans’ pre-hurricane legacy of poverty and discrimination.
            Hurricane Katrina dealt a devastating blow to America’s Gulf Coast in the late summer of 2005. The storm also exposed, to Americans and to the world, an unnatural national disaster that was entirely man-made. Hurricane Katrina stands as a metaphor for race and class in the American Deep South. As public health officials announced, ‘being poor in America, and especially being poor and black in a poor southern state, is still hazardous to your health’ (Atkins & Moy 2005). The televised plight of hurricane survivors—poor, sick, elderly, and predominantly black—counteracted the incredulity of some reporters that the mayhem unfolding in New Orleans could happen ‘in America’. After Katrina, it is no longer possible to view the United States as immune, either from catastrophic natural disasters or the crippling human effects of poverty and racism (Segrest 2005).
             Feminist scholars are quick to point out that Hurricane Katrina is not only about race and class; it is also about gender. The poorest people in the Gulf Coast are women, notably women of color. This is especially true for the city of New Orleans. African American women in New Orleans are more likely than men to live in poverty, to be primary caregivers in single-parent families, and to work in low-paying jobs. Prior to Katrina, 35% of black women in New Orleans lived below the poverty line. 56% of families were female-headed households. The median annual earnings for African American women were less than $20,000. A recent study of women’s status ranked Louisiana 47th out of 51 states in terms of poverty and 43rd nationwide in health insurance coverage (Williams & Hinz 2005). In short, the Mississippi Delta, and New Orleans in particular, is one of the poorest regions in the United States. It is, as one feminist scholar writes, ‘a ‘third world in the first’ (Segrest 2005).
             The Federal Emergency Management Agency was established in 1979 to consolidate a range of organizations involved in U.S. disaster relief and preparedness: the National Weather Service, the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, and the Federal Insurance Administration, among others. One of the primary reasons for creating FEMA was to closely link preparedness, response and mitigation within one organization (NOW/PBS 2005).  FEMA had long been aware that a natural disaster in New Orleans could have a devastating impact on the city’s poorest inhabitants. Much of the city rests on marshland and is 8 feet below sea level. In addition, New Orleans is surrounded to the south, north and east by water. A large system of levees, canals and pumps were constructed beginning in the colonial era to protect New Orleans in the event of major storms. Despite these precautionary measures, hurricanes caused flooding and evacuations throughout the 20th century.
               In early 2001, FEMA published a report that predicted a major hurricane in New Orleans. In 2004, FEMA attempted to increase its readiness by conducting a mock hurricane response to ‘Hurricane Pam’.  Participants in the 8-day exercise concluded that a category three storm in southeastern Louisiana would displace roughly a million people and destroy up to 600,000 buildings. The assessment also indicated that a direct hurricane landfall on New Orleans could precipitate massive flooding. It warned that thousands of residents could drown and that disease and dehydration could pervade the city as the flood waters would recede (Fischetti 2001; Times-Picayune 2002). On August 28, 2005 the National Weather Service field office in New Orleans issued a bulletin predicting catastrophic damage to New Orleans. Anticipated destruction included half of the city’s houses, most of its office buildings, and massive piles of debris from trees, telephone poles and cars (National Weather Service 2005). Authorities likewise predicted an urgent lack of clean water, making ‘human suffering incredible by modern standards’ (Whittell 2005). A special report by meteorologists warned that standing water and toxic waste could render New Orleans uninhabitable for up to six months (Galle 2005).
                News sources unanimously report that ‘Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States’ (Wikipedia 2005). The official death toll from Hurricane Katrina is 1,604, with 2,000 persons still unaccounted for. The total physical damage is estimated at $105 billion. Federal disaster assessments set the area of land affected at 90,000 square miles, approximately the size of the United Kingdom. One of New Orleans’ most vulnerable districts—geographically and economically—is the Lower Ninth Ward. The Lower Ninth is 98% black; 1/3 of its population lives below the poverty line. In 1927 and 1965 hurricanes caused severe flooding in the impoverished district. In both incidents, eyewitnesses recounted how levees were intentionally breached to divert floodwaters from middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. Residents of the Lower Ninth testified before Congress that similar measures were taken during Katrina. The prominent black activist Dyan French Cole, known in New Orleans as ‘Mama D’, provided dramatic testimony of two large explosions soon after Katrina made landfall. Cole’s statements were corroborated by additional residents of the Lower Ninth. Others, including the Army Corps of Engineers and local hurricane specialists, refuted these claims, citing poor construction as the reason for the breaches. (The levees in white communities withstood the storm.) It is indeed possible that, given New Orleans’ history, African American residents are suspicious of official explanations of ‘natural’ disasters. Many in the media went one step further; the stories of Mama D and others were the result of ‘generations of oppression’ that had created a ‘psychology of paranoia’. One thing seems certain: the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina targeted floodwaters directly at African American communities. The Lower Ninth Ward was almost totally submerged (McKinney 2006).
               Within days of Katrina’s landfall, widespread public criticism arose concerning FEMA ‘bungled’ response to New Orleans. Public outcry was fueled by televised images of citizens clinging to rooftops, residents left without food, water or shelter, and corpses floating among the refuse. Condemnations ranged from mismanagement, to a lack of resources and leadership, to charges of racism and classism. Despite these differences of interpretation, one thing seemed clear: ‘Government failed the people of the Gulf Coast’ (McKinney 2006).
               It can be said in defense of FEMA that federal policy in the wake of 9/11 severely weakened the agency’s authority, organizational structure, and responsibilities. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), created by President George Bush in response to 9/11, subsumed FEMA under its broad umbrella. As part of DHS, FEMA was charged with developing a National Response Plan focused on combating terrorism; it was simultaneously stripped of billions of dollars in funding for natural disaster management. Attention and resources were redirected to the ‘war on terror’ and later to the war in Iraq; preparedness for natural disasters no longer took top priority. By 2003, morale at FEMA was at an all-time low and many experienced agency staff resigned. FEMA director Michael Brown warned that FEMA’s lack of autonomy was undercutting preparedness for natural disasters, weakening relationships with key responders, and leading to ‘an ineffective and uncoordinated response’ in the face of a national catastrophe. As Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney later observed, Brown’s pronouncement in September 2003 was nothing short of prophetic (McKinney 2006).
               It is likewise important to note that FEMA’s response to Katrina was by no means a total failure. Before Katrina made landfall, regional FEMA personnel called state and local officials to coordinate evacuation plans. On August 27, President Bush declared a state of emergency for Louisiana; FEMA was thereby authorized ‘to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency’ (Wikipedia 2005). Logistical supplies were immediately deployed to New Orleans, as well as a mortuary team with refrigerated trucks. With the help of its principle subcontractor the Red Cross, FEMA provided food, water and emergency medical treatment to storm victims. FEMA likewise coordinated the provision of emergency housing, in specially designated shelters, in local hotels, on commercial cruise ships, and in homes throughout Louisiana and neighboring states. Working alongside the Red Cross, the agency assisted in reuniting families and established mental health services to traumatized New Orleans residents (‘FEMA Answers’ 2006; Red Cross 2006).
                Yet despite these initial measures, it soon became evident that FEMA was ill-equipped for a hurricane of Katrina’s magnitude. Equally inescapable was the fact that the worst affected by this ‘disaster of disaster relief’ were poor African Americans, notably women and children (Segrest 2005). Studies of gender and disaster show that evacuation measures pose special challenges for women.  As primary caregivers, women are the ‘emotional center of gravity’ and must escape emergency situations with ‘infants, children and elders in tow’ (Enarson 2005). This burden was compounded during Katrina due to the rapid onset of the emergency. There was no time to plan, and for female headed households in New Orleans, no men to share responsibilities. One female survivor testified before Congress that she was invited to evacuate, but could not leave her daughters and grandchildren. Her panic intensified as the floodwaters rose because many in her family could not swim. ‘We saw buses, helicopters and FEMA trucks, but no one stopped to help us. We never felt so cut off in all our lives’. Another woman recounted before government officials how she and members of her family attempted to assist five seniors abandoned at a nursing home, but were blocked by police shouting racial slurs and obscenities’ (McKinney 2006).
                 A major obstacle for residents trying to escape New Orleans was the lack of official transport. Despite adequate warning 56 hours before landfall, FEMA, working in conjunction with Louisiana authorities, had no transportation for the 27% of citizens without vehicles (Quigley 2006). Public transport, including Greyhound and Amtrak, had been disabled in many areas as a precautionary safety measure. And although New Orleans had 364 city buses in its fleet, only 64 were available for evacuation (Azulay 2005). Evacuees were directed to military trucks and then moved on to collection points. For many African Americans, however, further evacuation was delayed for several days under armed guard. One woman testified that she and her family were detained with other black citizens, including the elderly, at a bridge without proper sanitation or medical treatment. She claimed that whites were consistently bused out first, with blacks being left in what she described as a ‘concentration camp’ (McKinney 2006). Photographs taken at the site match the witness’s description of substandard conditions, as well as the absence of whites.
                A study of survivors evacuated to shelters provides further evidence of New Orleans’ economic and racial divide. As one British reporter observed, race and class in the city ‘are so closely intertwined that to try to understand either separately is tantamount to misunderstanding both entirely’ (Younge 2005). A joint Harvard-Washington Post survey conducted in September 2005 shows that, of those living in shelters. 

o         55% had no car

o         72% had no property insurance

o         52% had no health insurance

o         68% had no savings

o         77% had a high school education or less

o         93% were black

                                                            (Harvard/WP Survey 2005)

            The sudden displacement of New Orleans’ population proved for FEMA a logistical nightmare. As Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin designated the Louisiana Superdome (capacity 26,000) a ‘refuge of last resort’ for those who could not flee the city (Fox News/Associated Press 2005). FEMA, assisted by the National Guard, brought evacuees en masse to the Superdome; other New Orleans residents came on their own, seeking food, water and shelter. Many came expecting emergency transportation elsewhere. By August 31, the population within the Superdome had exceeded 30,000, despite major damage to the facility caused by high winds and flooding. Conditions within the Superdome were described as chaotic, unsanitary, and dangerous—even life-threatening. FEMA responded to the crisis by relocating evacuees to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. By September 1, the Astrodome was declared full and was forced to close its doors to new arrivals.
             The mass relocation of New Orleans’ residents to evacuation facilities posed special risks for women. While displacement during natural disasters is disorienting for both men and women, and can arouse feelings of extreme uncertainty, women face additional pressures as caregivers and as potential victims of physical abuse (Gururaja 2000). The stress of disaster and displacement, combined with lost livelihoods, income, and control often exacerbates pre-existing tendencies towards  violence (Women’s Funding Network 2005). Women who escaped to the Superdome later exposed the appalling conditions in the cramped facility—dead bodies, garbage, feces, urine. But they also report fear of physical violence from men. One of the most disturbing reports comes from a woman who testified that police officers instilled the greatest anxiety. ‘We were cursed when we asked for help for our elderly, we had guns aimed at us…They made everybody sit on the ground with their hands in the air, even babies…My 5-year-old granddaughter cried and asked her mama if she was doing right’ (McKinney 2006). Restricted communication, loss of support systems and relocation to temporary shelters is especially traumatizing for victims of domestic abuse. Louisiana lost five domestic violence shelters during Hurricane Katrina. Practitioners report that ‘many women in New Orleans fled abusive homes for the protection of the shelter only to find themselves displaced from the shelter in the aftermath of the storm’ (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 2005). Practitioners also fear that battered women in New Orleans will return to abusive partners in the absence of viable alternatives.
              Critics contend that FEMA’s haphazard evacuation measures are explained not only by the scope of Katrina’s devastation, but by the ‘psychic distance’ of the Gulf Coast from more affluent regions of America. In the words of one commentator, Katrina’s victims had been ‘written off’ long before the hurricane touched ground (Segrest 2005). Witnesses who appeared before the Select Bipartisan Committee to investigate Katrina testified that communities throughout New Orleans were ignored by FEMA and the Red Cross. According to residents in African American parishes, FEMA and the Red Cross focused operations in primarily white neighborhoods; it was left to local black churches to provide food, medicine, shelter and transportation. Barbara Arnwine, president of the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, relates FEMA’s decision to avoid African American neighborhoods to rumors and racial stereotyping. Unsubstantiated stories of violence and looting instilled fear in aid workers, who were then reluctant to provide assistance to African American citizens. Ms. Arnwine goes on to suggest that, had federal agents arrived sooner and provided adequate security and communications, the false allegations would not have taken hold (McKinney 13).
              There can be little doubt that media reports of a breakdown in law and order had a disastrous affect on relief efforts in black neighborhoods. The negative depictions likewise served to criminalize black communities already traumatized by the flood and its aftermath (Segrest 2005). African Americans leaders charge that media coverage of Hurricane Katrina was racially biased and portrayed black residents as thieves and white residents as victims. The national media reported widespread looting in New Orleans, mostly by people of color. Items stolen included food and water, as well as non-essential items (clothing, jewelry, and electronics). The ‘good guys’ were the doctors (white-collar heroes) who raided pharmacies to procure drugs for their patients. The most frequent reports declared rampant carjacking, murders, theft, and rape. All but one were subsequently discredited as mere rumors (Rosenblatt & Rainey 2005).  Footage was aired of local citizens with shotguns aiming towards helicopters. Eyewitnesses later reported that these so-called ‘vigilantes’ were frantic residents trapped on rooftops. Their gunfire was an attempt to alert rescue teams of their presence (Quigley 2006). The controversy reached a crescendo when photos taken by Agence-France-Press and the Associated Press were published with differing captions; Caucasians with questionably acquired goods were ‘finding’ supplies; African Americans were ‘looting’ (Mikkelson & Mikkelson 2005).
               As the initial evacuation phase ended, FEMA was faced with a new set of challenges—the enormous task of resettlement. In two weeks Hurricane Katrina produced 1 million evacuees, the largest U.S. displacement and resettlement in 150 years. FEMA reports that evacuees remain scattered across all 50 states in 1/2 of the nation’s postal zones (Quigley 2005). Many who escaped New Orleans vow never to return. Others continue their temporary existence in hotel rooms, on cruise ships, in FEMA trailers, or with host families or relatives in other states. ‘Whatever they do’, one reporter writes, ‘the nation may never be the same, as a smaller New Orleans rises up from its ruins, and bits of Creole culture are seeded from East coast to West’ (Grier 2005). The migration of Katrina survivors to other U.S. cities will undoubtedly affect the communities where evacuees resettle, especially in more rural or homogenous towns. But such changes are by no means one-way. Louisianans transplanted to other U.S. regions can experience their own ‘culture shock’, as well as the loss of social networks and support systems. One of the most contentious issues is the fate those, mostly poor and African American, who want to return to their communities but do not have the resources to do so (Baraka 2005). Reports also reveal that 10,000 trailers commissioned by FEMA for flood victims remain on runways in Arkansas (Quigley 2006).
                Human rights advocates are challenging the government to recognize the survivors of Hurricane Katrina as internally displaced persons and afford them the same protections delineated under the U.N.’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Protection under these guidelines would guarantee Katrina survivors access to basic shelter and housing, access to essential medical services and sanitation, access to education, and recognition of the special concerns of women and children (Human Rights Network 2006). Feminist commentaries present similar arguments that the recent disaster must be viewed within a global context of emergency management. International women activists write of the ‘striking similarities’ between hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast cities and crisis areas outside the United States. Sri Lankan activist Sunila Abeysekera observed following Katrina that her own experiences after the tsunami revealed ‘it is easier to deal with material assistance than the long term scars and processes of grieving and healing…and this type of assistance is even more inaccessible if you are poor and marginalized’ (Urgent Action Fund 2005).
                The debates about FEMA are far from over. Was the agency’s poor performance during Katrina due to government incompetence? Indifference? Lack of knowledge? Lack of resources? Should FEMA, as some suggest, be abolished altogether? (BBC 27/4/06). While the fate of FEMA hangs in the balance, the embattled agency is trying to repair its reputation and publicize its current efforts to assist Katrina survivors. In a recent memo, the agency outlined its ongoing commitment and contributions to the recovery process. 

