Record 50 million people displaced by conflict and disaster in 2019

Ten million more people were living in displacement last year compared to the year before, with the Middle East still one of the worst hit by conflict

A Yemeni man rebuilds his tent after it was destroyed by torrential rain in a makeshift camp for the displaced in the northern Hajjah province, on April 19, 2020. / AFP / ESSA AHMED
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The highest total number of internally displaced people ever was recorded last year at 50.8 million people around the world, as conflict and disasters forced more people from their homes.

Annual statistics released by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre show that the highest number of people on record were living in internal displacement as a result of conflict and violence alone in 2019 across 61 countries, at 45.7 million. A further 5.1 million had been displaced by natural disasters such as earthquakes and extreme weather.

The total is 10 million more than in 2018, with Syria, the country with the highest number of displacements from conflict, also seeing more people flee their homes in 2019 than in the year before at almost 1.9 million. This is in part due to President Bashar Al Assad's aggressive moves to retake territory in areas such as the last rebel stronghold of Idlib in the the north-west of the country, which displaced tens of thousands in December alone.

Secretary General of the NCR said on Twitter that the figure was "horrific" and that "politicians, generals and diplomats must seek ceasefires, not guns and grenades".

"Political violence is utterly senseless in this coronavirus era," he said.

Most of the new displacements caused by conflict and violence were recorded in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa. The report said an unprecedented number were recorded in Burkina Faso, and significant increases were seen in Mali and Libya.

The Mena region saw 2.6 million new displacements, with figures for Iraq slightly lower than the decade average as the country’s conflict wanes, said the report. However, long-running conflicts in Yemen and Libya increased displacement.

India had the highest number of displacements overall, at over five million due to weather-related events. Most of the new displacements triggered by disasters in 2019 were recorded in East Asia and Pacific and South Asia, including the Philippines and Bangladesh. Monsoon rains, floods and tropical storms hit highly exposed areas that are home to millions of people.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the US is among the 10 countries with the most newly displaced people at over 900,000 due to natural disasters, such as hurricanes Dorian and Imelda.

With the global coronavirus pandemic now compounding fears for the safety of the displaced, the IDMC urged that the next decade "has the potential to become an important chapter in global efforts to reduce protracted displacement".