Conflict and natural disasters forced 26m people to flee their homes in 2008

The number of people fleeing their homes as a result of conflict or natural disasters but remaining within their country’s borders as reached a record level despite international efforts.

In 2008 an estimated 26m people were displaced within their countries, the same number as in 2007 and the highest since the early 1990s, reported the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

‘In the context of conflict prevention, forced displacement remains a major challenge, as does the protection of Internally Displaced Persons,’ said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

4.6m people were newly displaced in 2008.

The biggest new displacement in the world was in the Philippines, where 600,000 people fled fighting between the government and rebel groups.

There were also massive new displacements in Sudan, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Columbia, Sri Lanka and India.

The largest internally displaced populations are found in Sudan (4.9m), Colombia (up to 4.3m) and Iraq (2.8m).

John Holmes, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, commented: ‘The number of internally displaced will rise significantly due to anticipated increases in the intensity and frequency of natural disasters.’

See also: Global matters

Facts and figures

The number of internally displaced people (IDP) in Africa fell in 2008 by nine per cent to 11.6m. Nonetheless, Sudan remained the country with most displaced people in the world, at 4.9m. The number of IDPs in Somalia rose to 1.3m as conflict continued to ravage the country through the year. In Kenya and DR Congo, new outbreaks of conflict or violence caused massive waves of displacement. On a positive note, the number of IDPs in Uganda fell below the million mark as people continued to return home after years in camps.

The internally displaced population in the Americas grew by seven per cent, due to continuing displacement in Colombia. New displacement in Colombia accelerated in 2008, and it remained the second largest IDP population in the world at up to 4.3m.

In the Middle East, the number of IDPs grew by 11 percent as the number of IDPs in Iraq rose to 2.8m. Despite some improvements in security, only a very small percentage of displaced people in Iraq could return to their homes. The region showing the biggest increase was South and South-East Asia, where the figure rose by 13 percent to 3.5m. The biggest new displacement in the world was in the Philippines, where 600,000 people fled fighting between government forces and rebel groups in the southern region of Mindanao. There were also massive new displacements in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India.

In Europe and Central Asia there are still 2.5m IDPS, the same as in 2007. Internal displacement threatens different people in different ways. In 2008 displaced women and girls were particularly exposed to rape and sexual violence, domestic violence and exploitation. Women suffered in other ways: as an example, in several countries, displaced widows were unable to claim back property which had belonged to their husband before their displacement.