Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Internally Displaced Persons or Refugees

Internally Displaced Persons
According to the UN, there is a difference between Refugees (people who have escaped their country because of fear or persecution) and IDPs (people who have not crossed an international border but have left their home because of fear, persecution, or natural disaster). Refugees are given shelter and food and are protected by international law. IDPs are not.

The International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a policy to help IDPs. They claim that it is the government of the affected country to aid IDPs. They want to be on the scene, recording events and helping. They want to help, they just can't be a substitute for government. It's basic goal is to uphold "International Humanitarian Law," and to provide services to those who need them.

I do not have the legal knowledge necessary to understand why this is so, but the UN, instead of creating international laws regarding Internally Displaced Persons, has created a lengthy set of "Guiding Principles." In particular, I focus on principles 6.1 (arbitrary displacement), 6.3 (diplacement should last no longer than required by circumstances), 16.1 (the right to know the fate and whereabout of their relatives - at least 147 are still missing according to LA's Department of Health and Hospitals - other estimates vary up to 705), 16.3 (finding remains of the decease), 21.1 (arbitrary deprivation of property and possessions), 21.3 (property left behind should be protected), 25.1 (primary duty for help lies with national authorities), 28.2 (special efforts made to ensure return), 29.2 ("2. Competent authorities have the duty and responsibility to assist returned and/or resettled internally displaced persons to recover, to the extent possible, their property and possessions which they left behind or were dispossessed of upon their displacement. When recovery of such property and possessions is not possible, competent authorities shall provide or assist these persons in obtaining appropriate compensation or another form of just reparation.")

In my estimation, the people who fled from New Orleans and who no longer have a home to return to should be classified as Internally Displaced Persons. We are not in a war zone (though it may look like there are); there are no outwardly hostile military activities taking place in New Orleans. The housing that was available to many has been closed, shuttered, and demolished forcing these people to begin life somewhere other than what they would call "home."

I know the current government does not seem to really buy into the whole "UN Thing;" (e.g. - Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Gitmo, etc.) however, it must be noted that many of these principles are geared towards helping Internally Displaced Persons who live in war-torn countries. We are supposed to be the richest, most powerful nation on earth. And some of the poorest of the poor in this wealthy nation were forced to leave their home. As much as so many of us call New Orleans home (though I have been gone for 6 years now, whenever I make a trip there I say I am going "home"), it is "home" to everyone that was forced to leave and whoever wants to come back. They are entitled to return home by international law. There can be no question about this. Why is HUD closing down the projects? Those are homes whether we like it or not. The place where you rest your head and cook dinner and store your belongings is your home.

There are arguments that the USACE's incompetence or lack of foresight or negligence or whatever was the cause of this disaster and that the federal government should pay. According to the international guiding principles on displaced persons, the government should pay anyway. Why are they not? Should people be forced to sue (RE: The "Big Dig" in Boston)? What is "just reparation"? Is that filling out endless forms? Is that being forced to live in a tent on a concrete slab? Is that being told that you have to pay to raise your own house because of corruption and negligence? Is that being told you will be refused for FEMA assistance? Or should you have to go without a meal because you have no electricity to either cook or store food? Or should you have to watch your house burn to the ground because of lack of water pressure and insufficient fire crews? I don't see the cooperation that the "guiding principles" suggest.

There are rules and principles established by an international governing body whose headquarters are in our country.

HUD Secretary Bernardi said, ""After a certain period of time, you need to bring the folks back home." You think.

The "Road Home" program is a start. People are being encouraged to register for yet another program. We are approaching 11 months later, and the plan has been financed. The website for the Road Home claims that it will begin registing case files for people in the hardest hit areas of the state. What about those that are not yet home. Will there be satellite offices in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Jackson? How can people come home when there is no home to return to, no trailer to live in, no security or city services?

Sinn Fein.

UPDATE: Hurricane Katrina Legislation Tracking refers to the National and Economic Social Rights Initiative plan (pdf) for Hurricane victims' rights.

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