Record number of people forced to flee their homes in war zones this year, what UNHCR calls a “dark milestone”.
Despite calls for a ceasefire and compassion amid the coronavirus pandemic, violence and persecution continued to force people out of their homes, with record numbers displaced, according to the United Nations.
At the end of 2019, 79.5 million people were living uprooted and displaced, including nearly 30 million refugees, or more than one percent of the world’s population.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday that preliminary figures showed more people had been forced to flee in 2020, pushing the number beyond 80 million.
“We are now crossing another dark milestone that will continue to grow unless world leaders stop the wars,” UNHCR, head of the UN refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, said in a statement.
In March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire as the world battles the pandemic, which has now killed more than 1.5 million people.
However, as some factions heeded the call, UNHCR said preliminary figures for the first half of 2020 showed violence in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Somalia and Yemen resulted in further travel.
Africa’s central Sahel region has also seen significant further displacement due to violence, including rape and executions, UNHCR said.
“With forced displacement having doubled in the past decade, the international community is failing to safeguard the peace,” Grandi said.
COVID-19 ‘disrupted human life’
The UN agency stressed that instead of appeasing conflicts, the coronavirus crisis has “disrupted all aspects of human life and seriously exacerbated the existing challenges for forcibly displaced and stateless people”.
He said measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 had made it more difficult for refugees to find safety.
At the height of the first wave of transmission in April, for example, 168 countries totally or partially closed their borders, including 90 that made no exceptions for asylum seekers.
Since then, however, 111 countries have found “pragmatic solutions” to ensure that asylum processes remain functional, UNHCR said.
Despite this, new asylum applications fell by a third in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2019.
At the same time, the number of vulnerable refugees resettled in third countries was halved, to just 17,400 in the first half of the year.