A record 38 million people have been forced from their homes by violence and armed conflicts around the world, according to a new report on internally displaced persons. Of that number, 11 million were displaced in 2014 alone, spurred by ongoing violence in Syria, South Sudan and Iraq.
“These are the worst figures for forced displacement in a generation, signaling our complete failure to protect innocent civilians,” Jan Egeland, secretary general at the Norwegian Refugee Council, which produces the annual report, said in a statement.
The term ‘internally displaced persons’, or IDPs, refers to those who are forced to flee their homes due to violence or conflict, but remain within their countries. Since they don’t cross an international border, IDPs do not meet the legal definition of refugees. Currently, there are almost twice as many internally displaced people as refugees globally, according to the report, which focused on 60 countries and regions that have been affected by conflict and displacement in recent years.
The shocking figure from 2014 averages out to nearly 30,000 people forced from their homes every day by armed conflict or generalized violence.
The steady increase in IDPs over the past decade reflects “the changing nature of conflict worldwide,” the report noted. Regions with the largest number of displaced persons have faced threats including the Islamic State group — also known as ISIS — in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Nigeria, criminal groups in Latin America and separatists in Ukraine.
Iraqi civilians suffered the largest displacement in terms of sheer numbers, with 2.2 million leaving their homes last year. But Syria still has the highest number of internally displaced people in the world, as its devastating civil war enters its fifth year. Nearly 40 percent of Syria’s population, or 7.6 million people, have been internally displaced during the conflict, according to the report. Meanwhile, the conflict in Ukraine — where 646,500 people fled their homes in 2014 — has caused massive internal displacement in Europe for the first time in over a decade.
“Today’s armed conflicts put civilians in harm’s way as never before,” the report said. “The current humanitarian system, however, is not well set up to offer them the support they need.”
Internal conflict in one region can have a “domino effect” on its neighbors, the report noted. It highlighted the spread of unrest in the Middle East and central Africa that has forced many people to leave their homes. Thousands of people in northern Africa, fleeing poverty and war, have tried to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats, hoping to find a better life in Europe. But the dangerous crossing has heavy human costs. More than 11,000 people had to be rescued during the first 17 days of April and at least 1,800 have died so far this year.
The public health consequences of such mass displacement are well-documented. Displaced persons face high rates of disease, disability and death — in some cases, mortality rates are as much as 60 times higher among displaced than non-displaced persons. Crowded living conditions, lack of access to health care, and inadequate food supplies plague displaced populations, making them vulnerable to illnesses such as measles, diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria and undernutrition — the five leading causes of death among displaced persons.
As the IDP population grows and disperses in a region, aid efforts become less effective, the report said. The current humanitarian system is ill-suited to deal with long-term displacement and efforts to repatriate and resettle displaced people are often overlooked, the authors concluded.
“38 million human beings are suffering — often in horrendous conditions where they have no hope and no future,” Egeland said. “Unless we challenge ourselves to change our approach, the shockwaves of these conflicts will continue to haunt us for decades to come.”