By Wojciech Moskwa
OSLO (Reuters) - The number of internally displaced people worldwide reached 27.5 million in 2010, the highest number since the mid-1990s even though the situation in Africa improved, a refugee agency said on Wednesday.
While refugees who cross a country's external border gain rights under international law, internally displaced people (IDPs) who have been forced to move due to conflict or hunger have no such rights in many countries.
The number of IDPs in Africa fell by 4 percent to 11.1 million, while all other regions showed an increase, according to the annual report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
By comparison, there are about 15 million refugees worldwide, the report said.
"This positive (African) trend gives us hope," said the report. "Indeed, the African continent remains at the forefront of policy development in support of IDP rights."
The African Union (AU) in 2009 adopted the Kampala Convention -- the first instrument for the protection and assistance of IDPs across the entire continent -- but it still needed to be ratified by 15 AU states to come into force.
The report said displacement in most countries was caused by conflict between governments and armed groups or by widespread violence in countries where armed conflict has formally ended.
"In the remaining situations, international or foreign armed forces were involved, or the displacement was caused by generalized violence involving ethnic groups, as in Kyrgyzstan, or armed groups such as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in south Sudan and drug cartels in Mexico."
The country with the most internally displaced people continues to be Sudan, with between 4.5 and 5.2 million or about one in eight of the population, said the report. Some 490,000 people in Sudan were newly displaced in 2010, most in the world.
Then came Colombia (3.6 - 5.2 million), Iraq (2.8 million), Democratic Republic of Congo (1.7 million), Somalia (1.5 million) and Pakistan (980,000), the report said.
"The exceedingly high number of IDPs globally is a reflection of perpetual conflicts and evolving patterns of armed violence which, when taken together, produce ever more displacement," said the report.
"Sadly, once people have been displaced by conflict and violence, the majority of them remain locked in situations of protracted displacement, often with limited prospects of rebuilding their lives or finding durable solutions."