After almost a decade of uninterrupted upward trend, not even a pandemic has started to slow down the number of people forced to live far from their homes out of fear. Despite confinement and border closures, the number of forcibly displaced people in the world reached 82.4 million in 2020, 4% more than in 2019, once again exceeding historical figures, according to the latest data published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Unhcr), which requires world leaders to “intensify their efforts” to reverse the crisis of international forced displacement generated since 2011.
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“People were forced to flee their homes throughout the year despite an urgent appeal from the UN Secretary General on March 23, 2020, calling for a global ceasefire to allow a concerted response to the pandemic “, laments the Agency in its annual report. By the end of 2020, the number of people forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations had risen to 82.4 million, the highest number on record according to available data. “The number of migrants Forced to leave their homes for their safety, twice that registered in 2011, when UNHCR began to warn of the continued increase in forced displacement in the world.
More than 1% of the world’s population, that is, 1 in 95 people, has had to migrate by force. Among them, there are 20.7 million refugees under the protection of UNHCR, 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, 3.9 million Venezuelans settled outside their country and 4.1 million citizens still await the response to their request. asylum. Another 48 million people are internally displaced, that is, they have fled war or persecution within the borders of their states.
“Behind each number there is a person forced to leave their home and a history of displacement, uprooting and suffering. They deserve our attention and support, not only through humanitarian aid, but also through the search for solutions to their difficult situation,” he said. declared Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. More than two-thirds of all people fleeing their countries come from just five countries: Syria (6.7 million), Venezuela (4 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2.2 million) and Myanmar (1.1 million).
Asylum requests fall due to the pandemic
Although the total number of forcibly displaced persons has increased, the number of new asylum applications registered in 2020 stood at 1.2 million applications, representing a decrease of 43% compared to the previous year. This is “the largest drop detected in a single year since the records began in 2000,” says UNHCR. The decline can be explained by the border closures established by many countries with the aim of curbing the virus.
According to the report, at the peak of the pandemic, more than 160 countries had closed their borders, 99 of which made no exceptions for people who wanted to ask for protection. “With the introduction of certain measures, such as medical examinations at the borders, medical certificates or quarantines after arrival or remote interviews, the number of countries that found a way to guarantee access to asylum while trying to contain the spread of the pandemic “, maintains Acnur.
Among the countries that have registered the highest number of new individual asylum applications in 2020 is Spain, with 88,800 requests (the majority of Venezuelans, Colombians and Hondurans), only behind the United States (250,800) and Germany (102,600).
However, the largest number of forced displacements in 2020 has occurred within the borders of the countries of origin from which they are fleeing. In total, 2.3 million escaped war, violence or persecution within their own states, driven mostly by crises in Ethiopia, Sudan, the Sahel countries, Mozambique, Yemen, Afghanistan and Colombia.
Most of the world’s refugees, 86%, are hosted in neighboring countries of areas suffering from humanitarian crises, generally of medium or low resources. Turkey, for the seventh year in a row, is the State hosting the largest number (3.7 million), followed by Colombia (1.7 million including displaced Venezuelans), Pakistan (1.4 million) and Uganda (1.4 millions). The only European country that appears in the top five host states is Germany (1.2 million). The least developed countries of the world host 27% of all refugees, points out the UN Agency.
Less resettlement and voluntary return
During the year of the pandemic, the number of people who have been able to return home has been drastically reduced: nearly 3.2 million internally displaced persons and 251,000 refugees were able to return home, 40% and 21% less respectively than in 2019 The mobility restrictions lifted by COVID-19 have prevented more people from qualifying for voluntary return programs.
The global resettlement policy (the transfer of refugees from one host country, generally with less capacity to serve them, to another) has also been affected during 2020, reaching the lowest level in 20 years, as a consequence of the reduced number of places available and COVID-19, indicates the document. In the initial phase of the pandemic, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration suspended resettlement plans for several months, although these activities were subsequently resumed, only 34,400 refugees were resettled last year.
Unhcr also highlights its concern for minors: 42% of all forcibly displaced people in the world are girls and boys. His estimates show that “almost one million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020.” “Many of them risk remaining in exile for years, some potentially for the rest of their lives,” the report says. Some 21,000 unaccompanied children submitted new asylum applications in 2020 compared to 25,000 registered a year earlier. “Considering that new asylum applications in 2020 were reduced by one million due to COVID-19, this figure is disproportionately high,” the document adds.
“The tragedy of so many children born in exile should be reason enough to maximize efforts to prevent and end conflict and violence,” Grandi warned.