DRC tops world displaced persons' league

People line up for food in the Mpati Internally Displaced Persons camp, about 100km north-west of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
People line up for food in the Mpati Internally Displaced Persons camp, about 100km north-west of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo Getty Images/Kuni Takahashi

One person was displaced within their own country every second by conflict, violence or natural disaster last year, an NGO's report says. The Democratic Republic of Congo was the worst-affected country.


The figures have been revealed in a report published Monday by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

The number of people uprooted in their own country because of conflict outnumbers refugees by two to one but the IDMC says they are largely being ignored by the international community.

One person every second - that's 31 million people in total - were internally displaced last year. In the DRC over 900 000 people were displaced by violence and conflict in 2016 alone - a 50 percent rise compared to the previous year.

"The reason why we were surprised is that over the last few years, of course, it's been the Middle East that's been on top of the agenda," IDMC director Alexandra Bilak told RFI. "We've been monitoring Syria, Iraq and Yemen and they've been consistently having very high numbers of internal displacements every year.

"So when the DRC came up, we were taken by surprise and, at the same time, we aren't really surprised because this is really a protracted crisis, one that's been largely ignored, the underlined drivers have not been addressed."

The DRC crisis recurs in cycles, she says. "So the figures we reported for 2016 are very high - close to one million new displacements but we know that since the beginning of 2017 the situation has been ongoing, so we're extremely concerned about what's happening on the ground and we'll be monitoring DRC very closely."

There are several reaons for the sudden spike in people being displaced within the DRC.

Violence erupted in the Kasai region last August, and there are conflicts involving local militias in North and South Kivu.

A lack of an effective security presence and impunity have led to thousands fleeing their homes.

"The Congo is often described as the world's forgotten crisis, one of those humanitarian tragedies in a conflict areas that is not given the attention that it deserves," Alex Fielding, a Great Lakes specialist, says.

"There's a lot of donour fatigue. In the DRC there's been many many years of humanitarian work and a very expensive UN mission in place, and that's in fact being drawn down at the request in part of donor countries and obviously [President Joseph Kabila's] government is not really enthused about having a large UN mission so we're seeing the trends going more in the other direction of less international presence and rather than more.

"Part of the problem is that Kabila knows this and he knows that he can exploit this lack of international attention and political will to intervene in a more forceful way and that is laying the conditions, again, for more long term instability and humanitarian crisis."

IDMC's Bilak blames a lack of political will and reluctance to breach national sovereignty for the continuing growth in the numbers of IDPs to grow.

Countries in the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen, have also been affected, as have countries prone to natural disasters, mainly in the Asia-Pacific region.

"In Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, we're going to see ... some of the largest levels of displacements throughout those countries. They're being heavily affected by conflict and extreme drought which is forcing people to leave their home," Olivia Headon, from the UN's migration agency, the IOM, told RFI.

"If you look at Somalia, you have hospitals that are full of children and who are extremely malnourished and now you have outbreaks of cholera. It's similar in Yemen as well, it's the children and the elderly who are suffering the most and, because of malnutrition, that brings people's immune systems down and you have outbreaks of things like cholera or other diseases and that's amplifying the situation."

However, Headon says there is some hope.

"When you look at Nigeria, in the north-east of the country where the majority of this displacement is due to the Boko Haram insurgency, you see communities that have embraced each others. So people who have been displaced from other villages, arriving in other villages are being greeted with open arms by their new neighbours. You have some Nigerians who are hosting thousands of people on their own land, and giving them, not just land, but also support with building shelters and food."

Bilak argues that, while resources have rightly been devoted to refugees, there has been little attention paid to people forced to resettle within their own country.

She blames a tendency to assign different kind of people into different kind of categories or boxes: IDPs, refugees, international migrants, asylum seekers and so on.

The IDMC's 2017 report tries to demonstrate the connections that exist between internal displacement and refugee and migrant flows, so that policy-makers can acknowledge that internal displacement is an integral part of the broader migration picture.

Not including internal displacement as part of the overall displacement and migration picture is very shortsighted, Bilak insists.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning