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Wars Trigger Record Levels of Internal Displacement in Middle East, North Africa, Report Finds

FILE - Refugees and migrants make their way in the Kara Tepe camp on the island of Lesbos

A new report finds internal displacement in the Middle East and North Africa has reached unprecedented levels a decade after the so-called Arab Spring triggered a political upheaval across the region.

Over the past decade, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reports the number of internally displaced people in the region has more than tripled from 3.5 million to 12.4 million. During the same period, it says 7.8 million refugees and asylum seekers fled to other countries in search of safety.

The manager of the global monitoring and reporting team at IDMC, Vicente Anzellini, says several factors have precipitated this high level of displacement. These include foreign intervention in regional civil conflicts; local conflicts sparked by ethnic, tribal and religious affiliation, instability caused by extremists and jihadist groups, and natural disasters.

Anzellini tells VOA displacement peaked in 2015 when Russia intervened in the conflict in Syria and when Saudi Arabia got involved in Yemen’s civil war. Another factor behind increased displacement in the region, he says, was the expansion of the war waged by Islamic State militants throughout Iraq and Syria.

"And then a counteroffensive laid by governments and by the U.S. and by Russia really intensified these conflicts," said Anzellini. "And many of these conflicts took place in urban areas like Aleppo, Mosul, just to mention a few. And then, of course, these urban areas were home to millions of people who had to flee.”

Anzellini says Iraq is the only country in the region where the number of displacements has gone down. He attributes this reduction to the defeat of Islamic State militants, which has allowed many people to return to their homes of origin.

However, he notes many returns across the region are being hampered by a series of factors.

"Many cities still have unexploded ordnance and booby traps," said Anzellini. "So, all these remnants of war, which really need to be cleaned up before people can safely go back. There are no good mechanisms across many of these countries to really support IDPs returning in safety and a dignified way.”

If current U.N.-led diplomatic efforts in Syria, Libya and Yemen yield positive results, Anzellini says fewer people will feel the need to flee their homes. But he says the outlook remains grim for now and continued conflict in the region is likely to trigger new displacements.