A record 33.3 million people around the world were internally displaced by conflict in their countries at the end of last year, 16 percent or 4.5 million up on 2012, an international report said on Wednesday.
The report by the Norwegian Refugee Council said nearly two thirds of the global total were in just five countries – Syria, Colombia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan.
Syria, with at least 6,5 million driven from their homes in three years of fighting between government forces and insurgents and foreign fighters backing them, took over first place ahead of Colombia, suffering from decades of guerrilla wars.
The Middle Eastern country accounted for 43 per cent – 3.5 million – of all the new internally displaced people (IDPs) around the globe in 2013, a total of 8.2 million, according to the report presented at a Geneva news briefing.
Council Secretary General Jan Egeland, a former top United Nations official, said the report “reveals a frightening reality of life inside Syria,” where on average now one family is being displaced every minute.
Colombia, which has seen major moves towards peace in the most recent conflict but also suffers from crime-based violence, saw an increase in IDPs for the 10th year in succession, bringing the total to 5.7 million at the end of 2013.
Nigeria had not previously provided its own figures for the displaced but now sets the total at 3.3 million, driven by inter-communal and inter-religious violence which first began to affect the large African state in the late 1990s.
The report endorsed that estimate, noting that the figure was climbing fast as a result of the insurgency by Islamist Boko Haram fighters and what it called “heavy-handed counter- insurgency operations” by the Nigerian army.
The Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre has put together the annual report for 15 years based on information from governments, relief organisations, United Nations’ agencies and its own observers on the ground.
In international diplomatic and aid parlance, IDPs are distinct from refugees who are defined as people who have been forced to cross frontiers into other countries.
The total of IDPs in the DRC, also the scene of decades of violence as armed groups have fought for control of natural resources, reached at least 2,9 million, and in almost equally troubled Sudan it reached 2,4 million.