A new report by the Norwegian Refugee Council says the number of people internally displaced within their own countries by conflict decreased slightly during 2005, but the crisis remains at an alarming level. The report says there are twice as many IDPs in the world as refugees. The report warns the problem of internally displaced people can trigger regional instability.
Latest figures show some 23.7 million people were internally displaced at the end of 2005. This is down from 25.3 million in the previous year.
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, says more than half of all people who have been displaced by conflict are in Africa.
"As a generation, we are failing more in Africa than any other place on earth," he said. "And, it is sad to see how we make progress on all other continents, but we fail so much in Africa that we are not making much progress at all."
Internally displaced people are particularly vulnerable. Since they have not crossed an international border, IDPs are not entitled to the same assistance and protection as refugees.
The report says displaced people are one of the most neglected groups in the world. It says many of those who flee from conflict are victims of arbitrary killings, rape, maiming, and torture. It says their houses often are destroyed and their possessions are looted. They have little access to food, shelter, health care, schools and jobs.
Egeland says IDPs live on the brink of an abyss.
"Fourteen million of those live in constant fear…of being killed, this night or tomorrow. And,…75-80 percent of those are women and children," he said. "Six million of these 14 million have zero protection from their own government, zero assistance from their own government."
The report finds Sudan, with over five million IDPs, remains at the top of the list of countries with the largest internal displacement, followed by Colombia, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq.
Egeland says the huge problem of internally displaced people represents a present and growing danger for regional stability.
"People have fled, more than 200,000 have fled from Darfur to Chad. Recently, people have fled from Chad to Darfur," he said. "Imagine how bad it is in Chad when people flee to Darfur. At the same time, people have fled internally in Central African Republic and from Central African Republic to Chad which again sends people to Darfur."
Egeland faults the international community for not applying more political pressure on governments to assist and protect IDPs. But, he puts the main blame on local leaders for causing the wars and massacres which have created the IDP crisis. He says African leadership has been horrendous in this last generation.