Today, the United Nations estimates that 77 million people – more than 1% of the world’s population – are displaced within their own countries, having been forced to flee their homes by armed conflicts, violence, urbanization, development, and natural disasters. This is more than the population of France, the United Kingdom, or Turkey.
These people are not “refugees,” because they have not crossed an international border, but their experiences are often equally devastating. Today, the number of people who have been internally displaced by conflicts alone is twice that of refugees. With the increasing pattern of internal, rather than international, armed conflicts, and the rising regularity of extreme weather events affecting millions of people, internal displacement poses an even greater challenge to future generations.
Uprooted from their homes and livelihoods, and traumatized by the violence or sudden disaster that forced them to flee, the displaced are often thrust into an extremely precarious future with few resources. Think of the 15 million Chinese displaced following the Sichuan earthquake, the more than two million Iraqis uprooted within their country’s borders by sectarian and other violence, the 2.4 million displaced in Darfur, or the hundreds of thousands who have fled Mogadishu in the last year.
In the last decade, those displaced by conflicts alone rose from 19 million to 26 million, with millions more displaced by disasters. The plight of these victims long went unrecognized, as governments and the international community alike failed to acknowledge their rights to protection and assistance. In 1998, the UN issued Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which sets out these legal rights.