o         $14.7 billion in flood insurance payments

o         $1.05 billion in business loans

o         $5.35 billion in homeowner loans

o         $3.5 billion in rental assistance

o         $330 million in unemployment assistance

o         More than 1 million housing inspections to assess disaster-related damage (FEMA 2006) 

            New Orleans’ residents contend that, while helpful, FEMA’s strategies are only part of the solution. One of the most striking aspects of post-Katrina recovery in New Orleans is the widespread recognition that grassroots initiatives must fill the gap of federal relief. Local citizens are aware that those left behind during Katrina could be left behind again in the city’s reconstruction. As one analyst rightly asks: ‘How many people will [New Orleans] be built for, and who will they be?’ (Grier 2005). Grassroots recovery combines humanitarian activity with an ‘alternative vision of rebuilding’ focused on empowerment and respect (Azulay 2005). Residents do not want to be seen as victims, but rather as knowledgeable and active participants at all levels and at all stages. Local organizations (civic groups, women’s groups, religious groups) unload trucks, patch homes, deliver supplies, and manage on-site distribution centers. Community activist ‘Mama D’ helped organize the Soul Patrol, a cleaning force that clears debris from streets, sidewalks, and front porches. Common Ground, a grassroots collective founded by black activist Malik Rahim, established a center where residents can register online with FEMA. African American leaders are also organizing worker cooperatives that employ local residents, setting up land trusts, and arranging housing, free education, and health care. Activist Suncere Ali Shakur provides the following summary: ‘Right now we are in the phase of spreading hope, and when there is hope, anything can happen’ (Azulay 2005).
               It is clear that post-disaster adversity will not deter citizens from reclaiming their neighborhoods. It is also clear that women are central to this reclamation. As New Orleans rebuilds, women confirm that those most vulnerable to disaster are those who also create disaster-resilient communities (Enarson 1998). In the words of one commentator, ‘Women and girls were in the thick of the crisis and now are on the forefront of resource management and rebuilding in every household, school, and community’ (Women’s Funding Network 2005). Women in New Orleans’ poorest districts emphasize the need to rebuild communities, not just houses. They seek to restore pre-existing social networks (family, church groups, civic organizations), but also to expand these networks to previously underserved populations: youth, the elderly, and ethnic minorities. The vitality of women’s efforts in the wake of Katrina, and their passionate promotion of women’s skills and capacity, underscore the lessons learned from global crises. International disasters reveal that emergencies simultaneously are opportunities for renegotiating gender and empowering women. Female survivors often derive confidence from their new role as providers and protectors. Surrounded by loss, women develop a stronger sense of political consciousness and agency (El-Bushra 2000).
               The events of August-September 2005 made painfully clear that fundamental changes are needed to combat race- and gender-based discrimination in New Orleans and to improve the status of the women. The women of New Orleans are doing just that. Grassroots movements in the city’s poorest communities are re-evaluating past policies and advancing new strategies for permanent improvements in women’s well-being. Their efforts draw special attention to the disproportionate rates of poverty among black single mothers and highlight the need for long-term anti-poverty reform. Activists insist that women be equal recipients of state and federal relief funding. At the same time, steps should be taken to effect long-term social and economic change. Recommendations include:

o         Employment assistance that incorporates education and training for disadvantaged women, help with job placement, and the guarantee of a fair wage.

o         Opportunities for women in non-traditional jobs, including post-Katrina reconstruction projects, fire prevention, and public safety.

o         Provision of quality child care for evacuees seeking employment. Child care centers are vital to allowing women full participation in all stages of the rebuilding process. Such facilities also offer long-term solutions for improving women’s chances of employment and advancement.  (Gault, Hartmann, Jones-DeWeever, Wershkul & Williams 2005)

President Bush recently announced that the reconstruction of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities provides a ‘fantastic opportunity’ for private businesses and investment. FEMA’s most recent report indicates it has spent $22.9 billion on Katrina projects alone (Brookings Institution 2006). What neither the president nor FEMA have ensured is the equitable participation of Gulf Coast citizens in this economic ‘windfall’. Thus far, minority businesses have received only 1.5 percent of the $1.6 billion awarded by FEMA to repair damages caused by Katrina. In addition, the Bush administration suspended affirmative action policies that promoted the employment of women and minorities in reconstruction projects (Williams 2005). Reverend Jesse Jackson has asked why African Americans are not heading federal relief efforts when the majority of New Orleans survivors are black. ‘How can blacks be locked out of the leadership and trapped in the suffering? It is that of lack of sensitivity and compassion that represents a kind of incompetence’ (Wikipedia 2005). In the midst of these painful exclusions, it is essential to recognize that the people of New Orleans—largely poor African Americans—served as first responders during Hurricane Katrina and now offer the most inclusive long-term strategies for recovery. Such initiatives go beyond well physical reconstruction to confront the systemic issues of race, class and gender that existed prior to Katrina and exacerbated its affects. I propose that FEMA has much to learn from the policy frameworks, and accumulated experience, of New Orleans’ poorest communities. It is these efforts that most effectively ameliorate the consequences of Hurricane Katrina and ‘build back better’ for the future.  


