A decade of political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa has generated levels of displacement never seen before, according to the latest report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). An estimated 12.4 million people are currently internally displaced across the region.
When the Arab Spring protests broke out a decade ago, the MENA region was home to more than 3.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs). The figure has more than tripled in a decade as a result of enduring civil wars and localised conflict. It is expected to increase further with climate-related disasters generating new displacement every year.
According to IDMC’s new report, between 2010 and 2019, conflict in the region caused 2.9 million new displacements a year on average. IDPs now account for nearly three 3% of the region’s population, the equivalent of the population of the cities of Amman, Beirut, Damascus, Dubaï and Tunis combined.
“The scale of both internal and cross-border displacement is unprecedented in some countries. Half of Syria’s pre-war population has been displaced at least once, with some families having moved 25 times over the course of the country’s ten-year civil war”, said IDMC director Alexandra Bilak.
“Many of the region’s 7.8 million refugees and asylum seekers were in fact IDPs before they made the difficult choice to leave their country in search of a safer future.”
Conflict and disaster displacement have become increasingly intertwined in places like Idlib, northwestern Syria and Marib governorate in Yemen. IDPs taking refuge in camps or living in inadequate housing as a result of conflict and violence have been pushed into secondary or tertiary displacement by floods and storms. In total, sudden and slow-onset disasters have triggered 1.5 million new internal displacements across the region over the last decade.
The economic impact of displacement represents an additional burden for governments already struggling to support those in need and to provide basic services. The Covid-19 pandemic has only complicated matters further. IDMC estimates that the economic cost of internal displacement in the region is nearly $8b per year, which would be enough to provide two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to the World Health Organization.
Having reliable, timely and accurate data on the scale, duration, risk and impacts of internal displacement will be a key step in breaking the vicious cycle of vulnerability.
“Data alone, however, will not be enough,” said Alexandra Bilak. “Preparing for and providing long-term support to returning refugees and IDPs will be paramount to the future stability of the region. Yet fewer than half of the returnees IDMC surveyed in Iraq were living in their areas of origin, primarily due to ongoing insecurity or lack of infrastructure.”
Current UN-led diplomatic efforts in Syria, Libya and Yemen could bring positive developments for IDPs, and signal a welcome sea of change in the region. The fate of millions of people uprooted from their homes, and the future of an entire generation, are at stake.