THE FORGOTTEN VICTIMS
- THE FORGOTTEN VICTIMS
Villagers displaced by the decade-long conflict in Nepal say that all they've been getting from their government and relief organisations is indifference, writes SUPARA JANCHITFAH
Children in the IDP camps look for clean drinking water, which is rare in the camps. SUPARA JANCHITFAH
Driven by fear of arbitrary killings and abductions, many Nepalese in remote areas have fled their homes and become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in their own country.
"We had to leave our village. The Maoists came and threatened us, saying that if we didn't attend their 'meetings' they would kill us. But if we joined the Maoists meetings, we faced other consequences from the government," said Bhupendra Bahadura Shahi, an IDP leader in Banke district.
The meetings that Bhupendra mentioned were arranged by notices (posters) from the Maoist groups, normally sent to each house in the remote villages, for a "one house, one person" recruitment into the Maoist militias. Sometimes it was a demand for a "donation" - some amount of money or items, normally beyond the villagers' capacity to provide. Many IDPs allege that the Maoists killed some people for not attending the 'meetings' or for refusing to pay.
The estimates of IDPs in Nepal vary tremendously, depending on who you ask. One governmental agency reports that the number of people registered as IDPs is around 8,000, but some non-governmental organisations say there are about 350,000 to 400,000 people who have left their homes behind because of the conflict, staying in IDP camps or squatting on public land.
Many IDPs walked from their villages to nearby villages to be safe, and then kept moving as there was no place for them to settle permanently. Finally they arrived at an IDP camp or a big town. It would take some of the IDPs a month to walk home.
I visited an IDP camp in Banke, 531 kilometres from Kathmandu, where most IDPs are living in distress. They have not had any assistance from any organisation for more than a year, except from the Himalayan Foundation for Medical Assistance.
Upon learning that I was a journalist, one of them demanded that I "write it down that nobody is concerned for us." Another added: "Don't disappoint us. We are tired of giving information, and then seeing that nobody really cares for us. Even a close aide to Kofi Annan came to see us and promised to help us, but no action was taken."
"Tell the UN that we are waiting for them," demanded Bhupendra.
They have many more demands. They were obviously very disappointed with both local and international NGOs, or INGOs, who they say have mostly abandoned them.
"Now we want to go home, it is better for us to die at home than in this camp. It's no fun to leave our homes without proper jobs or food," another IDP added.
They said they are not lazy. They want to work, to earn their own living. "But where can we get employment? Even people in towns and in cities like Kathmandu have no jobs," said Bhupendra.
"We aren't asking for more than we need to survive, but how can we continue living when there are no jobs, no place to go, no food and no drinking water?" he asked.
Most IDPs complained about the indifference shown not only by relief organisations, but also by their own government. Since November 2005, the Seven Party Alliance and the Communist Party of Nepal have expressed their willingness to unconditionally allow the safe return of all IDPs, no matter what their reasons for leaving their homes. However, as of the date I visited the camp, November 3, 2006, many were still waiting for the concerned agencies to send them home and guarantee their safety when they arrived.
When I asked if they were not too demanding, they said anyone who understood how they had been forced to live their lives caught in the crossfire between Maoists and security forces would not blame them. They explained that they were made to search for safety and their means of subsistence, and their children had been denied an education. Many have had no real home for five years or more.
The IDP issue is among the most important of the unresolved issues and challenges for the Nepalese government, foreign donors, INGOs and NGOs. In this vulnerable situation, the IDPs are very much at risk of engaging in prostitution and child and bonded labour. Their destitute circumstances have been aggravated by the fact that many have started to borrow from money lenders outside the camp and they have no means to repay them except their labour.