More than 80 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as of mid-2020, with existing and new conflicts as well as the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affecting their lives this year, a UN report has said. According to its report on trends in global forced displacement released on Wednesday in Geneva, The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR estimates that global forced displacement surpassed 80 million at mid-year.
At the beginning of this year it said that about 79.5 million people had been forced from their homes due to persecution, conflict, and human rights violations. This total included 45.7 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 29.6 million refugees and others forcibly displaced outside their country, and 4.2 million asylum seekers. Existing and new conflicts and the novel coronavirus have dramatically affected their lives in 2020, the UN agency said. An estimated 3034 million (38-43 percent) of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced persons are children below 18 years of age (end-2019).
More than two-thirds of all refugees under UNHCR’s mandate and Venezuelans displaced abroad came from just five countries – as of mid-2020- Syria (6.6 million), Venezuela (3.7 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), South Sudan (2.3 million) and Myanmar (1 million). Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees, with 3.6 million people. Colombia is second with 1.8 million, including Venezuelans displaced abroad. The agency noted that for people forced to flee, COVID-19 became an additional protection and livelihoods crisis on top of the global public health emergency. The virus has disrupted every aspect of human life and severely worsened existing challenges for the forcibly displaced and stateless, UNHCR said, adding that some of the measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 made it harder for refugees to reach safety.
At the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in April, 168 countries fully or partially closed their borders, with 90 countries making no exception for people seeking asylum. Since then, and with UNHCR’s support, 111 countries have found solutions to ensure their asylum system is fully or partially operational while ensuring necessary measures are taken to curb the spread of the virus.
The agency said despite UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ appeal in March for a global ceasefire while the world fights the pandemic, conflicts and persecution continued. Violence in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Somalia, and Yemen drove new displacements in the first half of 2020, it said, adding that significant new displacement has also been registered across Africa’s Central Sahel region as civilians are subjected to brutal violence, including rape and executions.
With forced displacement doubling in the last decade, the international community is failing to safeguard peace, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said. We are now surpassing another bleak milestone that will continue to grow unless world leaders stop wars, Grandi said. New asylum applications dropped by a third compared to the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, the underlying factors leading to conflicts globally remain unaddressed, the agency said.
Fewer durable solutions were found for the displaced in 2020 compared to the same period in previous years, it added. Just 822,600 displaced people returned home, most 635,000 were IDPs. With 102,600 voluntary repatriations in the first half of the year, refugee returns dropped by 22 percent compared to 2019.
Resettlement travel for refugees was also on temporary hold due to the COVID-19 restrictions from March to June. Consequently, only 17,400 refugees were resettled in the first six months of 2020, according to government statistics, half the figure of 2019. Although the actual number of stateless people remains unknown, 79 countries in the world have reported 4.2 million stateless people on their territory, UNHCR said.
First Published: IST