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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Displaced means not having a home

I've been writing daily short reports for three weeks on the situation in Gaza and now Lebanon, for GenevaLunch. The human misery on both sides is hard to watch from what always feels like the helpless position, in times of conflict, of the distant citizen who can't vote right now on ending the fighting. I've picked up reports from other news services and done a small bit or my own reporting, since Geneva is home to many international aid organizations.

The people who stand out for me are the ones who focus on getting people home because one of the first things any conflict does is make people flee the area. They run out the door, usually taking very little with them and they are often not in a position to leave with other family members. Locating, counting, connecting and getting back home all these "displaced persons" is not glamorous work. The media doesn't pay much attention because these are ongoing stories, with few news pegs and the slow, hard work makes duller reading than the noisy big bangs of bombs and missiles.

I sit in a comfortable home in a beautiful country. I find it nearly impossible to imagine feeling so physically threatened here that I would rush out the door while my husband is at his job and my children at their schools - and it's 10 years before we find each other again. To imagine that 15 years later I might not have seen my home again. And yet it happens to many people.

In Lebanon, I wrote yesterday, half a million people are now displaced by the events of the past three weeks. What really struck me, though, when talking to a Norwegian group in Geneva that has a mandate from the United Nations to manage a databank of displaced persons, is that there are still more than 68,000 people displaced since the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90. Sixteen years later, these people have not been able to go home.

Of the many groups working to help refugees, inside their own countries (internally displaced persons) or elsewhere, I think three of the most active deserve much respect. The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), based in Geneva, is appealing for $8 million in emergency funds for Lebanon. They have an informative online page for individual donors. The Norwegian Refugee Council, based in Oslo, is very active around the world - it runs the largest database on internally displaced persons - and has an interesting approach of keeping "civilians" trained and ready for emergency service. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), in Geneva, suffers some of the same bureaucracy problems of other UN agencies, but most of its people work in the field, under difficult conditions, and the work they do is admirable.


Blogger christin m p in massachusetts said...

I'll never be able to understand how leaders of nations are so easily able to separate themselves emotionally from civilians living under their rule. Waging war strikes me as being symptomatic of a form of criminal insanity.

I would think that it would make more sense for them to send in snipers to ferret out and assassinate the "bad guys", rather than bombing entire cities. One does have to wonder... Is it really about oil and land ownership after all?

10:47 AM  

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