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Report of Rapid Assessment Survey on Displaced Bhutanese Refugees from the Camps- Discussion Paper I (Prepared by Som Prasad Niroula, Nepal Institute of Peace (NIP))


            There are about one hundred thousand Bhutanese refugees in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal since the last 17 years. The refugees are in confusion and chaos resulting in some ways from the current resettlement and repatriation debate. The refugee agency UNHCR has asked refugees to choose from among the three available option - repatriation, local integration in host country Nepal and, third country resettlement in United State of America, Canada, Australia and some of the European countries. The refugee community are clearly divided into two broad camps - one for repatriation to Bhutan and the other for third country resettlement.  However, the refugees who are interested in local integration process are silent.
            In the spate of violence that erupted with the above offer of resettlement mainly by USA, the refugee community have been blaming each other. In one incident, two refugees lost their lives in skirmish with the security forces inside the camps. The agitators burnt some of the huts which belonged to the leaders who supported the option of third country resettlement. The international community and government of Nepal has been an eyewitness at this battlefield of the refugee community.
            Since then, a number of families have been displaced from the camps who are supporter of comprehensive durable solution of the problems. The large numbers of the people who got displaced are also the supporter of the third country resettlement.  The displaced refuges are those ' who have been forced to leave the camps from threat of life and intimidation'. The residential huts of majority of them are dismantled and destroyed. In addition, there is a continuous threat upon their life from the radical group.


            Following are the objectives of the survey:

a)          To assess the situation of the refugees who have been displaced from the camps;

b)          To understand the causes of the displacement; and,

c)           To understand the emergency needs of the displaced. 


            The rapid assessment survey was conducted on the basis of one to one interview in Damak and in Kathmandu. The short questionnaire was developed before conducting the interviews within the refugee community.  The displaced refugees filled up the forms themselves and submitted to the surveyors; except a few who have sent them through e-mails.  This is a preliminary survey conducted to understand the situation of the displaced population from the camps. The survey takes into account those people who have been displaced from the threat of the 'radical groups' of people inside / outside of the camps.  

Limitation of Survey 

            Since it was a critical and emergency situation, the survey was conducted in a short period of time on only two bases at Damak and Kathamndu. It may not cover all the displaced population from the camps. The people who have been displaced from the camps are scattered in Damak, Kathamndu, Dharan and Biratnagar.  

Findings of the Rapid Assessment 

1. Numbers of Displaced 

According to the rapid survey conducted in a short period of time 102 persons have been identified as displaced. The characteristic of the displaced population is given below:  

1.1  Sex Distribution of the Displaced Population

There are 102 persons displaced from the camps since May 27, 2007.  There is 60.78 percent male displacement whereas female displacement is 39.22 percent.

1.2  Age Group of the Displaced Population

The table 2 below gives an overview of age group distribution of the displaced population. Children and elderly persons consist of about 42.16 per cent the total displacement. It gives an indication that the children and elderly people are in urgent needs of the humanitarian assistance.  

Table -1: The age group distribution of the displace population

Age group

No. of Displaced


0 to 10



11 to 20



21 to 30



31 to 40



41 to 50



51 to 60









Source: Field Survey, 2007

2. Causes of Displacement 

            Refugees are displaced on different instances. In the first instance, most of the people have been displaced after the agitation in Beldangi-II on May 27and 28, 2007 as the radical groups turned violent while opposing the offer of the third country resettlement. The second instance was also an attack on a few frontline campaigners of the third country resettlement offer on 12 August, 2007 and the following days. The opposition has targeted the prominent figures of the community their families and supporters were also chased out of the camps. The refugees have left the camps for the following reasons:

a)      Destruction of house (hut)

b)      Property looted, destroyed or burned

c)       Manhandled (beaten heavily that many of them were hospitalized)

d)      Threat and intimidation of life

e)      Lack of security 

3. Consequences of the Displacement 

a)      Problems of children for the continuity of their education

b)      Problems of housing

c)       Problem of treatment in hospital (the AMDA hospital will need recommendation from the inside camps health centre to entertain refugee patients for the treatment) and that the displaced are insecure to   visit the camp health centres.

d)      Lack of security / life threat

e)      Difficult to apply for the travel document & movement pass as it is given through the camps RCU officer from their camp based offices.

f)         Difficulties to collect the camps’ ration (some of the people are collecting camps ratio through their relatives in the camps, some such helping the displaced are even beaten when found out). 

4. Humanitarian Support 

            Most of the displaced families are collecting 'rations' from the camps through their relatives. There are few incidents that the relatives and friends who help to collect the rations are also threatened and in one case, a boy was beaten by the radical group for doing so.  In many instances the rations has been used by the representatives of the camp management committee thereby not reaching to the displaced beneficiary. Owing to these difficulties, the camp In-charge of the Home Ministry has suspended the rations in some such cases. The new set of camps management committee is formed in the domination of the radical groups who oppose alternate options to repatriation for durable solution.  Thus, it seems that the people who are residing outside the camps are not getting and or will not probably be able to get the ration for long time through relatives and supporters. 

            The survey was based on the 31 families. Out of 31 families, only 2 families have received partial educational support out side camps from CARITAS Nepal as a one time grant for the said reason that there is no set budget for such cases with any of the agencies involved. However, refugees have not got any other forms of assistance from the agencies.  Relating to the question on the outside employment opportunities, a large numbers of people revealed that they do not work.






            The refugees are displaced from the camps since May 2007 and are living in a difficult situation in Damak, Kathmandu, Biratnagar and Dharan. Some of the refugees are getting rations from the camps through their relatives or supporters and some do not get even the basic rations. It seems difficult to the supporter who is helping to get the ration due to security threat to them from radical groups. The displaced refugees are helpless in the city of Damak and Kathmandu. As the data shows that the displaced are not receiving any support from the agencies neither in Kathmandu nor in Damak except one time educational support from the CARITAS- Damak for few students which helped them for the school admission only.
            To sum up, the situations of the displaced is critical. Though few families receive camp rations through their relatives, it is not as much they are entitled, and the cost of reaching these items is an extra burden to these victims. To the receivers also the ration is not enough, they have to supplement. Besides the rations, they need shelter for which there needs to be a serious attention of the donors and agencies for management. For those who are not been able to access their camp facilities, it is a severe humanitarian crisis.
            As the cause of the displacement is identified as the inadequate security arrangement in the camps, there is a need of a comprehensive protection package for the refugees in the camps.  


