Conflicts and violence around the world have displaced a record 38 million people inside their own countries, a watchdog group says.
A report by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) says nearly one third of them — 11 million people — were displaced last year alone.
“Every single day last year 30,000 men, women and children were forced out of their homes because of conflict and violence,” said Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is behind the IDMC.
“These are the worst figures for forced displacement in a generation, signalling our complete failure to protect innocent civilians.
“This report should be a tremendous wake-up call.”
Internally displaced people (IDPs) is a label given to people who remain in their homeland, as opposed to refugees, who flee across borders.
According to the latest available UN statistics, there were some 16.7 million refugees in the world at the end of 2013, meaning the total number of displaced people is well above 50 million.
Mr Egeland said the number of internally displaced people is currently twice that of refugees — a dramatic shift from a few decades ago when the two categories stood on equal footing.
“One of the main reasons why the number of IDPs is growing so much are all the closed borders,” he said.
The IDMC tracked internal displacement in 60 countries last year, but most of the people fleeing in 2014 were in just five countries: Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.
‘Many will cross borders and become refugees’
Iraq was the hardest hit, with 2.2 million people forced to flee inside the country from areas seized by the Islamic State group.
Around one million more people were internally displaced in Syria last year, bringing the total number of IDPs there to 7.6 million, or 40 per cent of the population.
In addition, some four million Syrians have become refugees.
People newly displaced in 2014
Europe, The Caucasus
and Central Asia
Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre
For the first time in a decade, Europe was also the scene of massive displacement, with 646,500 people internally displaced in Ukraine in 2014 because of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev forces.
Boko Haram’s ruthless campaign to create an independent Islamic state in north-eastern Nigeria was also responsible for most of the nearly one million people internally displaced in the country last year and had forced tens of thousands more to flee in neighbouring countries, the report said.
The UN refugee agency meanwhile said many of those displaced end up becoming refugees.
“The longer a conflict lasts, the more insecure [displaced people] feel and when hopelessness sets in, many will cross borders and become refugees,” said Volker Turk, UNHCR’s assistance head of protection.
This despair has helped create the deluge of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean, where more than 1,750 people have perished so far this year alone.
“Despair drives people to take their chances and even risk dangerous boat journeys,” Mr Turk said.
But war and political conflict are not the only reasons prompting people to flee their homes. More than half a million people displaced in Central America last year were running from criminals, Mr Egeland said.
“It is criminal violence [and] drug cartels that are driving people out by the hundreds of thousands,” he said.
The IDMC said last year marked the third year in a row with record numbers of IDPs, dwarfing those seen at the peak of the Darfur crisis in 2004, the spiralling violence in Iraq in the mid-2000s, or during the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.