Lost at home

The risks and challenges for internally displaced children and the urgent actions needed to protect them

May 5, 2020

Today, more children than ever before are displaced within their own countries. At the end of 2019, an estimated 46 million people were internally displaced by conflict and violence. More than 4 in 10 – or 19 million – were children. Millions more were displaced by disasters. Forced out of their homes and communities, these children are among the most vulnerable in the world. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic stands to bring even more harm and uncertainty to their lives.

The report below provides the latest data, which demonstrate the scale and scope of internal displacement around the world. It also reveals how internal displacement upends the lives of children, affecting all spheres of their lives:

  • It often breaks families apart and forces children to move on their own or live with limited support from families and communities.
  • It multiplies protection and safety risks. Internally displaced children are particularly vulnerable to abuse, violence and exploitation as social norms break down and protective services are no longer available.
  • It often disrupts education by delaying or entirely interrupting children’s learning, depriving them of the opportunity to reach their full potential.
  • It poses challenges to accessing essential services such as safe housing, water and sanitation, and health care or psychological support.

The sum of these deprivations can be particularly acute in the life of a child and cause long-lasting harm. 

For millions living in internal displacement, crowded living quarters, limited to no access to clean water and sanitation, and severely curtailed health care are common. Those in hard-to-reach places may also be cut off from mass communications, meaning they are likely to miss out on lifesaving public health messages. These factors set the course for rapid spread of COVID-19. Urgent efforts are needed to address the poor living, WASH, and health care conditions of internally displaced persons to prevent further damage to these already fragile communities and their vulnerable children. 



Internal displacements due to conflict and violence are higher now than ever before recorded — 19 million of them involved children

The world has seen a steep increase in the number of IDPs as a consequence of conflict and violence — from 25 million a decade ago to over 40 million in the last five years. At the end of 2019, of the nearly 46 million persons living in internal displacement due to violence and conflict, almost 42 per cent were children.


The largest number of internally displaced children due to conflict are found in the Middle East and North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa

Internally displaced persons are concentrated in two regions — the Middle East and North Africa and West and Central Africa. The MENA region recorded over 12 million IDPs as a result of conflict and violence at the end of 2019. Almost all of them lived in just three countries — Syria, Yemen, and Iraq — and around 5 million were children. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to another 19 million IDPs due to conflict and violence. Around 4 out of 10 internally displaced persons lives in the region, half being children. Within the region, 4 million displaced children live in Eastern and Southern Africa and a further 5.4 million in West and Central Africa.


Three countries account for more than one third of all children displaced due to conflict and violence

The Syrian Arab Republic alone is home to about 6.5 million persons internally displaced due to conflict and violence – including 2.4 million children. One third of all children displaced by conflict and violence live in just three countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2.9 million), the Syrian Arab Republic (2.4 million) and Yemen (1.7 million).


Almost 33 million new displacements were recorded in 2019 — around 25 million due to natural disasters and 8.5 million due to conflict and violence

Over half of new displacements caused by disasters in 2019 – 10 million – occurred in East Asia and the Pacific, with another 9.5 million in South Asia. In the Philippines, India, Bangladesh and China, natural disasters led to displacement numbers in the millions – accounting for 69 per cent of the global disaster-induced displacements. These were overwhelmingly caused by extreme conditions created by dangerous storms and floods. Globally, around 8.2 million children were displaced due to disaster-related causes.

Syria was the country with the largest number of conflict-related new displacements in 2019, with almost 1.9 million IDPs. Other large numbers of new displacements were observed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1.7 million) and Ethiopia (1 million). In total, sub-Saharan Africa saw 8.6 million new displacements due to conflict and violence in 2019.

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