GENEVA Some 72 million people around the world had been driven from their homes by conflict, natural disasters or big development projects at the end of last year, the Red Cross reported on Tuesday.
Nearly 16.4 million had fled abroad and were officially classified as refugees, while 41.4 million more were living in their own country as "internally displaced persons", according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the world's largest disaster relief network.
The remainder were asylum seekers whose claims were pending or had failed, as well as refugees who had not registered, the IFRC said in its annual World Disasters Report.
Around 20 million people were living in so-called "prolonged displacement", including around 5 million Palestinians living in camps run by the United Nations' UNRWA agency in the Middle East since the late 1940s.
The figure of 72 million forced migrants compares to 101 million at the end of 2010, 75 million in 2009 and 92.3 million in 2008.
The wide fluctuations are largely due to the irregularity of major natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, droughts and cyclones, the Federation said.
(Reporting by Robert Evans; Editing by Kevin Liffey)