Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor
Displaced by Soviet Breakup and in Need of Help the International Community Could and Should Do More to Prevent the Causes and Consequences of Forced Migration
The haunting images of conflict in Eurasia are fading. The danger now is that the international community will forget that millions of people are still displaced and destitute, adrift in the void created by the implosion of the Soviet Union. The window of opportunity to help these people is open, but it's closing fast.
A crucial moment to regain the initiative came and went early this month, when representatives of governments and international and nongovernmental organizations met in Geneva. They were to follow up on commitments made last year to address the most pressing migration-related problems in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and neighboring nations. The lack of progress at this meeting further jeopardizes efforts to alleviate a potentially explosive problem.
More than 9 million people have been displaced since 1989, following the breakup of the Soviet empire. This massive migration is the largest since World War II. The 15 countries that have emerged or re-emerged with the dissolution of the Soviet Union are hardening their borders in the face of these movements. The displacements have many causes: people returning to their ethnic homelands; refugees fleeing persecution and conflict; and migrants avoiding economic upheavals. Population movements, in turn, have produced ethnic friction, human rights abuses, economic deprivation, and threats to peace and security. The war in Chechnya graphically illustrated the plight of people displaced within their homelands. But the world community has not responded adequately to this humanitarian catastrophe. The failure to assist in rehabilitation and reconstruction leaves intact the seeds for renewed conflict. Security problems are a cause as well as a consequence of forced migration. Conflicts in the former Soviet Union have displaced well over 1 million people within their countries, including most of the approximately 500,000 people who escaped after the first wave of fighting in Chechnya. Conflicts in Central Asia and the Caucasus have forced millions more across international borders. Continued upheaval in Afghanistan could wreak havoc in Central Asia, sparking new refugee emergencies. The Afghan conflict menaces the tenuous peace process in Tajikistan. Ongoing fighting in northern Afghanistan could cause refugees to seek safety in bordering states, including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. …