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Why do people flee their homes? The answers may surprise you

Duncan Green's picture

June 21 was World Refugee Day and a new UN report put the total number of ‘forcibly displaced’ at 65.3 million. Most of those remained within national boundaries (internally displaced). Oxfam researcher John Magrath summarizes a recent study on the causes of internal displacement.

Why do people become displaced? That is, forcibly displaced in that they have, or believe they have, no other choice but to leave their homes? You would think we would know. After all, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in its latest annual report points out that in 2015 a record number of 27.8 million people were newly displaced; and the reasons were conflict, violence and disasters. We are familiar with the overall picture: the Middle East and North Africa account for over half those displaced by conflict and violence; South and East Asian countries, especially India and China, saw the most people displaced by disasters. Once people are displaced, they tend to stay displaced so the numbers add up cumulatively; in 2015 there were nearly 49 million in total living as internally displaced people just because of conflict and violence.

But dig beneath and beyond those figures, as IDMC does, and an even more disturbing picture emerges of reasons and trends. IDMC puts the spotlight on three issues that demand more attention. One is drought, of the kind exacerbated by this year’s El Niño event. That may seem unsurprising; after all, it is obvious that drought dries up precious water sources and scorches crops and as this moving video from Oxfam in the Dominican Republic shows,  the result is that farmers get into debt and can end up selling their farms – their homes – and becoming wandering labourers.

Spike Lee’s ‘Chi-Raq’: The Maestro Handles Complexity Adroitly

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Chi-Raq movie billDifficult social problems are fiendishly difficult to communicate. For, these are issues about which experts disagree and citizen-voters, too. The causes are unclear, the solutions are unclear, and then there is the ideological deadweight that tends to drag meaningful debate and discussion all the way down to seedy depths. Above all, public debate on complex social problems also leads to framing battles: you frame the discussion to privilege the ‘solution’ you want. So, for instance: what do we do about homelessness in our cities? If you don’t want public funds spent on it, you frame it as an individual responsibility issue. You argue that the homeless need to pull themselves up by the straps of their dirty sneakers. If you want public funds spent on the problem, you frame the issue as a structural challenge. You ask for a focus on unemployment, targeted welfare schemes, improved care for the mentally ill and so on.

Chi-Raq’, Spike Lee’s new movie, tackles a horrendously difficult problem: the horrific and persistent gang violence in inner cities in the United States of America (and, by implication, several such places across the globe). His setting is the South Side of Chicago. The title of the movie is a play on Chicago and Iraq. The movie opens with these stunning statistics: while American deaths in the Iraq War between 2003 and 2011 came to 4,424, between 2001 and 2015 there were 7,356 homicides in Chicago. Think about that for a second: 7,356 homicides.