Following numerous military interventions, counter insurgencies and the rapid rise of extremist violence around the world, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has found a record breaking 38 million people are currently displaced within their own country. 11 million of those were displaced in 2014 alone.
The Global Overview 2015 report launched by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) said that the number of people displaced by violent events had reached a record high for the third year in a row. The alarmingly high figure for 2014 is a 4.7 million increase compared to 2013, the equivalent of the total populations of London, New York and Beijing combined.
The 11 million newly displaced in 2014 represents 30,000 people forced to flee their homes each day.
The worst affected countries were Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria. Together these countries make up for 60% of new displacement worldwide.
The civil war in Syria which began in 2011 has so far forced 7.6 million people to flee, which accounts for over 40% of the country’s population. The number also represents 20% of the global total. Iraq suffered most new displacement, with at least 2.2 million people fleeing from areas that fell under Islamic State (ISIL) control.
For the first time in more than a decade Europe also had enforced displacement caused by the war in Ukraine, where 646,500 people fled in 2014.
“Global diplomats, UN resolutions, peace talks and ceasefire agreements have lost the battle against ruthless armed men who are driven by political or religious interests rather than human imperatives,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general at the NRC. “This report should be a tremendous wake-up call. We must break this trend where millions of men, women and children are becoming trapped in conflict zones around the world.”
According to the report the staggering numbers are a reflection of the changing nature of conflict which has seen opposition forces increasingly challenging traditional western powers. Inequality is also on the rise with extreme gaps in wealth, education and other areas of human development.
As a result of the constant flow of weapons and warring parties’ failure to respect the rules of international humanitarian law, civilians are being placed in harm’s way as never before. Counter-insurgency operations have also eroded the distinction between combatants and civilians with those living in opposition-controlled areas of Iraq and Syria often being targeted with the aim of driving them out and depriving non-state armed groups potential sources of support.
Much of the global displacement is long-lasting or protracted and for many, there is no end in sight. In 2014, there were people living in displacement for ten years or more in nearly 90% of the 60 countries and territories IDMC monitored.
“As new or renewed crises emerge in countries such as Ukraine or Iraq, new caseloads of internally displaced people join an already massive global displaced population who seem blocked from finding ways of ending their displacement” said Alfredo Zamudio, director of IDMC.
“Much of this vast population includes those who were displaced many years ago, like in Azerbaijan or Cyprus, so what we commonly see is that the very act of displacement forces an individual into a vicious cycle that becomes harder to escape from the longer they are in it” said Zamudio.
The Global Overview report says displacement figures can be a politically sensitive topic with governments using the numbers as a way to exaggerate or downplay a situation. They may try to influence how a crisis is perceived by refusing to recognise displaced people as such, and instead use terms such as “beneficiaries”, “people affected”, “people who have left their homes” or even “migrants” and “refugees.”
“38 million human beings are suffering – often in horrendous conditions where they have no hope and no future—and unless we challenge ourselves to change our approach, the shockwaves of these conflicts will continue to haunt us for decades to come,” said Egeland.