OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Flight (Refugees)

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Another common response to threat is to simply flee the area. This strategy is widely used in violent confrontations by civilians who are understandably afraid that they may be caught in the cross fire between opposing military units or become occupied and subjugated by the winners. This approach is also used by combatants who fear that they are about to lose.

Flight frequently leads to large numbers of refugees crossing international boundaries often with nothing more than the clothes on the their back. They often are people without a country with few, if any, legal rights, who are also desperately poor and largely unable to care for themselves. Thus, they are often totally dependent upon the goodwill of the international community.

Refugee problems, especially if they are allowed to persist for an extended period of time, can easily become a major source of continuing conflict. First, there is the conflict between the refugees and inhabitants of the land they moved into in desperation. Second, there is the conflict over who will provide support for the refugees whom have moved into an area that is already having trouble supporting its pre-refugee population.   There are likely to be continuing  cross-border conflicts between the refugees and the people who drove them from their homes, as well.

In some cases, refugee problems are relatively short lived with people simply fleeing areas of fighting, but returning home once the fighting stops. In this case, the priorities are to 1) provide immediate relief to the refugees, and 2)arrange for a prompt cease-fire which allows them to return home.

A more difficult situation arises in cases where people are forced out of their homes by invading forces which want to take them for their own use. The people who move into the land vacated by the refugees, are likely to view it as theirs. (The invaders may have long-standing historical reasons for considering the land to be their "homeland.") This means that any effort to return the refugees to their original homes is likely to encounter intense opposition  from those who just settled in the area

In the United States, we tell a story which illustrates the difficulty of the refugee problem. 

In the story two people are arguing over who owns a particular piece of land.
The first person says, "I want this land."
The second person says, "No, you can't have it, it's mine."
The first person replies, "Where did you get it?"
The answer, "From my father."
"Where did he get it?"
"From his father."
"Where did he get it?"
"From his father."
"Where did he get it?"
"He fought for it."
"Well, I'll fight you for it."

While it is obviously impossible to create new land so that there is enough room for both groups, it may be possible to transform uninhabitable areas into habitable ones. For examples, deserts may be made habitable with elaborate and expensive water diversion and irrigation systems. Still, this is a solution which is only occasionally possible and requires a wealthy party with a strong interest in resolving the issue.

Also important are well-funded refugee relief organizations capable of meeting the refugee's immediate needs for food, housing, and security. By removing immediate threats to their survival and health, relief efforts can provide time for more difficult peace making and repatriation efforts.

Repatriation can be a very difficult, slow, and painful process, especially when two groups consider the same land, even the same houses "home." At times, negotiated peace treaties can be written to specify how such conflicts are to be resolved.  Yet decisions made by the elites are not always accepted by the people involved.  Efforts must e made to encourage their compliance with negotiated decisions--using positive and/or negative sanctions and persuasion to obtain the desired result.  (Positive incentives often work better than negative sanctions, or the two can be used in combination.  Another approach starts at the grassroots level, getting the people who are affected working together to develop a solution that meets all parties' needs and that all sides will accept.  This is a much slower process, and agreement may not be possible (as this is often an unavoidable win-lose problem(, but if a solution can be found it is likely to be more stable than a solution imposed from above.

Links to Examples of Flight Situations:

Divna Persic-Todorovic -- Conflict Resolution: Working with Refugees
This article discusses why the refugee problem in Bosnia is so difficult to deal with.
Nicholas Xenos--Refugees: The Modern Political Condition
Xenos examines the cause of refugee status and its implications for refugee's future.
Meeting the Challenges in Bosnia U.S. Institute of Peace Peace Watch - October 1997
Since the purpose of the Bosnia war was to gain territory, the number of refugees was extremely high, and resistance to their repatriation is still significant.

Outside Articles on Flight :

US Institute of Peace Special Report on the Return of Refugees in Bosnia
This article discusses the process and problems encountered in the process of returning refugees to their homes in Bosnia.
Jordanians and Palestinians USIP PeaceWatch - December 1996
Palestinian refugees in Jordan are perceived as a burden to Jordan's economy, this article suggests.
USIP Peaceworks #11 - Zaire Predicament and Prospects
This article discusses Rwandan refugees in Kivu, Zaire.

Links to Related Sections

Failure to Anticipate Opponent Reactions and the Backlash Effect

Misunderstanding the Relationship Between Threat and Force

Tyranny of the Powerful/Disempowerment

Face-saving surrender

Peace Zones


Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu