Nearly 80 million people were forcibly displaced globally by the end of 2019 as a result of war, violence, persecution and other emergencies, according to the United Nations.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in its annual report on displacement released on Thursday noted that an additional 11 million people were newly displaced in 2019 alone, with developing countries the worst-hit. The number is almost double the total figure over the past decade.
While 2.4 million sought protection outside their country, 8.6 million were newly displaced within the borders of their countries. Many displaced populations failed to find long-lasting solutions for rebuilding their lives, with only 317,200 refugees able to return to their country of origin and only 107,800 resettled in third countries, the UNHCR said in the report released ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20.
The global displacement number of 79.5 million or one in every 97 people on the planet at the end of 2019 is almost double the number of people in crisis registered a decade ago, it noted.
“This almost 80 million figure — the highest that UNHCR has recorded since these statistics have been systematically collected, is of course a reason for great concern. This is approximately one per cent of the world’s population, we have never reached this very significant percentage,” UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi said.
Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees chief noted that although the issue of displacement affects all nations, data showed that it was poorer countries which hosted 85 per cent of those forced from their home.
“This continues to be a global issue, an issue for all States, but one that challenges most directly the poorer countries – not the richer countries – in spite of the rhetoric,” he said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminded countries of their fundamental obligation to protect the nearly 80 million people worldwide forced to flee their homes due to conflict, persecution and other crises.
In his message to mark the World Refugee Day, the UN chief also praised those nations and communities hosting refugees and internally displaced people, often amid their own economic and security challenges.
“We owe these countries our thanks, our support and our investment, he said.
While refugees and internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary-General commended them for stepping up on the frontlines of response.
“From camps in Bangladesh to hospitals in Europe, refugees are working as nurses, doctors, scientists, teachers and in other essential roles, protecting themselves and giving back to the communities that host them, he said.
Numerous emergencies old and new are behind the massive people flows, from Afghanistan to Central African Republic, to Myanmar, with hotspots including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burkina Faso — and the wider Sahel — and the continuing fallout in Syria, after nearly a decade of civil war, the report said.
About 73 per cent of the 79.5 million on the move have sought shelter in a country neighbouring their own, Grandi said, dismissing the regularly politicised misconception that most migrants and refugees target richer countries far from home.
Nearly seven in 10 of those displaced came from Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar, he said.
“If crises in these countries were solved, 68 per cent of global forced displacement would be on its way to being solved,” Grandi said.
Asked about the impact of COVID-19 on mass population movements, he said it would “no doubt” push more people into crisis.
“I am very worried and we’ve said it to a lot of different governments that have asked us the question,” he said.
“The livelihoods crisis…the increased poverty of these populations, in my opinion — coupled with lack of solutions to a situation of conflict and in situations like the Sahel, with a deterioration of security — there’s no doubt it will increase population movements in the region but also beyond, towards Europe,” Grandi said.
Since the global health crisis began, the agency has also reported an increase in the number of Rohingyas moving from Bangladesh and Myanmar, towards Malaysia and other States in South East Asia.
That in my opinion is linked more than COVID-19 once again by the very stagnant situation of the Rohingya issue, Grandi said. No solution, great poverty and lack of opportunities in the camps in Bangladesh, now maybe also couple with the lockdown that was made necessary by COVID that has added to the hardship.
For the first time, Venezuela’s 3.5 million displaced people feature in the UNHCR report, accounting in part for the significant rise, compared with the 2018-19 data.
In terms of the ages of those affected, the UN agency estimates that around 30 to 34 million of the world’s 79.5 million forcibly displaced, are children. Of the near 80 million people cited in the report, 26 million are refugees; 20.4 million come under UNHCR’s mandate and 5.6 million are Palestine refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).