News / Africa

2012 Sees Record Number of IDPs

A view shows debris along a street of damaged buildings by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Homs, Apr. 8, 2013.
A view shows debris along a street of damaged buildings by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Homs, Apr. 8, 2013.

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  • Listen to De Capua report on internally displaced people

Joe DeCapua
The number of people displaced within their own countries by armed conflict, violence and human rights violations totaled nearly 30-million in 2012. Many of the newly displaced were in Syria and the eastern Congo.


Clare Spurrell of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center said there were record numbers of IDPs, or internally displaced people, last year.

“This last year we saw 28.8 million people who are now internally displaced as a consequence of conflict. This is an increase of two-point-four-million compared to the previous year. And much of this dramatic increase is due to the numbers of people who were newly displaced during the year. So here we saw six-point-five-million people newly displaced, which is an increase of almost 50-percent as compared to 2011, the previous year,” she said.

The final displacement figure is determined by adding the number of newly displaced in 2012 to the 2011 total -- and then subtracting the millions who actually returned home last year.

Spurrell said that there were different reasons for people being newly displaced in 2011 compared to 2012.

“In 2011, it was very much the Arab Spring uprising and the post-election violence in Cote d’Ivoire, which caused a lot of the new displacement that year. This last year we’ve seen the new displacement caused by the escalating violence in eastern DRC and of course the on-going conflict in Syria, which caused really the majority of new displacement.”

Spurrell described Syria as the “fastest evolving internal displacement crisis in the world.”

“The acceleration is very much due to the fluidity of the conflict and the fact that there’s very much a lack of clear front lines and the subsequent close relationship between internal displacement and the conflict hotspots,” she said.

In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, there were one-million newly internally displaced people in 2012. But there are many people in the region who’ve been displaced for quite some time. Overall, there are nearly three-million internally displaced people there.

“These are people who have faced really multiple displacements at the hands of a variety of armed groups within a context of where there’s very much generalized insecurity within the country and a very much weak rule of law. Just to give you an idea of the sort of escalation and the kind of numbers we’re looking at – the March 23 Movement, which is a new armed group in the region, attacked Goma in November last year and in one week alone 140,000 people were displaced,” said Spurrell.

Sub-Saharan Africa has 10.4-million IDPs. That’s almost one-third of the world total. Numerous conflicts are the reason.

She said, “These very violent conflicts include those in eastern DRC, which I’ve mentioned, but also Mali, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia are all included.”

But Spurrell said that the country with the largest population of IDPs is not in in the Mideast or sub-Saharan Africa, but rather South America. Colombia has between five and five and a half million internally displaced people due to high levels of crime-related violence and armed conflict.

“Colombia, DRC and now, indeed, Syria are all situations where there are a real protracted conflict situations, where millions of people are stuck in this protracted displacement situation completely reliant on aid often for many years,” she said.

Despite the figures, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center says there is some encouraging news. Over the last 15 years, about 25 countries have adopted laws and policies to protect IDPs. This includes the Kampala Convention in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s the world’s first legally binding treaty that protects the displaced. Since IDPs have not crossed borders of neighboring countries they are not considered refugees. As a result, many may receive little or no assistance. 
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