Conflict flight highest in a decade: monitors

Geneva (AFP) –


Conflict forced nearly 12 million people to flee within their own country last year, the highest level of such internal displacement in 10 years, international monitors said Wednesday.

A total of 11.8 million people were uprooted from their homes and displaced internally in 2017 -- nearly double the 6.9 million who suffered the same fate a year earlier, according to a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

This "is the highest number that we have recorded in a decade," IDMC chief Alexandra Bilak told reporters in Geneva.

The newly displaced bring the total number of people living in internal displacement due to conflict close to 40 million worldwide, the study said.

"The staggering number of people forced to flee from their homes due to conflict and violence must serve as an eye-opener to us all," NRC chief Jan Egeland said in a statement

The report found that 76 percent of those newly displaced last year were concentrated in just 10 countries, with Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq alone accounting for more than half.

Syria for instance saw another 2.9 million people displaced last year, many of them for a second or third time, bringing the total number of people internally displaced in the war-ravaged country to around 6.8 million.

Yemen, which previously topped the list, no longer figures even among the top-ten, but Bilak stressed that was due to lacking access and data and that the situation in the conflict-torn country remained dire.

Bilak warned that the total number of deplaced people around the world could be far higher than calculated, pointing out that there was a lack of information about the destiny of some 8.5 million people who had been reported to have returned home or been relocated.

"We don't have any credible information that might indicate that these people have returned to a sustainable situation," she said.

- 80,000 displaced daily -

The report also said that 18.8 million people across 135 countries were displaced last year by natural disasters like floods, storms and cyclones.

Combined with those who fled conflicts, nearly 31 million people were thus freshly displaced inside their own country last year -- the equivalent of more than 80,000 a day.

In terms of disaster-related displacement, the worst affected countries were China, the Philippines, Cuba and the United States.

The three major Atlantic hurricanes last year, Harvey, Irma and Maria, alone displaced around three million people.

While countries maintain statistics on people who remain displaced by conflict, long-term data for people displaced by natural disasters generally does not exist, Bilak said.

"There is a huge knowledge gap for us when it comes to disaster-related displacement," she said.

For Puerto Rico, for instance, data shows that some 86,000 people were forced out of their homes by Hurricane Maria last year, but there is no information on how many are still displaced.

In light of the massive destruction on the US territory, "we can only assume that many people out of those 86,000 ... are still displaced today," Bilak said.