            Following are the recommendation based on the rapid assessment of the displaced refugees:  

Humanitarian Agencies [UNHCR, LWF, CARITA and Others] 

a)      To provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees who are forced to leave the camps

b)      To lobby to the government of Nepal to develop strategy to provide adequate security who are displaced from the camps.

c)       To provide an easy access to screen their applications for the third country resettlement process without leaving a room for the radical groups to hinder their process.

d)      To support and entertain the refugees with high risk to attend the process at the safer place like Kathmandu if they desire for resettlement.  

Government of Nepal 

a)      To provide adequate security to the displaced refugees from the camps;

b)      To further develop security arrangement to ensure no additional refugees are threatened, intimidated or displaced from their place of residence in the camps.

c)       To recommend the UNHCR and others concerned to immediately take up the cases of the displaced for resettlement on protection grounds accepting the vulnerable situation of these displaced, if these refugees are desiring to resettle in third countries,

d)      To bring the perpetrators before the law so that there is no presidency of violence in the camps for the peaceful living and the management and operation of the camps.  

International Organization for Migration, Resettlement Countries and Agencies 

a)      To ease the process of verification and proceedings for the displaced and others at high risk and for the immediate rescue of these refugee and displaced population.

Annex-1: Questionnaire 

Rapid Assessment of Refugees Displaced from Camps

1. Profile 

Name:                                                               Age:                 Sex:  

Camp:                                           Sector no:                           Hut no:  

Family size:  

S. No
















































2. What are the causes of displacement from the camps? Please describe briefly.   


3. Are you getting support from agencies?    

    Yes               No 

4. If yes, what kind of assistance?  

a) Food             b) Clothing        c) Treatment expenses d) educational support   


5. Which agencies are providing assistance? 

a) UNHCR          B) LWF              c) CARITAS          D) Others ………….



Bhutanese Refugees: A Search for a Durable Solution- Discussion Paper II (Prepared by Hari Prasad Adhikari, Bhutanese Refugee and Activist)


            Bhutan is a country of immigrants ruled presently by the fifth hereditary and absolute monarch, Jigme Gyesar Wangchuck. Little exposed to the world, Bhutan is a member of the UN since 1971 and is signatory to the International Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and has ratified Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
            At the quest to establish democratic culture, the suppressed nations experienced the struggle for change in the eighties which apparently perceived threat to their hegemony by the ruling Drukpa elite. The country has multi-cultural, linguistic and multi religious bindings. Yet the struggle of the eighties rooted a deep suspicion in the minds of the rulers who subsequently adopted an ethnic cleansing policy through different means and implementation of which resulted to the expulsion of over one-sixth of its population. These expelled innocent Bhutanese citizens are languishing as refugees in eastern Nepal as asylum seekers; assisted and monitored by the UNHCR and the Government of Nepal. There are over 106,000 Bhutanese asylum seekers registered in the camps in Nepal and over 15-20 thousand unregistered and scattered around the camps and in India mainly along the Do oars belt adjoining Bhutan. Fifteen rounds of bilateral talks have taken place but with no conclusive decision to solve the refugee crisis. While it may be said that each round of bilateral talks began with renewed hope for the refugees, it all ended invariably in utter disappointment and frustration for them. In fact, the bilateral process turned out to be no more than a farce and a cruel joke on the refugees. The sixteenth bilateral talk has not taken place since 2003 and the refugees have heard nothing about any development with regard to their return after the announcement of the result of the joint verification of the two countries on December 22, 2003. As agreed, Bhutan was to take back the verified refugees for good.
            The refugees launched numerous movements for their right to return. The goodwill persuasions of the international community did not also supplement to creating an atmosphere of return and solving the protected problem of the Bhutanese refugees - on the ground as the saying goes "justice delayed is justice denied". There have been offers for the resettlement of desiring refugees from countries like US, Australia, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, and a few European countries. This has brought hopes of future for many refugees particularly those who want to build their future in these countries. There are many who believe that they can return from these countries when the situation favors them. Yet there are also people opposing resettlement who believe that they can organize radical protests against their government in Bhutan to get their rights back. The two different ideas of solution have resulted to critical security problems in the camps.
           The Bhutanese Government is unlikely to repatriate all the refugees and as Nepal is in the midst of a democratic transition, it will take some time to address the aspirations of the refugees who are willing to integrate locally. On the other hand, refugees have suffered more than enough in silence for the last decade and a half and are seeking ways and means to improve their quality of life economically and socially. Present development of the interest shown by some resettlement countries seems to be attractive to those who desire to grab this opportunity.  Families with educated children are more open to volunteering for the resettlement.
           Refugees have human rights, including rights that speak specifically to their particular forms of vulnerability. As a willingness of state to grant meaningful protection to involuntary migrants decreases, it is critical to understand clearly the entitlements that can be invoked to safeguard the basic interest of refugees. Beyond the classic prohibition of the refoulement of refugees to the risk of prosecution, the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees mandates respect for a series of crucial civil and socio-economic human rights of refugees. These span the range from freedom of association, movement, and religion to rights of access to key social institutions, including employment, education and social and economic assistance.
          The sentimental ethic of "Patriotism" in many cases has encouraged the victimized population to ruin their productive period of life. The seen and unseen interest of actors or the people in the community with profile always play with the unrealistic irrational emotions of these vulnerable populations.

Repatriation Versus Resettlement 


            Repatriation at this point of time is not workable given the different constraints arising from the part of the Royal government of Bhutan though there are legal provisions in the international laws. Human Rights Watch in its 2007 report has clearly pointed out the negligence of the Bhutanese government to its international obligation.
            Under international law refugees and exiles have a right to return to their country. Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which Bhutan is a party and legally bound also sets out that “States Parties shall respect the right of the child and his or her parents to leave any country, including their own, and to enter their own country.” Bhutan has also signed, but not ratified, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which in Article 5(d)(ii) of the Convention guarantees “the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights: …The right to leave any country, including one's own, and to return to one's country.”
In addition to its legal basis under treaty law, the right to return is recognized as a norm of customary international law.
            In October 1993 the governments of Nepal and Bhutan met for the first time for negotiations aimed at resolving the refugee crisis. Each subsequent round of bilateral talks built up refugee hopes that a way out of the impasse would soon be found, allowing them to exercise their right to return to Bhutan. However, the negotiations got off to an inauspicious start when Bhutan proposed, and Nepal agreed, to categorize the camp population into four different groups: (1) bona fide Bhutanese who were forcibly evicted; (2) Bhutanese who voluntarily migrated; (3) non-Bhutanese; and (4) Bhutanese who have committed crimes. Both this categorization scheme and the verification process reflecting Bhutan’s intention from the start to limit the right of return to only a small subset of the refugees met with widespread international criticism for failing to meet established standards for refugee screening and verification.
             After many years of fruitless talks and delays, Bhutan and Nepal agreed during the 10th round of bilateral talks in December 2000 to establish a Joint Verification Team (JVT). The 12th round of bilateral talks in February 2003 produced an agreement whereby only people in category one were accorded the right to repatriate to Bhutan and have their status of citizens of Bhutan restored to them. People in category two would have to re-apply for Bhutanese citizenship after their return to Bhutan, whereas people in category four would first have to stand trial in Bhutan. People in category three would not be allowed to return to Bhutan at all.
              The JVT completed the verification exercise of the first camp, Khudunabari, between March and December 2001, but did not release the results until June 2003. Out of a total of 12,643 people registered in the camp, the JVT categorized 12,090. The categorization of the Khudunabari refugees was reported as follows:

