NEW YORK – The number of people around the world uprooted by conflict or violence and displaced within their country has increased to 27.5 million, the highest figure in the last decade, according to a new report released Wednesday.
The report by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, established by the Norwegian Refugee Council in 1998 at the U.N.'s request, said close to three million people in 20 countries were newly displaced by conflict or violence in 2010 including 1.2 million in Africa.
Elisabeth Rasmusson, the Norwegian council's secretary general, said "the number in the last 10 years is steadily rising" and large-scale displacements are continuing this year.
In Ivory Coast, "civilians are paying a very high price for political deadlock" caused by Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to hand power to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the Nov. 28 presidential election, she said.
"More than 500,000 people have been internally displaced and more are fleeing as we speak," she told a news conference at the International Peace Institute to launch the report.
Although the number of internally displaced people, known as IDPs, has increased from around 17 million in 1997 to 27.5 million last year, the report said the number of refugees — who flee to another country — has fluctuated between 13 million and 16 million during the same period.
According to the report, more than half the world's IDPs in 2010 were in five countries — Columbia with between 3.5 million and 5.2 million, Sudan with between 4.5 million and 5.2 million, Iraq with about 2.8 million, Congo with about 1.7 million, and Somalia with about 1.5 million. Pakistan was close behind with 980,000.
Rasmusson said in the last 10 years significant progress has been made in understanding and responding to IDPs whose protection and humanitarian needs are supposed to be met by their governments. But she said in many cases there is only help from relief organizations or no help at all.
She cited the "appalling situation" for IDPs in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, which she recently visited, who "find themselves literally in the line of fire between the warring parties" with the international community unable to provide any protection.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict, said 12.2 million of the displaced in 2010 were children.
In at least 11 countries, she said, children were being recruited by armed groups, with internally displaced youngsters especially at risk. And in at least 18 countries, displaced children faced the risk of physical violence and attack which going to school, she said, singling out Afghanistan.
Increasingly, Rasmusson said, new displacement is also triggered by violence related to drugs and gangs, such as in Colombia and Mexico.
"It's worth noting that in Mexico, the number of displacements in 2010 is higher than the number of newly displaced in Afghanistan for the same period," she said.
Africa was the only continent in 2010 that saw a decline in IDP figures, continuing a trend since 2004, but Rasmusson said that "despite this progress the African continent still holds 40 percent of the IDPs in the world," nearly half in Sudan.
In the Middle East, the report said, the number of IDPs has more than tripled in the last decade, reaching close to 4 million at the end of 2010.
"This is the result both of escalating conflict in Iraq and Yemen and of unresolved displacement situations" including in Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, Rasmusson said.
In Asia, the number of IDPs rose by 70 percent in the last five years, mainly as a result of continuing conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But Rasmusson said "in Asia it's difficult to get access to information" so the number of IDPs is probably higher.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the report illuminates the magnitude of the challenge posed by internal displacement.
"It's a horribly bureaucratic term which describes a situation which can be grim, terrifying, demeaning and tragic," she said.