An unaddressed problem: The fate of the Internally Displaced Persons
By 2050, one in every 45 people in the world and one in every 7 people in Bangladesh will be displaced by climate. According to the annual report of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the total number of people living in displacement as a result of conflict and violence are 432,000 in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has witnessed rapid growth in the number of IDPs due to the environmental crisis and ethnic conflict. Moreover, religious minorities and even slum dwellers have often found themselves to be displaced due to economic or political reasons.
The displacement of Bangladesh can mostly be categorized on three bases.
Firstly, the environmental displaced who used to live in coastal areas.
Secondly, the conflict displaced a large number of indigenous people, who have been displaced in the southeastern region of Bangladesh.
Thirdly, the minorities displaced who includes the members of the Hindu and Buddhist minorities and Urdu Speaking Community i.e. Biharis.
The 1951 Refugee Convention did not apply to internally displaced persons; the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were developed to provide a framework for dealing with this momentous problem. According to these principles, internal displacement describes the situation of persons who have been forced to leave or abandon their homes, and who have vulnerabilities associated with their displacement that require particular assistance and protection.
The government has the primary responsibility in providing protection and assistance to IDPs without discrimination. Developing a national instrument on internal displacement, whether a law or a policy, is essentially an exercise of sovereignty, and as such is a particularly important reflection of national responsibility as well as a vehicle of its fulfilment.
In the context of Bangladesh, there is no comprehensive national policy in Bangladesh that specifically targets the IDPs. The protection of IDPs' adversely depends on the fundamental rights enunciated in the Constitution from Article 26 to 43. In addition, Bangladesh has signed and is bound to respect the key international human rights treaties that provide important human rights protections to uphold the rights of such internally displaced.
But, through a combination of lack of political will, financial and technical support, there are currently no mechanisms to provide assistance to people who apparently lost their belonging for displacement. They are far from any recognition as affected and thus deprived of any governmental benefit. Moreover, documentation of IDPs is almost nonexistent in Bangladesh.
Consequently, being unable to survive in such vulnerabilities, people are already migrating to urban areas, preferable to the cities. Destination of those displaced persons usually end-up in the urban slums, where they again being trapped to another episode of risk and vulnerabilities along with socio-economic deprivation and violation of basic human rights.
A major portion of the displaced persons prefers Dhaka city as they think this city could offer diversified livelihoods options. That's why Dhaka considered as one of the most overpopulated cities supporting more than 14 million people on less than 325 square kilometers of land. The Public Radio International cautioned that the population of Dhaka city will rise to 20 million in 2025, wherein internal migration would contribute about 63% of the total increase of Dhaka's population.
The combination of explosive population growth and land scarcity has sent its property and rental process through the roof. As because most of the displaced family came from a humble financial background, they are compelled to seek shelter in flimsy shack-like houses.
Currently, about 40% of the total populations of Dhaka city live in the informal settlement of slum and a great number of such slum dwellers are the prime victim of displacement. They are left behind from enjoying basic human rights like access to energy facilities, access to safe drinking water, health, sanitation and education facilities.
Moreover, the impact of displacement is enormous for the women and children. They become the prime targets of human traffickers and a number of women are forced to get involved in prostitution for survival.
Bangladesh's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which established in 2008, periodically advocates for IDPs rights. Like NHRC, many national and local NGOs are now assisting people displaced by conflict and violence and advocate for their rights. For the environmental displaced, there are numbers of law and framework including the 2009 Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. But the initiatives do not seem enough to mitigate the sufferings of IDPs.
What Bangladesh needs now is first to recognize the severity of the crisis associated with the IDPs. One baby step in effectively addressing IDPs' needs could be for the government to systematically collect information on their number and situation. It could do so by carrying out or supporting a profiling exercise. The government further needs to address the issue with a legal framework, so that it can provide adequate measures for rehabilitation of the affected people, in line with international standards including the basic principles and guidelines on development-based eviction and displacement. Apart from that, to reduce the slum dwell in the urban area, the government could take some pragmatic steps so that they can reside in a safe area and enjoy their basic rights.
An international organisation like; UNDP, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Health Organisation, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank have already supported the Bangladeshi authorities in their response to disaster displacement. Now it's time for the government to bring together all relevant stakeholders to consider the role that each should play in protecting the displaced population and to make policy facilitating the desired change for safeguarding the basic fundamental rights of displaces.
Manisha Biswas studied law at University of Chittagong