The figures from the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) show that, by 2015, the number of people internally displaced by conflict – 40.8 million – was double the total number of refugees.
Violence displaced 8.6 million more people last year – 24,000 each day, on average – making it a record year for conflict-driven displacement.
Even more people were displaced by natural disasters, which forced 19.2 million people in 113 countries out of their homes – more than twice the number made homeless by conflict. Although most left because of extreme weather such as storms and flooding, the Nepalese earthquake in April last year prompted 2.6 million people to flee. Over the past eight years, a total of 203.4 million people have been displaced due to disasters
Five of the 10 countries with the highest number of conflict-driven IDPs – Colombia, DRC, Iraq, Sudan and, since independence in 2011, South Sudan – have appeared in the IDMC’s list every year since 2003.
Preliminary estimates suggest at least 1 million people were forcibly displaced by criminal violence in Mexico and Central America, while tens of millions more were uprooted across the world by development projects such as dams, urban renewal programmes and sporting events. Such people, according to the report, are all too often ignored or overlooked because they tend to exist “off the grid”.
Alexandra Bilak, the director of the IDMC, said the report was intended to illustrate the many challenges posed by the global internal displacement crisis.
“It also highlights the glaring absence of political solutions to address displacement, and constitutes an important wake-up call to national governments and global policymakers alike,” she said.
Without sufficient action, she added, IDP emergencies – such as those in Colombia and DRC – “drag on for years and even decades”.
The report comes almost a year after the UN estimated that 59.5m people were refugees, internally displaced or seeking asylum by the end of 2014. By the reckoning of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, one in every 122 people on the planet is displaced by war, violence and persecution.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said that while the plight of the world’s 19.5 million refugees is firmly on the political and media agenda because of the European refugee crisis, its IDP population is often forgotten.
Egeland said refugee numbers represented only the tip of the displacement iceberg, adding that 6.6 million people have been displaced within Syria alone.
“Large crises such as Syria should lead to a new and more holistic thinking about displacement,” he said.
“A similar shift is needed in analysing the causes and consequences of displacement. We tend to think in terms of single, isolated triggers, but the reality is far more complex.”
With the number of IDPs rising worldwide, said Egeland, the international community needed to adopt a more comprehensive approach to development, resilience and governance.
“When displacement becomes inevitable, humanitarians attend to more immediate needs, but they must work with the development sector if sustainable solutions are to be achieved,” he said.
“There is a clear trend of displacement becoming more protracted and more of a development challenge.”