The number of people forcibly displaced around the world has doubled in the past decade and is estimated to have passed 80 million in mid-2020, as few could go home and more were uprooted, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a report published on Wednesday.
That total, roughly equivalent to the population of Germany or Turkey, includes people displaced within their own country, refugees, asylum seekers and others who have been forced out of their own country.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the numbers had risen as the international community had failed to safeguard peace.
Global ceasefire now
“We are now surpassing another bleak milestone that will continue to grow unless world leaders stop wars”, Mr. Grandi said in a statement, resonating with the UN Secretary-General's call for a global ceasefire amidst the collective struggle to turn the COVID tide.
The year saw a continuation of the conflicts and humanitarian crises in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Somalia, and Yemen that have driven people from their homes in previous years, as well as significant new displacement resulting from brutal violence, including rape and executions, across Africa’s Central Sahel region.
But 2020 also added a new factor: the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While COVID-19 has temporarily led to a reduction in the number of new asylum-seekers due to movement restrictions and border closures, including when no exceptions are made for admission to territory, the underlying factors leading to conflict in situations globally remain unaddressed”, the UNHCR report said.
“At the same time, resettlement countries are accepting smaller numbers of refugees, and host countries are struggling to integrate displaced populations. Restrictions on movement and concerns about transmission of the virus have resulted in some solutions programmes being almost entirely suspended.”
Syrians and Venezuelans
As the first wave of the pandemic was in progress during April, 168 countries had fully or partially closed their borders, with 90 countries making no exception for people seeking asylum; although 111 countries have since found pragmatic ways to keep their asylum system fully or partially operational, UNHCR said.
The mid-year figure of 80 million includes 26.4 million refugees, including 5.7 million under the mandate of the UN Palestinian relief agency UNRWA, plus 4.2 million asylum-seekers and 3.6 million Venezuelans displaced abroad.
Those figures come on top of the 45.7 million people who were displaced around the world at the start of 2020 – a number that was not updated in UNHCR’s latest calculation.
The biggest group of refugees are victims of almost a decade of war in Syria, totalling 6.6 million. Neighbouring Turkey, with 3.6 million refugees, remains the world’s biggest host nation for refugees, followed by Colombia, Pakistan and Uganda.
Germany – another major destination for Syrians fleeing the conflict – hosts 1.1 million refugees, the fifth biggest population globally.
Only one per cent made it home
During the first half of 2020, only around one per cent of the overall displaced population is thought to have gone home, a much lower rate than in the same period of 2019.
The number of internally displaced people returning fell by almost three-quarters to 635,000, with Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, and South Sudan accounting for the bulk of returns. The number of refugees returning fell by one-fifth to 102,600, and 85,000 Venezuelans also returned from neighbouring countries.