CREDIT: AP Photo/Lens Young Homsi, File
Imagine the entire city of New York devoid of all of its citizens — Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, all of the boroughs totally empty. Now picture the same in the other nine most populated cities in the United States. Even that stunning depopulation would fall far short of the tens of millions of people that have been forced to flee their homes in the face of violence, according to a new report.
In its annual report, released on Wednesday, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported that 33.3 million people were displaced from their homes due to conflict and violence in 2013. Housed inside the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has been tracking the number of people who have become homeless due to conflict since 1998. In the time since, they’ve only marked one year with a number of displacements as 2013 — 2012, which was also a record high year.
Last year, the top ten countries made up 80 percent of the total displaced populations worldwide. The top five constitute 63 percent of the total: Syria, Colombia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan. Of the 33.3 million worldwide, 8.2 million — more than the population of Los Angeles and Chicago combined — were newly displaced in 2013. Most of those were seeking shelter in Syria, the DR Congo, and the Central African Republic. According to one shocking figure from the IDMC, 9,500 people a day are compelled to leave their homes — the equivalent of one family every sixty seconds.
Often confused with refugees, internally displaced peoples (IDPs) face their own unique set of challenges. The term “refugee” is defined under the 1951 Refugee Convention, specifically referring to people who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” Because of that definition, IDPs aren’t afforded the quite the same protections under international law as those who actually flee across borders. As the U.N. High Commisision on Refugees explains: “IDPs legally remain under the protection of their own government – even though that government might be the cause of their flight.”
“This record number of people forced to flee inside their own countries confirms a disturbing upward trend of internal displacement since IDMC first began monitoring and analysing displacement back in the late 90s,” Jan Egeland, a former United Nations official and the Secretary General of the NRC, said in a statement. The IDMC’s data bears out Egeland’s worries. As the chart to the right shows, since the 1990s, the number of refugees has dropped slightly, before remaining roughly static. The number of refugees, meanwhile, began to rise in the mid-2000s, roughly tracking with the Darfur crisis in Sudan, before spiking in 2011 as the Syrian civil war shifted from protests to violence in the streets.
Most importantly in terms of their difference with refugees, despite being outside the jurisdiction of the UNHCR in some cases, IDPs still more often than not require humanitarian assistance to survive. In Syria, this means that millions of those who have fled fighting in cities like Homs and Aleppo and still require humanitarian assistance to survive, must depend on the government actually provide access to the agencies that would provide such help. Despite a U.N. Security Council resolution in February demanding that the Syrian government allow in assistance to all areas, even those under the control of rebels, the Syrian government has so far ignored those demands, leaving majority of the 9.2 million Syrians in need of help on their own.
Click the map below for a full-size image of just where the world’s displaced live: