Three years ago the bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque, a Shi’ah holy site in Samarra, triggered a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq that led to massive displacement. At one point five million Iraqis - 20% of the population - was displaced by violence between Sunni and Shi’ah Muslims.
Recently, the displacement has slowed, and in some cases it is reversing. "Some Iraqis are returning, but their conditions in places of return are extremely difficult," The International Organization for Migration reported in its most recent Emergency Needs Assessment. "Many returnees are coming back to find destroyed homes and infrastructure in disrepair. Buildings, pipe and electrical networks, and basic public services such as health care centers are all in need of rehabilitation to meet the needs of returning IDP (internally displaced persons) and refugee families."
Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has provided Pakistan with $11 billion in military aid, a staggering sum in both absolute terms and when compared with non-military assistance. Not surprisingly, Pakistan wants this financial and logistical support to its armed forces to continue. President Asif Ali Zardari, in a recent Washington Post op-ed, urged the U.S. to “give [Pakistan] the necessary resources – upgrading [their] equipment and providing the newest technology – to fight terrorists…”
The decision to issue an arrest warrant for President Al-Bashir of Sudan by the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been the source of many intense discussions here in Sudan at the moment. This will be the first ICC arrest warrant ever issued for a sitting president. Since I arrived in Sudan a couple of weeks ago I have talked with many Sudanese people who are members of civil society and human rights organizations, most of whom are no fans of their president, but who have varying views on the indictment.
Vice President Joe Biden visited Afghanistan just one week before the inauguration, indicating the new administration’s foreign policy priorities. It is clear that America’s “to do” list in Afghanistan is a long one. But the first order of business should be regaining the trust of Afghans.
After seven years of international presence, the country is still facing tremendous challenges: a weak government, a fledging economy, a serious humanitarian situation and a growing insurgency. As the Vice President himself said on his return, "The truth is that things are going to get tougher in Afghanistan before they're going to get better.”
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, knows first hand that peacemaking can be dangerous and difficult. He dedicated To End A War, his book on the negotiations that ended the war in the Balkans 15 years ago, to three colleagues who died in the early stages of that effort.
In announcing the appointment last week, President Obama said: “There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the Al Qaida and Taliban bases along the border, and there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Barack Obama may not know it, but soon he will have refugees on his mind.
In a recent interview with TIME Magazine, the president-elect talked about the foreign policy priorities that will occupy him and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
"There’s no doubt that managing the transition in Iraq is going to be a top priority," he said. "Managing a more effective strategy in Afghanistan will be a top priority. Recognizing that it is not simply an Afghanistan problem but it’s an Afghanistan-Pakistan-India-Kashmir-Iran problem is going to be a priority." He also said that “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority."
All of these crises are characterized by displacement problems. Here is a rundown:
President-elect Barack Obama believes that displacement poses both humanitarian and security problems. A recent article in The New York Times illustrates this point by describing problems caused by angry youths in Sudanese refugee camps.
Some 2.7 million people in the Darfur region of Sudan have been displaced by five years of civil war, and many of them live in vast camps. “Increasingly angry and outspoken about their uncertain fate, the generation that came of age in the camps is challenging the traditional sheiks, upending the age-old authority structure of their tribal society and complicating efforts to achieve peace,” The Times reported over the weekend.
The story caught my eye because it highlights a serious problem: long stays in camps—either as refugees out of their countries or displaced within their own countries—can radicalize youth. We have seen this over the years with Palestinians and with Afghan refugees, and we could well see it with displaced Iraqi youths who are living in increasingly desperate conditions.
Access to reproductive health care can be a life-or-death issue for women in developing countries. It is also a vital service for women who have survived sexual violence. Since 2002 the U.S. has refused to contribute financially to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides family planning services, including safe motherhood and prevention of sexual abuse and services to survivors of sexual violence.
Today, nearly four years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended over 26 years of brutal civil war, southern Sudan continues to be a place of acute poverty and underdevelopment. Juba, the capital of the south, is a town consisting of ramshackle, hastily put together homes and a steady stream of goats and dust through what could charitably be considered streets.