GENEVA: Conflicts including the uprisings in the Arab world last year forced 3.5 million people to flee within their country, international monitors said on Thursday.
A total of 26.4 million people were internally displaced at the end of 2011, a fall from 27.5 million the previous year, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC).
But the number of newly displaced people, including 830,000 who fled during the Arab uprisings, rose 20 percent compared to 2010.
In Libya, 500,000 fled their homes to other areas during the conflict which led the overthrow of Moammer Qaddafi, the IDMC said.
The crackdown on protesters forced 156,000 people to flee their homes in Syria; and 175,000 in Yemen, it added.
In Afghanistan, the number of new displacements rocketed 80 percent as fighting spread to new regions.
In Somalia, “famine and conflict added to the already extreme vulnerabilities of millions of displaced people.” said the IDMC.
Internally displaced people (IDPs) are identified as those who have been forced to flee within the borders of their country by conflict. Unlike refugees, have no legal status.
Colombia is the country with the highest number of IDPs, at between 3.9 and 5.3 million: government and other observer groups’ figures vary.
Iraq is second with between 2.3 and 2.6 million, followed by Sudan which has 2.2 million IDPs.
“While the Arab Spring uprisings caused significant surges in internal displacement, events in other regions such as the spread of armed conflict in Afghanistan and the activities of drug cartels and paramilitary gangs in Columbia all added to this figure,” said IDMC head Kate Halff.
The body welcomed a drop in IDPs in Africa from 11.1 to 9.7 million, with significant numbers of people returning home in Ivory Coast, Chad and Uganda following conflict.
“African governments have shown a real motivation to address internal displacement,” said the IDMC.
The figures were released on Thursday with the launch of the group’s report “The Global Overview 2011, People Displaced by Conflict and Violence,” hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva.