Last updated: 14 May, 2014

Syria war forces a family to flee every minute

The war in Syria is driving one family from their home every minute, pushing the number of people internally displaced by conflict to a new global high, the UN’s former aid chief said Wednesday.

A total of 8.2 million people were forced to flee their homes by violence last year, nearly half of them in Syria, Jan Egeland told reporters.

The global total of displaced people reached 33.3 million in 2013, including people affected by protracted crises lasting for decades.

“These are people in absolute crisis. They are unprotected. They are often lacking assistance. They are the most vulnerable of humankind,” said Egeland, who now heads the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“It is worse than the bleakest and blackest hours of the 1990s, with the genocides in Bosnia, elsewhere in the Balkans, and in Rwanda and the Congo,” he told reporters.

The figures were revealed in a report by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), run by the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Internally displaced people (IDPs) are those who flee their homes but stay in their country, as opposed to those who cross a border and are considered refugees.

While refugees benefit from protection under international law, IDPs are the responsibility of their country’s authorities, which are often unable to help them or outright unwilling.

“In many situations, that is not an effective protection,” said United Nations refugee chief Antonio Guterres.

“This of course is a serious problem in relation to the capacity to protect the rights of people internally displaced,” he added.

It can be near-impossible for aid workers to reach IDPs, who may end up being forced to move on again just as they rebuild their lives, can find it hard to flee abroad to rebuild their lives and often live in poverty.

Each one of the globe’s 33.3 million IDPs has on average been displaced for 17 years.

“What we are witnessing today in our world is a multiplication of conflicts, and at the same time it looks like old conflicts never die,” said Guterres.

– ‘Relentless increase’ –

There are now roughly double the number of IDPs worldwide as refugees.

“Since 2000, there has been a relentless increase in the number of internally displaced, but the last two years have been by far the worst,” said Egeland.

“Syria is the epicentre of violent, forced displacement.”

Around 9,500 people a day — approximately one family every 60 seconds — are being driven from their homes in the conflict-ridden country.

A total of 6.5 million have been displaced since war broke out between Damascus and rebel forces in March 2011 — 3.5 million in 2013 alone — while a further 2.7 million are refugees mainly in neighbouring countries.

After Syria, the two countries with the highest number of people fleeing their homes in 2013 were the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with nearly a million each.

The IDMC study also showed that Syria and four other countries — Colombia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan — accounted for two-thirds of the global total.

The Colombia, Congo and Sudan crises have been the most drawn out due to long-running insurgencies or ethnic conflict. Their IDP totals were 5.7 million, 2.9 million and 2.4 million respectively.

Egeland said the 3.3 million people displaced in Nigeria was particularly shocking.

Last year alone, 300,000 Nigerians were forced to flee by the conflict with Islamist militants Boko Haram and a further 170,000 by communal strife.

While the IDMC study focused on 2013, Egeland noted that the South Sudan conflict, which erupted in December, has so far displaced a million people.