Wars in Gaza and Sudan contribute to record high levels of displacement

Close to one fifth of all conflict displacements last year occurred in Gaza

Displaced Palestinians arrive in central Gaza after fleeing from Rafah. AP
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There were about 76 million people forcibly displaced across 116 countries as of the end of last year due to conflict and disasters, a record figure fuelled by war in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, a report has found.

In the Gaza Strip, 3.4 million displacements were recorded during the war with Israel, a figure that represents 17 per cent of total conflict displacements worldwide last year, said the report by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Population movements were caused by Israeli military operations from the air, land and sea.

At six million, Sudan hosted the second-highest number of internally displaced people recorded in one country, compared with the 16.9 million forced from their homes in Ukraine by the Russian invasion. In Syria, 7.2 million have been displaced by 13 years of civil war.

“The images from Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan are only the most recent in a trend towards increasing upheaval and dislocation of civilians across the globe,” Robert Piper, special adviser on solutions to internal displacement to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, wrote in the report.

“But once the cameras turn away, all too often these people forced from their homes become invisible.”

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, an NGO that founded the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, said: “We have never, ever recorded so many people forced away from their homes and communities. It is a damning verdict on the failures of conflict prevention and peacemaking.”

The Gaza figures are a conservative estimate, said the report, because many people were displaced within provinces before moving across them. The same person or people can be displaced several times.

The conflict in Palestine contributed to an eightfold increase in conflict displacements in the Middle East and North Africa in 2023 after three consecutive years of decline.

Disaster displacement figures were also the highest reported for the region, largely the result of earthquakes and floods.

The earthquakes in Turkey and Syria caused 4.7 million displacements, one of the largest single disaster displacement events since records began in 2008. Overall, earthquakes and volcanic activity led to 6.1 million displacements in 2023, as many in the area as in the past seven years combined.

Wars are expected to intensify in the coming weeks both in Gaza and in Sudan, where fighting is raging in its western region. The year-long Sudanese civil war, often described as a forgotten crisis, has also pushed 18 million people to the brink of famine.

In Gaza, humanitarian supplies to the southern city of Rafah, where most of the enclave's population has sought refuge, were cut off last week after Israel launched a military operation in the area. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) estimates that about 450,000 people have fled Gaza’s southern city of Rafah since May 6.

About 83 per cent of people in Gaza were living in internal displacement as of late December, according to the report. At 203,000, Israel also recorded its highest displacement figure.

The total figure of 75.9 million people displaced by the end of last year also includes citizens of high-income countries affected by climate change, the IDMC said, despite displacements caused by weather-related disasters falling by one third compared to 2022. This was partly caused by a change from La Nina to El Nino climate patterns in the Pacific Ocean.

Canada and New Zealand reported their respective highest figures as floods, storms, earthquakes, wildfires and other disasters triggered 26.4 million displacements throughout last year, the third-highest annual total in the past decade.

Extreme weather events included Cyclone Freddy in south-eastern Africa, which triggered 1.4 million movements across six countries and territories.

“No country is immune to disaster displacement,” said IDMC director Alexandra Bilak.

“But we can see a difference in how displacement affects people in countries that prepare and plan for its impacts and those that don’t. Those that look at the data and make prevention, response and long-term development plans that consider displacement fare far better.”

Figures shared by IDMC intend to give a snapshot of the total number of people living in internal displacement at a specific point in time in a specific location. The same person or people can be displaced several times over a given period of time.

Updated: May 16, 2024, 8:43 AM