Thursday, April 09, 2009

Refugee Camps inside the area of conflict: What is the purpose of safe zones when they don't protect civilians?

Recently, the conflict between the "Tamil Tigers" and the Sri Lankan military has intensified in the North-East area of the country. Appeals from the United Nations and the Red Cross have led the government to establish "safe zones" or "no fire zones" for civilians to ensure their safety form the fighting. This zone is about 20 sq km along the eastern coast of the country. However, this morning, 60 civilians were killed and more than 300 civilians were injured during Tamil-rebel shelling into the camps. According to foreign health officials who provide medical care inside the refugee camp, most of the injured were waiting in line to collect powdered milk for children from the clinic. Neither the Sri Lankan gov't nor the Tamil rebels are commenting on the situation. The Tamils have denied any involvment in the attacks. According ot the UN, more than 2700 people have been killed and over 3000 have been wounded in the last two months of renewed conflict.

I saw this article and it struck me as devastating and is an example how refugee camps established within the area of conflict just do not work. How can the government presume to protect its citizens from harm when the main camp is in the center of the conflict zone. I understand the desire to stay in their home region, but if it is ensure their safety, I would move the camp south of the line. Are we seeing another Korea? Or Cameroon? or Central African Republic? When does the violence end? When and more importantly how can we ensure the safety of populations affected by internal conflict?


arkay13 said...

This is very true. The situation in Sri Lanka is going from bad to worse as it is in most South Asian countries. I don't know how much the government can do to control the situation because these attacks have gone out of control. The Tamil Tigers are spreading terror throughout the country and no civilian is safe even within the boundaries of the camps. My question though is that how does the government control the situation? Is there a need for foreign forces to step in also or should these conflicts be resolved internally?

Allie said...

I think your questions get at the heart of human rights issues around the world. This is the issue the United Nations dealt with in Rwanda, in the Congo, Sierra Leone and many other areas around the world. When does a conflict get so bad that international forces have to step into civil conflicts? Rwanda was torn apart by genocide for months before anybody made an effort to put an end to the killing. Will Sri Lanka be any different? Does the fact that the civilians aren't being targeted because of their ethnicity, but are rather just victims of civil conflict change the situation? will it make international forces MORE willing to get involved?

Nikki M said...

I completely sympathize with the concern of keeping camps in conflict settings and the need to find locations outside of the country in question. However, I work for a very large international refugee resettlement organization in the United States and have experience with refugees coming from nations like Burma and Bhutan. Setting up camps in neighboring countries is sometimes only minimally better than staying in a home country, if at all. Look at the situation of Burmese refugees in Thailand.

Many of my Bhutanese clients have lived the majority of their lives in Nepalese camps in complete limbo. Their physical movement is restricted to the confines of the camp where education is poor, housing inadequate and health services are often scarce. Refugees are often treated as unwanted intruders in a host country that is struggling to support its own people. I agree that international action is necessary, but the best option is not always neighboring nations who themselves often struggle with questions of human rights.

calisunshine said...

What are developed countries like the US and Britain doing to stop the conflict? Couldn't temporary refugee status be a solution? I realize that there is no true perfect solution or even good solutions that can please everyone, but when civilians are being killed by government and rebel forces inside so-called safe-zones, I think the international community is obligated to step in and protect those in harms way. Its one thing if refugee camps actually do provide the safety for civilians that they aim to provide, but when they clearly fail and when the government is part of the problem, I think it become a problem for the entire world as global citizens.

beaner008 said...

3. I concur with the questions that have been previously proposed. The big question is what role does one play in this? Should she be fighting pleading for her home country to step in? As we are bound by our conception of right and wrong how to we intercede in other’s beliefs in right and wrong? How should the government participate? What actions should be taken? In situations like this we look at the government to regulate the ineffable actions of the Tamil Tiger and to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. To what extent should countries intercede? Whose problems belong to whom? How do we act as neighbors without acting as dictating nations? According to what we know the Tamil Tigers are creating horrifying conditions for people throughout the county. How and when do “problems” become shared? Do we draw the line at torture, at death, or do we do so according to the numbers? How many? Where do we draw our lines and where do we begin crossing them?

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