Refugees in their own land: The untold story of the internally displaced

Refugees in their own land: The untold story of the internally displaced

Report finds 31 million people were forced to leave their homes and live elsewhere in their country in 2016. Children queue for water at a camp for internally displaced persons in Puntland, Somalia

War and natural disasters caused millions of people to leave their homes and settle elsewhere in their country last year, says a report from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

The Guardian describes the internal displacement crisis as “war’s greatest scandal”.

What is an “internally displaced person”?

Put simply, it is a refugee in their own country. However, because they have not crossed a national border, internally displaced persons (IDPs) are not classed as refugees.

Because of this, the UN’s refugee arm, UNHCR, for many years said it was not responsible for these people. However, in 2005, it signed an agreement with aid agencies to take the lead in protecting them.

How many of them are there?

According to the NRC, 31 million people were forced to leave their homes in 2016, but remained in their home countries. They outnumbered refugees by a factor of two to one.

Of this number, 6.9 million left their homes due to violence or conflict while the remaining 24.2 million were displaced by natural disasters, around half of them by floods. Storms, wildfires and earthquakes also cause internal displacement.

UNICEF Yemen: There is no attention to this country and yet you have 28 million people locked up in this country torn by war.
Why do IDPs not receive as much attention as refugees?

The NRC says the international community focuses more on refugees in part because they are easier to define and identify.

Alexandra Bilak, director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, said: “Not including internal displacement as an integral part of [the] migration picture is very short-sighted… If you redirect attention to the countries of origin and to really understanding the driving forces of these movements it would be a much more strategic approach and investment.”

Which countries were the worst affected in 2016?

The NRC separates internal displacement caused by conflict from that caused by natural disaster.
With 922,000, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had the most IDPs forced into homelessness by conflict, followed by Syria (824,000), Iraq (659,000), Afghanistan (653,000), Nigeria (501,000) and Yemen (478,000).

Famine caused many people to flee their homes in parts of sub-Saharan Africa such as Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan, but conflict was also a factor in these countries.

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