More than 27 million people were uprooted by violence within their countries in 2009, the highest number since the mid-1990s, according to a new United Nations-backed study.
The report attributed the rising numbers of internally displaced persons, or IDPs, to long-running internal conflicts.
It also found that the number of IDPs has soared from 17 million in 1997 to more than 27 million last year, while the number of refugees has remained fairly stable, fluctuating between 13 million and 16 million in the same period.
The term IDP and other jargon “do not come close to doing justice to the truly awful experience of being displaced – disoriented, traumatized, confused, fearful, disempowered, dependent, helpless,” John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said at the report’s launch today in London.
The publication was produced by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), which was set up by the Norwegian Refugee Council, a non-governmental organization, at the request of the UN.
Last year alone, 6.8 million people were newly displaced. “This tells us not just that humanitarian needs are greater now than ever, but also that our worst-case projections of where humanitarian trends would go in the next few years are materializing,” Mr. Holmes said.
Humanitarian work, he noted, will continue to focus largely on conflicts, as internal clashes materialize, impacting civilians trapped by fighting.
Demands on aid agencies is also on the rise due to vulnerabilities caused by climate change, the recent global food crisis, population growth and urbanization, among other factors.
“All this underscores why we need to keep track of displacement as a barometer of how global trends really are impacting on the most vulnerable and marginalized people,” the official stressed.
The six countries with the largest IDP populations are Sudan, with nearly 5 million; Colombia, with between 3.3 and 4.9 million; Iraq, with almost 2.8 million; the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with nearly 2 million; Somalia, with 1.5 million; and Pakistan, with 1.2 million.
Africa is the region witnessing the greatest volume of internal displacement, with a total of 11.6 million IDPs in 21 countries, while South and South-East Asia saw the biggest jump in numbers of IDPs from 3.5 million in 2008 to 4.3 million in 2009.
The study found that in 21 countries, people were born into and grew to adulthood in displacement.
“Only when we have assisted people to find a truly durable solution, whether through returning home where they are, or being relocated elsewhere, should we consider that we have done our job,” Mr. Holmes said.
But this, he emphasized, is contingent on the conditions being ripe for return. In Darfur, for example, although IDPs want desperately to go home, progress is needed on the political and security front for this to become a reality.
“For any of the solution options to be genuinely lasting, they must be voluntary, safe and dignified,” the Under-Secretary-General underlined. “We have learned from bitter experience that if these conditions are not met, IDPs will remain vulnerable to violence, discrimination and poverty, and at serious risk of re-displacement.”
He projected that this year will be just as difficult for uprooted people as it was in 2009, requiring humanitarian agencies, as well as those in other fields, to work towards durable solutions.
“Particularly important,” he said, “is to ensure that IDPs themselves have a real say in the political and development decisions that affect their lives.”