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2019 saw record number of internally displaced persons, report shows

By
Don Jacobson
Widespread flooding in Bangkulu, Sumatra, Indonesia, on April 28, 2019, killed at least 17 people and displaced thousands. File Photo by Diva Marha/EPA-EFE
Widespread flooding in Bangkulu, Sumatra, Indonesia, on April 28, 2019, killed at least 17 people and displaced thousands. File Photo by Diva Marha/EPA-EFE

April 28 (UPI) -- A record-high 51 million people around the world are living as refugees within their native countries at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is providing an added threat, advocates said in a report Tuesday.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, part of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in its annual report that the vast majority of "internally displaced people" -- some 46 million -- were uprooted in 2019 due to conflicts and violence in 61 countries.

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The 136-page Global Report on Internal Displacement counted most of them in five nations -- Syria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Another 5 million across 95 countries were displaced because of natural disasters, including more than 1 million in Afghanistan who were made homeless following years of drought and floods and 500,000 victims of monsoon rains in India.

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More than 33 million new displaced persons were added to the total last year, the highest annual figure in seven years, said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

"Year after year, conflict and violence uproot millions of people from their homes," he said, urging politicians, generals and diplomats to "rise above stalemates and seek cease-fires and peace talks, not guns and grenades.

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"In this age of coronavirus, continued political violence is utterly senseless."

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The global pandemic has presented new dangers, said IDMC Director Alexandra Bilak.

"[The displaced] are often highly vulnerable people living in crowded camps, emergency shelters and informal settlements with little or no access to healthcare," she said. "The global coronavirus pandemic will make them more vulnerable still. It will compromise their already precarious living conditions, by further limiting their access to essential services and humanitarian aid."

The IDMC said it's closely monitoring COVID-19 cases among the displaced in Iraq and fears others in Syria, Burkina Faso and Colombia may also be at risk.

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A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

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