Dis-placement

IDPs 2012

global-overview-2012-hpThe Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva has released the map I’ve reproduced above.  From their research, the IDMC reckons that last year 28.8 million people were displaced by armed violence, conflict and human rights violations, an increase of 6.5 million over the previous year.  The conflicts in Syria (which now has more than 3.8 million IDPs] and the Democratic Republic of Congo (which now has around 2.6 million IDPs) accounted for about half the increase; the vast majority of displaced persons are women and children.  You can download the detailed Global Overview here, and you can find more on the geographies of internal displacement through the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement here.

The increases are dramatic, but the eruption of new wars and the continuation of chronic conflicts make it all too easy to overlook the legacy of displacement – all those left stranded in the wake of war and its penumbra of sometimes silent violence.  In the case of Iraq, for example, and even after returning people have been taken into account, Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Brookings-LSE project, has recently suggested that“perhaps three million people, 10 percent of Iraq’s population, remain displaced – and forgotten.”  In its recent report on Iraq ten years after the US-led invasion, and specifically on what it calls “the humanitarian impact”, IRIN highlights the ‘forgotten displacement crisis‘ (see also the workshop report from Oxford’s Refuges Study Centre here).  And don’t lose sight of  all those who have sought refuge from the Syrian conflict in Iraq (more than 140,000), especially in the northern governorates.

Lost in all the numbers, too, is the way in which violence severs those intimate ties, material and affective, between particular people and particular places: ties that are intrinsic to local knowledge (and often the means of survival) and to identity.  Geographers have written about place (and its – I think misconceived – duals, ‘placelessness’ and ‘non-places’), but many of these classical discussions have been so romanticised (I’m thinking of books like Yi-Fu Tuan‘s Space and place) that they have somehow failed to engage with the enormity of forced dis-placement.  I’m not saying that human geographers have been indifferent to internal displacement, still less to refugees – far from it – but the absence of a close engagement with the concept that is in many ways at the heart of displacement is none the less a striking absence from all those paeans to place.

Even Tim Creswell‘s fine work – I’m thinking of his ‘Weeds, plagues, and bodily secretions: A geographical interpretation of metaphors of displacement’ in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (1997) – engages more with language than with landscape and is more at home with Anglo-American displacements.  But, perhaps prophetically, the last of his three poems on ‘Displacements’ in the latest Geographical Review [103 (2) 2013] includes the hope that

‘the color 

and screech of Mysore and Mogadishu

do not dwindle into cartographic memory…’

2 thoughts on “Dis-placement

  1. Thanks for the post Derek. It’s got me thinking. Interesting what you say about the lack of geography work on diaplacement and place—something particularly striking given the wealth of work on “dispossession” of various sorts.

    One thing that has always struck me about working on these issues in Colombia, which tends to top these sorts of IDP lists, is how displacement and being (forcibly) absent from place often paradoxically generates a much stronger sense of place, a longing and a romanticization–and in many cases these feelings become springboards for reclamation. (Did E. Said talk about any of this in his stuff on Exile?) The same dynamic seems at work in many contexts. Donald Moore’s book Suffering for Territory comes to mind as one source that has considered these dynamics in depth.

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