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Arab Spring Drives Up Global Numbers of Internally Displaced

Hassana Abu Firasl, left, a Syrian woman who fled from the Syrian town of Qusair near Homs, is seen with her family at the Lebanese-Syrian border village of Qaa, eastern Lebanon, Monday, March 5, 2012.
Hassana Abu Firasl, left, a Syrian woman who fled from the Syrian town of Qusair near Homs, is seen with her family at the Lebanese-Syrian border village of Qaa, eastern Lebanon, Monday, March 5, 2012.
Lisa Schlein

A new report by the Norwegian Refugee Council finds 26.4 million people were internally displaced by conflicts around the world last year.  It reports the Arab Spring uprisings are a key factor behind a significant rise in the populations who became uprooted from their homes in 2011.

The report finds 3.5 million people were newly displaced during 2011, a jump of 20 percent from 2010. Of these, the report notes 830,000 fled the impact of the Arab Spring uprisings.  

The author of the report, Kate Halff, said 230,000 Syrians have become displaced within their own country since the onset of the current crisis more than one year ago. She said the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, which was established by the Norwegian Refugee Council in 1998, has been tracking the displacement situation in Syria for many years.

“This recent displacement adds to already longstanding displacement in the country. Prior to the uprisings in 2011, more than 400,000 people already had been living as internally displaced people in Syria, and some for over 40 years. If you add to this the number of displacements over the last 12 months or so, Syria becomes one of the largest displacement situations in the world,” said Halff.

The report cites other large-scale displacements in 2011 in addition to those caused by the Arab Spring. It says the number of new displacements in Afghanistan was 80 percent higher than in the year before as fighting spread to new regions of that country.

It says up to one million people in Ivory Coast were internally displaced at the start of last year following violence triggered by a disputed presidential election. Although stability has returned to the country, the report says displacement continues because of localized violence in central and western Ivory Coast.  

The report says hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted in both Sudan and in newly-independent South Sudan due to armed forces fighting rebels and militias.

Large-scale internal displacements also occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Somalia, where many people died of starvation due to a regional drought and famine.  

The secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Elisabeth Rasmussen, warns that a new crisis, which is likely to cause more displacement, is shaping up in Somalia this year.

“New reports are already indicating a lack of rain this year, so we might have another drought happening this year, adding to an already very high level of human suffering," said Rasmussen. "Last year, we were too late to respond. This year, we have to take the warning seriously and respond in time.”  

Despite these crises, the report finds displacement generally is decreasing in Africa. It says the number of internally displaced persons went down from 11.1 million to 9.7 million, with significant returns taking place in Ivory Coast, Chad and Uganda.

The report cites Colombia as the country with the largest number of internally displaced people in the world. It says criminal networks, which were former parties to the country’s conflict, were the main drivers of displacement.

It says between 3.9 and 5.2 million Colombians were internally displaced at the end of 2011. It says people mainly fled their homes in fear of armed groups involved in drug trafficking.

The report notes internally displaced people [IDPs] are among the most vulnerable and forgotten people in the world. Refugees who cross into another country are protected by an international Convention.

IDPs, on the other hand, remain under the protection of their own governments. The report notes that governments sometimes lose control of their own territory, so they end up being part of the problem and not the solution.

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