A new report finds the number of people displaced within their own countries by conflict increased sharply last year, with the Middle East particularly hard hit. The Norwegian Refugee Council, which has just released its annual global survey, reports nearly 25 million people were internally displaced by conflict in 2006, about twice the number of refugees. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The report says some four million new people were internally displaced during 2006 as a result of armed conflict. This is more than twice as many as in the previous year.

U.N. special adviser to the emergency relief coordinator, Dennis McNamara, says the conflict between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah as well as the violence in Iraq accounted for almost half of the new displacements.

"And Iraq now becoming the third largest country of displacement in the world, with an estimated 1.9 million Iraqis displaced within the country," he said. "In addition to some two million refugees in neighboring countries?And that has also seen a remarkable increase of over 700,000 new Iraqis since February 2006. So, just over a year, three-quarters of a million Iraqis displaced."

The report says more people are currently forced to flee their homes in Iraq than in any other country in the world. It warns the current wave of displacement leads to increased separation and could result in a permanent redrawing of the ethnic and religious map of Iraq.

The report says nearly 25 million people have been displaced by conflict and abuse in 52 countries, nearly half of them are in Africa. Sudan tops the list with five million internally displaced. Colombia is second with almost four million. The report says Iraq was bumped up from fifth position to third, followed by Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Jens-Hagen Eschenbacher of the Norwegian Refugee Council says the breakdown of security in parts of Chad and the Central African Republic led to some 100,000 people becoming newly displaced. He says this is partially linked to a spillover of the conflict in Darfur.

"But there was a slight decrease in the total number of IDP's [internally displaced people] in Africa last year which gives rise to hope that the ongoing peace processes in a number of African countries actually lead to a decrease in the number of IDP's there," he said. "Asia, after years of dropping IDP figures has seen an increase again in 2006 with large-scale new displacement in a number of countries like Sri Lanka in particular, but also Pakistan, Burma, East Timor and a number of other countries."

The report says the failure of governments to protect their citizens lies at the heart of this huge problem of displacement. It says displacement can no longer be seen as a mere by-product of war. Results of its survey show civilians are increasingly and deliberately targeted by government and rebel forces as a tactic of war.