Over 30 million people were newly internally displaced in 2016 by conflict and disasters, according to a new report.
In examining trends around the world for its annual Global Report on Internal Displacement, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) found “horrific” and high levels of new displacement.
“Since we started this conversation, hundreds of families have been or are in the process of being displaced today,” said secretary-general of NRC and former under-secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Jan Egeland during a press briefing.
In 125 countries, a total of 31.1 million new displacements were recorded, representing an increase of over three million from 2015 and translating to one person displaced every second.
“When a family is pushed out of their home, often for years, it is a sign that something is horrifically wrong in a nation, in a locality and also in international relations,” Egeland added.
Of the total, nearly seven million were newly displaced by conflict alone in 2016. To everyone’s surprise, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) surpassed Syria and Iraq in having the most new internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world.
“Our eyes and our focus were very much on the Middle East,” IDMC’s Director Alexandra Bilak told IPS.
“Sub-Saharan Africa has been consistently affected by internal displacement over the years, but we just weren’t expecting that spike in the DRC and we certainly weren’t expecting higher numbers there than in Syria,” she continued.
DRC has been marred by insecurity since the 1990s when the Rwandan genocide and an influx of refugees plunged the country into the deadliest conflict in African history, killing almost five million civilians.
Though the country declared peace in 2003, there has been a resurgence in violence between armed groups which has led to more than 900,000 new displacements over the course of 2016.
Egeland recalled his experience working in the DRC as under secretary general between 2003 and 2006, stating, “We were supposed to end that [conflict] a decade ago.”
He noted that DRC saw dwindling humanitarian resources over the years and fading attention.
“It fell off the top of the agenda and that was dangerous – that was a major mistake,” Egeland continued.
Bilak told IPS that the displacement figures found for the DRC in the report are “clearly an underestimate” as over one million have been newly displaced in the Central African country since the beginning of 2017.
The organisations also found that disasters displaced three times more people than conflict, documenting over 24 million new displacements in 118 countries.
Over 68% of all new disaster-related displacement took place in East Asia and the Pacific, including China and the Philippines, which saw the highest numbers of displacements due to heavy floods and typhoons. The effects of climate change on the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will only further increase such displacement, the report noted.
And it is vulnerable small island states that will and continue to suffer disproportionately, Bilak said.
Haiti, which is still reeling from the impacts of the 2010 earthquake and most recently Hurricane Matthew, is among the top countries with the largest per capita disaster displacements. The Caribbean nation not only faces a high risk of disasters, but also a low capacity to respond and cope.
“This is another sad demonstration of the recurrent shocks to the system that these types of events represent and how difficult it is for certain countries to recover from them,” Bilak stated.
However, despite the fact that IDPs outnumber all refugees by two to one, much of the world’s attention and concern has been focused on refugees and migrants rather than the issue of internal displacement. For instance, more money was spent resettling refugees in donor countries than on the crises in countries of origin that forced people to flee in the first place.
“By only looking at refugees and migrants, you are essentially only really looking at the endpoint of a crisis – you are looking at the tip of the iceberg,” Bilak told IPS.
“It’s incredibly short-sighted and unstrategic to focus all political and financial attention on the symptoms of the problem rather than on the causes,” she continued.
Egeland echoed similar sentiments, stating that though there are high numbers of refugees in the world today, it is a “total myth” that people are “overflooding” Europe.
There are some links between IDPs and refugees as unresolved internal displacement can sometimes lead to cross-border movements. Countries that often have high numbers of IDPs also tend to produce many of the world’s refugees such as South Sudan and Syria.
However, it is necessary to look at the full migration and displacement picture and to acknowledge that internal displacement is an integral part of that picture, Bilak said.
Understanding patterns of displacement and movements allow for efficient and effective work on prevention, preparedness, and response efforts.
Both Bilak and Egeland called on renewed and redirected political and financial investments in this often overshadowed issue.
“The report is a tool for policymakers to help them prioritise where they should allocate their resources, both political resources and their financial resources,” Bilak told IPS.
This includes an increase in development assistance in order to reduce existing vulnerabilities and future risk, helping mitigate the long-term impacts of internal displacement and preventing cyclical crises from continuing in the future.
“Until the structural drivers of poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment are addressed, conflict and human rights violations will continue to cause displacement and impede solutions,” the report concludes.