Refugees Are Best Protected by Peacekeepers, Pitt Study Suggests

Issue Date: 
May 12, 2008


Simon Reich

Populations within camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and for refugees would be best served if protected by international peacekeepers rather than relying on government forces, suggests a new report from the University of Pittsburgh’s Ford Institute for Human Security.

The study—led by Simon Reich, Pitt professor of international affairs and director of the Ford Institute—aims to further the understanding of factors that determine the security of populations in IDP and refugee camps. Ford Institute researchers determined that the abduction of children from these camps could help explain the variations in the rates of child soldiers in African conflicts. The study examined what makes IDP or refugee camps safe or unsafe for the communities they serve and what the international community can do to make camps safer from external attack.

Reich will present his recommendations, based on the results of the study, to the United Nations Office of Children and Armed Conflict May 1 in New York City; attendees will include representatives from other U.N. agencies, various national governments, and nongovernmental organizations.

The study is one of the first initiatives to generate a database of IDP and refugee camp attacks for analysis and policymaking purposes. The researchers also used geographic information systems (GIS) software to produce a series of maps that chart migration trends, camp attacks, and the abduction of children. A major advantage of GIS mapping is the ability to track the movement of IDP and refugee populations over time; this will allow Pitt researchers to continue to track population movements to determine whether migratory populations are at greater risk than those in permanent, stationary camps.

Findings strongly support the need for a policy promoting greater security forces within IDP and refugee camps, according to the researchers. Having a symbolic protective force does not ensure a camp’s protection, according to the researchers. Instead, the size of a protection force and its composition, mandate, and war-fighting capability are crucially important factors in a force’s ability to protect camps.

Researchers also found that government forces are attacked most often, despite their size, and in some cases commit crimes against the camp populations they are charged with protecting. Reich suggests, based on the study’s findings, that international peacekeeping forces should be deployed to protect IDP and refugee populations.

The full report is available online at