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UN report: 31 million displaced by war, disaster last year

UNITED NATIONS — Last year, more than 31 million people were forced to flee their homes and subsist within their country’s borders, often under dire conditions, due to natural disasters and human conflict, according to a global analysis released Monday.

The worldwide tally was 12 percent bigger than the 2015 figure, which was 27.8 million people, according to the Global Report on Internal Displacement by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva, and the Norwegian Refugee Council in Oslo.

But of the two reasons for internal displacement — violence and natural disasters — the storms, earthquakes and floods dwarfed the man-made, conflict-related problem by far, the group said at a news conference in UN headquarters in Manhattan.

The report documents 24.2 million people cast into a state of homelessness by natural disasters, including more than 1 million victims of Hurricane Matthew in the United States, but only 6.9 million internally displaced in all countries due to wars and civil strife.

It also featured a subset of IDPs created by a particular form of violence: those who flee their homes to escape the scourge of criminal gangs and gang violence. Countries such as El Salvador, which experts say has been terrorized by the MS-13 international street gang, and Honduras and Mexico, where criminal gangs and violence have uprooted citizens, are among the countries profiled.

“In 2016, one person every second was forced to flee their home inside their own country,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the NRC. In 2015, though, 8.6 million people were displaced because of violence and conflict.

The 124-page report highlights trends among the countries hosting the most internally displaced people, with some countries appearing in the top 10 of both types of lists.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, with 922,000 people, topped the list of countries where conflict and violence has created IDPs. It was followed by Syria (824,000), Iraq (659,000), Afghanistan (653,000), Nigeria (501,000), Yemen (478,000), India (448,000), Ethiopia (296,000), South Sudan (281,000) and the Philippines (280,000).

China, with 7,434,000 people, topped the list of countries with the most IDPs by natural disaster. It was followed by the Philippines (5,930,000), India (2,400,000), Indonesia (1,246,000), the United States (1,107,000), Cuba (1,079,000), Japan (864,000), Bangladesh (614,000), Myanmar (509,000) and Sri Lanka (500,000).

The experts found that some countries that have appeared on either list in past years can resurface on one or both.

“Certain countries drop off the international agenda, only to re-emerge a few years later with significant numbers of new displacement,” said Alexandra Bilak, director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. “This was the case for the DRC, which highlights how the failure to address the underlying causes of conflict and crisis results in cyclical patterns of displacement.”

The authors of the report said that internally displaced persons tend to want to return to their homes, but if conditions that prevent them from returning persist, those people will often leave their countries and become refugees.

Such is the case in Syria, which has millions of its citizens living in bordering countries and Europe, but also El Salvador, from which thousands of people have fled gang violence and resettled in the United States, on including Long island. The report said that some 220,000 people were internally displaced in El Salvador in 2016 due to gang violence.

“We need to acknowledge that, without the right kind of support and protection, a person internally displaced today may become a refugee, an asylum seeker or an international migrant tomorrow, Bilak said.

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