Eleven million men, women, and children – a rate equal to 30,000 each day – fled their homes in 2014 because of conflict and violence, bringing the total what diplomats call internally displaced people to a record 38 million, a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council found Thursday.
While the report underscored the millions of people who’ve fled well known conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, it also highlighted a much less publicized phenomenon – escalating criminal violence by gangs and drug cartels forcing hundreds of thousands to abandon their homes in Mexico and Central America.
“What we see is that good governance, diplomacy, political solutions, justice and security apparatuses are retreating, and armed brutal men are on the offensive, and civilians pay the price for that,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the council.
“We cannot continue like this,” he said. “It’s a sign of a world that has fundamental problems in protecting and defending the defenseless.
The worst affected country last year was Iraq, where 2.2 million people were forced out “primarily by the violence of the Islamic State.” Neighboring Syria had an additional 1.1 million flee their homes in 2014, bringing the total to 7.6 million internally displaced since the outbreak of the civil war there in 2011.
Three other countries that experienced massive displacement last year were in Africa.
More than 1.3 million people were displaced by civil war in South Sudan and a million were newly displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nearly another million were displaced in Nigeria, most by violence perpetrated by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
But Egeland said the numbers were also staggering in Central America, where criminal violence drove more than a half million people from their homes in two countries, Guatemala and El Salvador (248,500 and 288,900, respectively). Crime also droved an estimated 281,400 from their homes in Mexico, the Norwegian group found.
Those numbers do not include people who crossed international borders to reach the United States, for example.
“It is an underestimated problem,” Egeland said.
The report also found at least 400,000 people had fled their homes in Libya, more than a sixfold increase on the year before; at least 646,500 were displaced in Ukraine; and there was an increase of 1.1 million displaced people in Pakistan as a counterinsurgency operation intensified. Another 300,000 were displaced in the Ivory Coast.
Colombia, Egeland said, provided a rare bright spot. After decades of civil war that has displaced an estimated six million people, peace negotiations appear to be progressing.
That holds out the prospect that an agreement will allow “people to get land and property back, or they will be compensated and get a new life where they are today,” he said.