NEW YORK — An estimated 26 million people uprooted by conflict or human rights violations remained in their own countries in 2008, far more than the 16 million who crossed borders and became refugees under U.N. protection in 2007, according to a report released last Friday by a European aid organization.
The 26 million who sought shelter elsewhere in their country — becoming internally displaced people, or IDPs — are the responsibility of their own governments. But the report by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center said some governments are unable or unwilling to help them. In eight countries, authorities don’t even acknowledge they have been uprooted.
“The alarming size and condition of the world’s IDP population shows that national and international efforts to diminish and protect these vulnerable groups have largely failed,” said Elisabeth Rasmusson, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which established the monitoring center in 1998 at the U.N.’s request.
The estimated 26 million IDPs numbered the same as in 2007 — the highest figure since the early 1990s.
The report said the 2008 refugee figures are due out in June.
The report said three countries account for 45 percent of the world’s IDPs: Sudan with 4.9 million displaced, Colombia with between 2.7 and 4.4 million, and Iraq with 2.8 million.
“The IDPs are the real human face very often of conflict and disaster,” U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said at the report’s launch. “The scale at the moment is horrific. … The physical and psychological suffering that people go through in this situation cannot be underestimated.”
“Too often, I think, they are the forgotten remnants of crises,” he said.
Holmes said the U.N. launched a campaign in December to find solutions before the numbers go even higher.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, predicted an increase in the number of displaced people as a result of the global financial crisis. He said it will have an impact in the competition for resources between the displaced and their host communities, “another factor for instability that can make it more difficult to help.”
One sign of hope, Guterres said, is that the African Union has drafted a convention to protect and help the millions of internally displaced people on the continent. The convention is expected to be adopted at an AU summit in October.
“I hope that it can be replicated in other parts of the world,” Guterres said.
According to the report, the biggest new displacement in 2008 was in the Philippines, where 600,000 people fled fighting between the government and rebel groups. There were also massive displacements elsewhere: 550,000 people in Sudan, 500,000 in Kenya, at least 400,000 in Congo, 360,000 in Iraq, over 310,000 in Pakistan, more than 270,000 in Colombia, 230,000 in Sri Lanka and over 220,000 in India.