Category I - Bona fide Bhutanese citizens (293 people - just 2.5 percent of the refugee population);
Category II - Refugees who supposedly "voluntarily" migrated from Bhutan (8,595 people, or 70 percent of the refugees);
Category III - Non-Bhutanese (2,948 people, or 24 percent of the refugees);
Category IV - Refugees who have committed "criminal" acts, including those who participated in so-called "anti-national" (pro-democracy) activities in Bhutan (347 people, or 3 percent of the refugees). 

According to the joint press release of 21 May 2003, the Royal Government of Bhutan would take 'full responsibility' for the 293 individuals categorized as 'bonafide Bhutanese evicted forcibly' and that these people would be permitted to return and would be issued citizenship cards. The complete text of the terms and conditions of return is attached for reference.

            The comprehensive mission of the Geneva based support group who did a thorough survey on the process of the joint verification has criticized the process that it created barriers for the return of the refugees from the camps in Nepal. This process simply does not stand up to scrutiny under international law, refugees have been classified as "criminals" in the absence of clear charges or any semblance of a trial, and apparently in punishment for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association. Category II is similarly flawed. All the refugees classified as so-called "voluntary migrants" claim they signed so-called "voluntary migration forms" under duress when they were expelled from Bhutan. Many were unaware of the content of these forms and that signing them would that result in their loss of citizenship under Bhutanese law. "Under international law everyone has the right to leave and return to their own country," "Bhutan's policies clearly violate this right." Ethnic Nepalis were either forced to leave, or felt compelled to leave the country to avoid harassment, physical abuse, and imprisonment.

            The two governments confirmed their agreement on the treatment of the four categories during the 15th round of bilateral talks in October 2003. Since then no progress has been made. No verification exercises have been conducted in other camps, and none of the residents of Khudunabari camp have been allowed to return to Bhutan.

            Bhutan’s attempts to limit the right of return to people in category one violate its obligations under international law. Bhutan argues that the people in category two, Bhutanese who are deemed to have left Bhutan voluntarily, have renounced their Bhutanese citizenship. However, the circumstances surrounding their departure from Bhutan in the early 1990s make clear that, far from leaving voluntarily. There is, thus, no basis for distinguishing between people in categories one and two: they should all be allowed to exercise their right to return to Bhutan should they so wish and have their status as citizens of Bhutan restored to them immediately.

            The agreement reached by the governments of Nepal and Bhutan purports to deny the right to return to those refugees who are deemed to be non-Bhutanese (category three). However, the right under international law is to enter one’s “own country” rather than only the country of one’s nationality. Guidance on the meaning of “own country” in this context has been provided by the Human Rights Committee in its General Comment 27 on Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”

            In such a situation voluntary repatriation does not seem feasible for these Bhutanese refugees. At this state of uncertainty, people in the camps are searching for alternatives or comprehensive durable solution.



            In the Bhutanese refugee camps there are refugees in all three strategic options of solutions. Though there is a strong and forceful opposition of resettlement of those desiring refugees from radical groups, who believe that arrangements should be made to allow them to freely decide their future. Some of the refugees are expectant that they may be able to return to their country of origin as the situation improves even from the third country of resettlement as their right to return is not ceased when they resettle in a third countries.
             “The description of resettlement as a ‘last resort’ should not be interpreted to mean that there is a hierarchy of solution and that resettlement is the least valuable or needed among them. For many Bhutanese refugees, resettlement, in fact, is the best or perhaps, “only alternative” as indicated by the then UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ms. Sadako Ogata (2000-2003).

            Seven countries viz. USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands are in the core group of resettlement for Bhutanese refugees. USA alone has offered to resettle over 60,000 Bhutanese refugees from Nepal.

The present scenario in the ensuing refugee crisis can be briefly pointed as the following:

            Nepal government has decided that it would stick to its stand to prioritize repatriation of the refugees with dignity and honor while it will allow the resettlement countries to process for resettlement of the refugees to their countries and will not stop the refugees who desire to resettle in the third countries.

n            International Organization for Migration for the resettlement in US has agreed with Nepal government and started interviewing refugees for processing.

n            UNHCR is responsible to provide files of the refugee families to the authorized resettlement agencies of the concerned countries.

n            More than 3000 cases are attending the proceedings for resettlements now.

n            Refugees claim that they are not well informed about resettlement. To let the people make an informed decision, UNHCR has just started distributing information on resettlement in the third countries.

        Refugees showed great interest in resettlement but the submission of the declaration of interest for resettlement to UNHCR is not encouraging for the following reasons:

n            Refugees are unaware of rehabilitation support in the countries of resettlements.

n            There is no adequate information on the resettlement country's policy on the treatment to the refugee after resettlement with regard to their status such as citizenships, assistance programs, job opportunities and entitlements, social security, issues of cultural heritages, conditions of right to return.

n            Compensation of the property left in Bhutan.

n            There is a serious threat, intimidation to those who desire to be resettled from the Bhutanese Maoists and few radical youths.

n            The newly established security arrangements in the camps have not fully guaranteed their security from the violent opposition.

n            Following the various incidents of the destructions of the huts and property of those supporting resettlement there is no successful case of resettlement of any of these displaced, people are trying to locate the area of trust on the offer.

n            Above all, the refugees are afraid that they will always be in dept as they may have to take loan to supplement the expensive living in the    developed countries including the heavy medical and educational costs as heard.

        Today, there is a growing debate on the adequacy of the international refugee regime & role of UNHCR & other international actors. One peculiarity of South Asian refugee-receiving countries, including Pakistan, India, Nepal, & Bangladesh, is that none of them has ratified 1951 Refugee Convention or 1967 Protocol, nor have those countries enacted domestic, & a fortiori regional, frameworks to deal with refugee inflows. It means that governments in the region treat refugees on an ad hoc basis & it considerably limit the role of UNHCR. Traditions of hospitability are strained by resource limitations & internal political concern too.


Bhutanese Refugees: Destitute Sans Destination


            There have been profound socio-cultural reasons that have pressurized many Bhutanese to leave Bhutan and settle in Nepal. If these reasons can be briefly enumerated, it will be the following:

§           Dilution of ethnic & cultural identity

§           Search for democratic space in Bhutan by Lhotsampas

§           Imposition of cultural values, practices & code of conduct  

§           Mandatory Dzonkha language, Kho & Kira dresses

§           Instruments: Retrospective enforcement of Citizenship Act 1985 & Population Census of 1988. 


Some Key Questions Related to the Legal Aspects of Bhutanese Refugee Crisis


Nepal’s Perception and Perspective


            If we can briefly enumerate Nepal’s position as a case in point of a haven for Bhutanese refugees, the following facts must be highlighted:

§          Nepal is not a party to the UN Refugee Convention & treats asylum seekers other than the Bhutanese & Tibetan populations as illegal      immigrants who may be detained at any time

§          She is a party to ICCPR, & to its First & Second Optional Protocols & Torture Convention

§          Nepal nearly hosts nearly 135,000 refugees as of today, the majority of whom are Bhutanese.

§          Section 9 of Immigration Act of 1992 empowers immigration officers within MOH to investigate infractions of immigration regulations & to detain, fine, & deport person charged with their violation.

§          Although Nepal has no official standard refugee policy, it cooperates with UNHCR to assist refugees from Bhutan & Tibet.

§          Bhutanese refugees are subject to a Joint Verification agreement entered into between Bhutan & Nepal in late 2000.

§          Under the agreement, Bhutanese refugees are verified to determine their nationality status at UNHCR run camps with a view to ultimate repatriation to Bhutan.

§          To locate alternate solution to those Bhutanese refugees who cannot return to their country, Nepal entered up agreement with countries of resettlement in the third countries. 

Nepali Civil Society’s Perception of Threat 

§          Massive deforestation and intrusion in labour market

§          Resisting repatriation & joining local politics

§          Serious law and order situation

§          Joining in illicit activities (drug/human trafficking)

§          Involvement in criminal nexus 

Dilemma and Difficulties for Nepal 

§           People taking shelter in Nepal under the urban refugee program come from diverse nations such as Iraq, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Burma & Afghanistan.

§          Government's policy of not recognizing individuals under the urban refugee program is hampering their third-country resettlement.

§          Over 50 urban refugees accepted by the US government for resettlement in Sept'06 applied for exit permits.

§          Government says it cannot provide them the documents in the absence of a refugee policy.

§          Government says it only recognizes 107,000 Bhutanese & 12,540 Tibetans who arrived before 1989 as refugees. 

What Went Wrong?


            Fifteen rounds of Nepal-Bhutan Ministerial level talks produced no tangible results. The refugees were subjected to a Joint Verification agreement entered into between Bhutan & Nepal in late 2000.  A Joint Verification Team verified 12,000 refugees in Khudnabari Camp & selected only 2.5 percent (293 persons) as bonafide.   Disparagingly only those Bhutanese citizens who were accepted as forcibly evicted from Bhutan only have a right to return with full citizenship. It is interesting to note that within a single family the verification team found anti-national & criminals, even a child was found to be under criminal category!

            Repatriated refugees were decided to be kept under watch before they are given normal citizens facilities.  Nothing was mentioned or agreed with regard to the restitution of the property of the refugees, Government even sponsored occupation on the land and other property of the refugees to other communities. The issue of non-registered refugees has brought uncertainty for their future or hindering their solution. The whole process doesn’t involve a non-partial third party for finding solution to refugees and most astonishingly, international intervention was completely denied.


Bhutanese Refugee Crisis Update


            There is huge frustration, mostly among youths, owing to life becoming more & more difficult to sustain, & lack of any progress in finding a ‘desirable’ solution. There is a sudden surge of radicalism – contributed by political changes in Nepal (Loktantra/Ganatantra voices beginning to take root). Also there have been increased activities of CPB MLM & other youth groups & growing possibility of armed insurgency originating from the refugee camps. Simultaneously threats are meted to individuals & groups promoting and opting ‘comprehensive durable solution’. The refugees desiring to be resettled in third countries are being displaced from camps affected by the CPB MLM and other radicals and there is a growing feeling that HCR is working in tandem with people or groups it finds dealing with more convenient & not considering the involvement of refugees in the decision making process. There has been calls for the closure of IOM & OPE office by the extreme leftwing political outfit advocating total political change in Bhutan. There is deep opposition for the allotment of Armed Security Force in the camps & call for the removal of security post is given from camps by Bhutan Revolutionary Student Union.


Contentious Questions


§          Government policy on refugees has put the status of hundreds of people in confusion, prompting UNHCR to call for proper legislation.

§          The difference of opinion centres on about 400 people who are classified as 'urban refugees' by UNHCR but not recognized by the govt.

§          The issue has led to the government accusing UNHCR of giving refugee status to people without its consent.

§          "UNHCR should not issue refugee & asylum seeker certificates unilaterally & people taking shelter under the UNHCR's 'urban refugee  programme' would be treated as illegal immigrants" Home Ministry

§          Nepal cannot provide such a document in the absence of a refugee policy- Ministry of Foreign Affairs

§          UN General Assembly has mandated the refugee body to provide protection & assistance to anyone who flees the country of origin out of fear of persecution or conflict & Nepal must distinguish between refugees & migrants or travelers – UNHCR

§           There are people who arrived here whom we cannot put in limbo because we do have an obligation under the mandate to provide protection to these individuals-UNHCR


Factors Relating UNHCR and South Bhutanese Refugees


§          Statute of the UNHCR passed by the UN GA and mandate to protect refugee through special agreements or under 1951 Convention (Nepal and UNHCR has signed such agreement in 1987)

§          Conventional Refugees and Mandate Refugees

§          Absence of legal provision to regulate Conventional and Mandate refugees

§          Use of Immigration Act against mandate refugee,

§          No use of special power under Immigration Act to exempt refugee and no lenient approach - safe passage to UNHCR and safe custody of UNHCR- by the DOI and even by the courts unlike in India

§          There appears to be some tension with the UNHCR and with the Ministry of Home and DOI resulting to double victimization of asylum seekers


National Provisions


§          No specific national legal provision, however, an asylum seekers or a   refugee can exercise the fundamental rights (some universal rights are limited          to Nepali only under the Constitution)

§          Nepal's approach to refugees (for Tibetan and Bhutanese) is based on the humanitarian grounds and protection afforded largely is equivalent       to international standards, however, there are reports of refoulment of Tibetan Refugees and asylum-seekers.

§          There exist Camps regulation in Bhutanese Refugees Camps, but not sure about the Tibetan refugees

§          In case of any criminal activities by any refugees, the law of the land applies

§          There exist NUCRA - National Unit for Co-ordination of Refugee Affairs - its mandate - RCU and Camp Units - staffing - looks into technical issues - not substantive legal policy issues such as initiating drafting national policy and law on refugees

§          Department of Immigration - deals with foreigners and includes refugees under foreigners (may not be all but urban refuges)

§          Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Bilateral Dialogue - question on technical knowledge and appears to be conservative to dialogue with externals

§          UNHCR's initiatives- Eminent Persons-project funded and not substantive follow up by any national institutions 


Decision of the Supreme Court


§          Ratify 1951 Refugee Convention and its Protocol

§          UNHCR has the mandate to determine the status of refugee under the agreement

§          Enact law to protect the rights of refugees and to regulate the relationship of the UNHCR and the Government authority to determine the status of the refugees

§          Nepal has human rights obligation not to refoul asylum-seekers and refugee


Conclusion: Way Forward


§          Human Rights Obligation applicable to refugees or asylum seekers - such as under Concluding Remarks -question of implementation

§          Implement the decision of the Supreme Court to ratify the Refugee Convention and enact the law

§          Evaluate the performance of the NUCRA and broaden the scope to  draft the refugee policy, law and regulation

§          Start discussion on the nature of the content of proposed Bill

§          Build partnership at the regional level to develop the refugee legal regime.


