GENEVA - The international Red Cross on Thursday warned that the majority of the world's 26 million displaced people were often neglected because they found refuge with local communities instead of in camps.
"The focus on camps means that what happens to the majority of displaced people -- those who seek refuge with host communities -- is often ignored," International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger said.
Only 15 percent of internally displaced people -- who have fled their homes due to wars or crises but never leave their home country -- are currently in camps, the ICRC President estimated.
Relief aid is often centred on camps swiftly set up by aid agencies or local authorities, while those who found shelter with relatives or local communities are dispersed and may not be noticed or reached by aid agencies.
"Displaced people in hosting families are the vast majority. It's the case in Republic Democratic of Congo or Pakistan," Kellenberger told journalists at the launch of a report on the plight of the displaced.
"It would be wrong to say that only IDPs in camps receive help. But the purpose of this report is to draw attention to the fact that assistance is needed for these (other) people", he added.
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The ICRC said in the report that camps might even make things worse by undermining livelihoods and encouraging a culture of dependency, thereby prolonging humanitarian crises in some instances.
"The argument for that is strong and UN agencies agree with the ICRC that camps are a last resort, an option to use when no other option is appropriate," the report said.
The report noted that while the displaced were vulnerable, their hosts in local communities often experienced hardship as well because they sought to share the burden.
The challenge, it added, was to help not only the displaced but also their often impoverished hosts.
Experience has shown that people who fled their homes are often more likely to resume otherwise normal lives if they are in host communities rather than living camp life, the ICRC said.
One of the best recent examples of the trend is in northwestern Pakistan, where aid agencies have repeatedly praised the tribal solidarity by communities which have supported the majority of some two million people who fled fighting this year.