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Forced displacement reaches new high amid COVID: UN

The number of people forcibly displaced reached a new high by the end of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated some pre-existing drivers, a United Nations report has found.

In a report published on Friday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) found that 82.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced at the end of 2020 – the highest number on record.

In 2012, the figure stood at 41 million, while in 2019, it reached 79.5 million.

As a result, more than 1 percent of the world’s population, or one in 95 people, is now forcibly displaced. This compares with one in 159 in 2010.

“The dynamics of poverty, food insecurity, climate change, conflict and displacement are increasingly interconnected and mutually reinforcing, driving more and more people to search for safety and security,” the report found.

The UN said the reported incidents of conflict and violence rose in nearly half of the countries worldwide, despite declining overall in 2020, and that the “magnitude and severity of food crises worsened in 2020 as protracted conflicts, extreme weather and the economic fallout of COVID-19 exacerbated pre-existing situations”.

Although people trying to claim asylum faced “unprecedented challenges” in 2020 and new applications dropped by one million, the UN found that the number of refugees worldwide rose from 20.4 million in 2019 to almost 20.7 million at the end of 2020.

Some 21,000 unaccompanied or separated children lodged new asylum applications in 2020, compared with 25,000 one year earlier.

Eight out of every 10 people displaced across borders originate from just 10 countries; Syrians topped the list with 6.8 million people, followed by Venezuelans with four million.

Turkey hosted nearly 3.7 million refugees in 2020, the largest population worldwide.

Meanwhile, the number of internally displaced people (IDP) stood at 48 million – the highest level ever recorded.

Colombia continues to report the highest number of IDPs, with 8.3 million internally displaced at the end of 2020.

The UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration were forced to halt resettlement departures for several months in the early phase of the pandemic, although they later resumed.

“With many governments closing borders for extended periods of time and restricting internal mobility, only a limited number of refugees and internally displaced people were able to avail themselves of solutions such as voluntary return or resettlement to a third country,” the report found.

Only 34,400 refugees were resettled to third countries, a 69 percent decline compared with 2019, with some 1.4 million refugees estimated to be in need of resettlement.

Future trends

Food crisis forecasts for 2021 are “equally worrying”, according to the UN, with countries such as South Sudan, Syria, and the Central African Republic facing the risk of famine.

Similarly, the number of people pushed into extreme poverty due to COVID-19 is expected to rise to an unprecedented level – between 119 million and 124 million in 2020 – according to the World Bank.

“Based on this trajectory, the question is no longer if forced displacement will exceed 100 million people – but rather when,” the UN said.

“Clearly, the need for preventing conflicts and ensuring that displaced people have access to solutions has never been more pressing than now,” it added.

However, there have been some hopeful signs, the report said, as the US government announced the admission of more resettled refugees – up to 62,500 in 2021 and 125,000 in 2022.

Colombia also declared in February it would grant temporary protection status to more than one million Venezuelans.




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