GENEVA – A new report finds a record 50.8 million people globally are displaced within their own countries due to conflict, violence and natural disasters. The report, published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, part of the Norwegian Refugee Council, says an estimated 33.4 million people were newly displaced in 2019, the highest annual figure since 2012.
The report says five countries — Syria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen and Afghanistan — account for the majority of the 45.7 million people internally displaced by conflict and violence.
Director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, Alexandra Bilek, tells VOA much of the displacement last year was driven by new and ongoing conflicts and violence in West Africa and the Sahel, as well as ongoing local conflicts in Central Africa and the Horn of Africa.
“So, countries that have been strongly affected by internal displacement over the last few years that are still experiencing new waves of violence and displacement every year, including in 2019,” says Bilek.
One of the most dramatic examples of this is Burkina Faso. The report says conflict and violence linked largely to an increase in terrorist activities have triggered a huge increase in internal displacement from 42,000 people in 2018 to more than half-a-million last year.
Finding durable solutions for internally displaced people is difficult, says Bilek because they are citizens of their countries. She notes it is the responsibility of governments to protect and assist their nationals.
“Which is why the international response in those contexts is slower and the international community is perhaps more sensitive to state sovereignty in an IDP, internal displacement context than it would be in a refugee context. It makes it much more politically complicated, I would say, to respond,” she said.
Although there are more than twice as many internally displaced people in the world than refugees, the problems of IDPs get far less attention from the international media.
The U.N. refugee agency’s Principal Advisor on Internal Displacement, Sumbul Rizvi. explains that is because the plight of refugees fleeing across borders in search of protection is more visible than that of IDPs.
She tells VOA media attention is absolutely essential to shine a light on the needs of people uprooted within their own countries.
“But also, the root causes on why these situations may have occurred and what can be done to address them, thus paving the path to solutions. And, solutions cannot just be humanitarian solutions. They have to be political and development related as well as some of the main causes of internal displacement,” she said.
Authors of the report fear the global coronavirus pandemic will take a particularly heavy toll on the lives and livelihoods of internally displaced people. They note the overcrowded, squalid conditions of the settlements in which IDPs live are perfect breeding grounds for this deadly disease.