Pandemic worsened war, crises displacement

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the number of people fleeing war and persecution continued rising last year, with global displacement climbing to over 82 million—double the figure a decade ago, the UN said Friday.

A fresh report from the UN refugee agency showed global displacement figures swelled by around three million in 2020 after an already record-breaking year in 2019, leaving a full one percent of humanity uprooted and displaced.

The report highlighted how drawn-out crises like those in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen were continuing to force people to flee, while eruptions of violence in places like Ethiopia and Mozambique were causing surging displacement.

The fact that the numbers rose for the ninth straight year was all the more devastating because COVID-19 restrictions had been expected to limit displacement.

During the pandemic, “everything else has stopped, including the economies, but wars and conflict and violence and discrimination and persecution, all the factors that pushed these people to flee, have continued,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi told AFP.

The UN agency found that by the end of 2020, a record 82.4 million people were living as refugees or asylum seekers, or in so-called internal displacement within their own countries, up from some 40 million in 2011.

A full 42 percent of the world’s displaced are girls and boys under the age of 18.

“The tragedy of so many children being born into exile should be reason enough to make far greater efforts to prevent and end conflict and violence,” Grandi said.

Some 26.4 million people were living as refugees at the end of 2020, including 5.7 million Palestinians.

Some 3.9 million Venezuelans were also displaced beyond their borders without being considered refugees, while 4.1 million people were registered worldwide as asylum seekers. 

But while both refugee and asylum seeker numbers remained relatively flat from 2019, the number of people displaced within their own countries surged by more than two million to 48 million, the report said.

This was perhaps not surprising, given that the factors that generally force people to flee did not disappear during the pandemic, but the possibility to cross borders largely did.

In 2020, at least 164 countries closed their borders because of COVID-19, and more than half of them made no exceptions for asylum seekers and refugees fleeing for their lives.

“In a situation of increased conflict and violence, in a situation in which borders have been difficult to cross because of Covid, inevitably the figure... that has gone up is that of internally displaced people (IDPs),” Grandi told reporters. 

Topics: coronavirus pandemic , United Nations , global displacement , Filippo Grandi
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