By Robin Gomes
The number of displaced people around the globe reached a staggering 79.5 million last year according to the United Nations’ latest figures. This is almost double the number of people in crisis registered a decade ago, owing to war, violence, persecution and other emergencies, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Thursday.
The highest recorded
The agency’s annual Global Trends report, which came ahead of World Refugee Day, marked on Saturday, 20 June, shows that 8.7 million people were newly displaced in 2019 alone, with developing countries worst hit.
“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”, UNHCR High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi said. “This,” he said, “is approximately one per cent of the world’s population: we have never reached this very significant percentage.”
Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the UNHCR chief noted that although the issue of displacement affects all nations, data showed that it was poorer countries which host 85 per cent of those forced from their homes.
Numerous emergencies old and new, are behind the massive people flows, from Afghanistan to the Central African Republic, to Myanmar, with hotspots including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burkina Faso - and the wider Sahel - as well as the continuing fallout in Syria, after nearly a decade of civil war.
80 per cent of the world’s displaced people are in countries or territories affected by acute food insecurity and malnutrition; many of these countries face climate change and other disaster risks.
Close to home
Grandi pointed out that 73 per cent of the 79.5 million on the move have sought shelter in a country neighbouring their own, dismissing the regularly politicised misconception, that most migrants and refugees target richer countries far from home.
Nearly seven out of ten of those who are displaced are from Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar, the High Commissioner continued.
“If crises in these countries were solved, 68 per cent of global forced displacement would be on its way to being solved”, Grandi said.
Less hope of returning
The report also noted diminishing prospects for refugees when it comes to hopes for a quick end to their plight. In the 1990s, on average 1.5 million refugees were able to return home each year.
Over the past decade, that number has fallen to around 385,000, meaning that growth in displacement is today far outstripping solutions.
Speaking about the impact of Covid-19 on people on the move, he said the pandemic would “no doubt” push more people into crisis.
“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”.
Since the global health crisis began, UNHCR has also reported an increase in the number of Rohingyas moving from Bangladesh and Myanmar, towards Malaysia and other States in South East Asia.
Grandi pointed out that the hardship of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, without any solution and amid great poverty and lack of opportunities, has worsened with the onset of the Covid-19 lockdown.
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. Tens of thousands of them are unaccompanied.
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 Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). (Source: UN/UNHCR)