New report: Displacement is rising in Latin America
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New report: Displacement is rising in Latin America

Earlier today, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) released its annual report documenting the world’s internal displacement statistics, indicating how many of the world’s citizens are moved from their homes by conflict, violence and disasters. The news is not good.

A summary of the report delivered a blunt and sobering reality: At least 38 million people around the world have been displaced. This is the highest number the organization has ever recorded.

The report focused, predictably, on Africa and the Middle East, where 60 percent of the world’s displacement occurs (primarily among Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria) and where extremist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) pose particular threats to security and stability.

Latin America was not exempt from the report’s purview, however; in fact, the IDMC reported that the region has experienced a 12 percent increase in displacement since last year. Putting a finer point on the data, the organization reported that just under half a million Latin Americans are newly displaced, bringing the total regional displacement statistic to “at least seven million.”

Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru were among the countries deemed most problematic, with Colombia highlighted as especially vulnerable. The IDMC indicated 12 percent of Colombia’s total population is displaced, making it the the country with the second-largest displaced population worldwide, though it also acknowledged that the particular method of data collection in Colombia, where displaced persons are recorded in official government registries, may not be an accurate reflection of actual numbers.

“[Colombians] who have achieved durable solutions or died in displacement are never deregistered,” the IDMC explained, thereby “leading to an ever-growing number.”

Still, the IDMC notes that the “true scale of displacement” is likely to be higher than the totals the organization reports, in part because internally displaced people often “flee to urban areas where they are largely invisible among the urban poor.”

For people who live in or follow news from Latin America, it’s hardly surprising that drug- and cartel-related activities are considered to be the primary culprits for displacement, which is defined by the United Nations as “a situation in which ‘persons or groups of persons […]have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.”

Increasingly, however, there are other factors that are driving displacement. Among them, the IDMC cites “legal and illegal extraction of resources.”

In Latin America, those resources include coca, marijuana, palm oil, timber, minerals and materials for biofuels. As competition for these resources continues to grow, the problems of internal displacement will likely keep apace.

Finally, IDMC noted that, while international talks and negotiations related to Latin American stability typically address issues such as the drug trade, they usually fail to include considerations about humane interventions related to internal displacement. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is taking an increasingly active role in Latin America, providing support to articulate policies for dealing with displacement.

The complete report can be accessed here.

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