Film Review
Anita Sengupta
(Fellow Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies)

The Other Silk Road: A Film by NCCR North-South and PANOS South Asia on Migrant Movement from Ylaitalaa   

            Central Asia is no stranger to shifts in population. Mobility, which was essentially due to mobile livestock husbandry practiced in the region, traditionally defined this shift in the Central Asian nomadic context. It was seasonal and varied with spatial fluctuations in forage quality, accessibility and output which in their turn provided strong incentives for migratory movements. The region has, of course, seen other kinds of movements including the mass scale deportation of ‘nationalities’ to the region in the more recent past. In the present context mobility is differently defined. As a human migratory movement mobility now denotes the movement of people from one locality to another sometimes over long distances principally in search of improved quality of life. The documentary The Other Silk Road traces one such migrant movement form Ylaitalaa, a rural settlement in the southern Osh province of Kyrgyzstan to the markets of Bishkek and Almaty and then on to Moscow. The narrative is that of the people involved in this movement and of the effect of this movement on their lives and the lives of those left behind.
            The context of this migration is defined within the general problems of the post Soviet space that was suddenly placed within a ‘globalized’ world where the collapse of a socialist state and collective farming transformed individuals into entrepreneurs. This in combination with the fact that southern and western Kyrgyzstan shares a long border with China meant that trading in manufactured goods brought from across porous borders became a lucrative possibility. This resulted in the migration of younger people from the heavily populated and resource poor southern Kyrgyz regions to the north and the capital Bishkek. The Osh and Dordoy markets in Bishkek therefore became host to a large number of migrant traders from the southern regions who live in the outskirts of Bishkek and trade in a wide range of mass consumer products, home electronics and luxury commodities. The movement did not stop here. A significant number of them also moved further north to Almaty and even Moscow.
            The film evokes the metaphor of the Silk Road to define this contemporary movement and the trade that is so intrinsic to the definition of the route. Ylaitalaa becomes the point of reference from where this movement begins and where, it is hoped, it will end one day as the migrants return. The narrative is of the period in between. It is a narrative of individuals and families who find new ‘homes’ in distant places and then grapple with the problems that this new beginning poses. But it is also a narrative of the older and the younger population who shares the benefits of this movement in terms of remittances but also lives in the hope that traditional and familial ties will ensure the return of the migrant population. Here there is portrayal of the social consequences of migration, including changes in life styles that living in an urban settlement entails, and what this would imply in terms of consideration of a return back home.
            Set in the background of the pristine natural beauty of Ylaitalaa and the busy markets of Bishkek the film records the transformation of the region in terms of people displaced by economic constrains. As a micro study it is based on the experiences of a family who exemplify the situation but it also addresses the larger questions that migration poses. This is particularly significant in the Kyrgyz context since the migratory groups within the state are not restricted to the Kyrgyz. As a state sharing a long border with China it involves the question of a very large number of Chinese migrant workers and traders mainly Uighurs from western China, who are often the cause of xenophobic reactions from the local population. It also includes the question of the out migration of Russians from the region, though this is only addressed in passing. The film touches on a number of problems that migrant populations face globally among them the question of protection of rights of migrant workers. All over the world migrant workers constitute a vulnerable social group and the film addresses the issues through interviews where for instance the lack of housing with proper heating and its effect on young children is highlighted. The film reflects conventional debates that are often coloured by the negative image of migrants and generally overlook the fact that migrants make significant contributions to the host state. However, this situation is changing as states realize that migrant workers are beneficial for the state and are therefore seeking labour migration agreements that would benefit both the state from where the migrant originates as well as the host state. Kyrgyzstan for instance has a surplus of people who could work and they send back remittances and Russia needs the workers. Managing migration is therefore the key phrase though the film does not touch on the issue.
            While internal Kyrgyz migration poses one set of questions, the external migration of the Kyrgyz poses a different set of questions. These are encountered as the film moves on to Almaty to identify migrants from Ylaitalaa in the city. Though the differences in the issues posed by internal migration and inter-state migration is not highlighted the references to the ubiquitous ‘propiska’ or registration papers  and the harassment that the migrants face in the course of periodic registration dominates the narratives in case of movements outside the state. Therefore questions need to be raised not just about national legislation and the rights of internal migrants but about a regional recognition of the phenomenon. The film hints at a movement further north to Moscow through footage of crowded trains and buses to Moscow. It can only be assumed that the problems encountered by the Kyrgyz migrants in Moscow are similar to the ones that the Chinese encounter in the Karasuu market on the Kyrgyz border with Uzbekistan.
            The narrative would have benefited from a broader understanding of why this movement of people out of Ylaitalaa is significant not just as an illustrative example of rural/urban population movement or even of a sociological transformation where traditional family structures are affected but also in terms of a concern that this depopulation creates for the state in terms of national security. The Osh province of Kyrgyzstan is situated in the part of the Ferghana Valley that Kyrgyzstan shares with neighbouring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Part of the poly ethnic Kokand Khanate Ferghana was home to both nomadic and sedentary populations. The population of Ferghana Valley is also marked by extreme ethnic diversity. Southern Kyrgyzstan, for instance, is home to large numbers of ethnic Uzbeks and the region is yet to find a solution to the problem of distribution of scarce land and water resources between the two communities. In the immediate aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union Osh had been witness to clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz over land and water rights. Even today, about forty sectors of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border have not been delineated. This often leads to clashes between groups. There are altogether three Uzbek enclaves lying within Kyrgyzstan and seven Kyrgyz enclaves surrounded by Uzbek territory. While claims and counter claims will continue to be made it is clear why even small changes of ethnic composition along the borders is discouraged by the Kyrgyz government. There have been apprehensions that the depopulation of the rural settlements in southern Kyrgyzstan could result in changes in ethnic composition in the southern Kyrgyz provinces. It is this apprehension as also the fact that part of the Kyrgyz migration is due to the pressure of Uzbek population in the region that the film does not address.

            While continuous mobility of human resources becomes problematic in terms of loss of human capital, sustainable development and quality of life of the people it also remains true that movement is as intrinsic to modern life as it was among the nomads. The film evokes this sense of continuity through the image of a mountain goat that stands atop a hill in southern Kyrgyzstan looking down to a road which moves beyond its immediate neighborhood. It is such evocative images along with the fact that it addresses the question of migration in a region that is little known that makes the film worth viewing.