|By John Holmes|
Today, the United Nations estimates that 77 million people – more than 1 per cent of the world’s population – are displaced within their own countries, having been forced to flee their homes by armed conflicts, violence, urbanisation, 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 traumatised 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 unrecognised, 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.
Ten years on, what impact have the principles had on displaced people’s lives? The achievements are notable, if insufficient. We have raised awareness of the plight of the displaced, brought about changes in government policies, and raised billions of dollars to respond to their basic needs. This has helped save countless lives. Humanitarian efforts continue to be strengthened, including through a new rapid funding mechanism, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund.