In a camp for displaced persons in northern Sri Lanka, Kandhaya Kaliyankumar’s voice softens as he describes the tragedy that destroyed his home and killed his brother. He knows that he was lucky to escape the devastation along with his wife and four children. He is tired of living on sparse handouts from the government, international agencies, and private charities. He wants nothing more than to receive a small plot of land to cultivate rice and also to raise his children away from the alcohol, drugs, and disease that pervade the densely packed camp housing some 4,000 people.

Kaliyankumar is one of the world’s forgotten people. His tragedy is not the result of the tsunami that struck Sri Lanka. Instead, it stems from the civil strife between the largely Sinhalese government and the LTTE that has killed some 65,000 people and left more than 300,000 homeless over two decades. Despite the declaration of a ceasefire in 2002, the conflict is worsening. New attacks and the assassination of the country’s foreign minister have dashed hopes that cooperation on tsunami relief would bring lasting peace. And while generous assistance floods into Sri Lanka to assist the tsunami victims, the victims of Sri Lanka’s man-made tragedy have languished for years in government welfare centres that are like slums.

The homeless people in Sri Lanka are part of a global phenomenon affecting 25 million people in about 50 countries. Civilians are now overwhelmingly the victims of conflict. There are at least one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sudan, Colombia, Congo, Uganda, Iraq, Algeria, and Turkey, and the numbers are growing every day. Because IDPs don’t cross international borders, they don’t automatically receive the rights, protection and assistance that come to refugees. They have no formal system of legal rights. Often, governments responsible for displacement may restrict international donors and foreign relief agencies anxious to help, especially during conflict, when aid to the displaced in rebel territories is considered aid to the enemy.

The IDP death rates can be 60 times those of non-affected populations. Beyond the moral and humanitarian imperatives, mass internal displacement brings chaos that may serve as breeding grounds for terrorism; trafficking in drugs, arms, and persons; pandemic diseases; and other threats to international order. The failure to return IDPs to their homes can doom peace agreements and reconstruction work.

Various agencies are doing outstanding work on behalf of IDPs, including the UNHCR, UNICEF, World Food Programme, Red Cross, and other private relief and development organisations. They deserve our greater financial support and encouragement. We must defend the rights of IDPs, and solve the root causes of the conflicts that create the displacement in the first place. The world has opened its hearts and its pocketbooks to the global victims of the tsunami disaster. We should be no less generous to the victims of man-made disasters. — The Christian Science Monitor