28th Jul 2021

Number of people forcibly displaced reaches historic high

  • One percent of the world’s population – or 1-in-95 people – is now forcibly displaced, says the UN refugee agency (Photo: Josh Zakary)

The number of people forced to flee their homes has risen to record numbers, says the United Nations.

A United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report out on Friday (18 June) says 82.4 million people globally were displaced last year.

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"This was more than double the level of a decade ago (41 million in 2010), and a four percent increase from the 2019 total of 79.5 million," it said.

The flare up violence in Ethiopia, as well as on-going conflicts and wars elsewhere, comes against the backdrop of a pandemic caused by Covid-19.

Last year alone saw some 11.2 million newly-displaced people, notes the report. Travel restrictions and border closures meant a relatively few number of people (251,000) were able to resettle elsewhere or return to their home countries.

"This is the third-lowest number of the past decade, and it continues a downward trend from the previous two years," notes the report. Of those some 34,400 were resettled refugees, compared to 107,800 in 2019.

Turkey remains the top host country for refugees, with just under four million, mostly Syrian, people.

Colombia comes second with over 1.7 million, followed by Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.4 million) and Germany (1.2 million).

Similar observations were made earlier this week by the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), António Vitorino.

He told MEPs that the pandemic had triggered an unprecedented health, humanitarian, social, economic, and human rights crisis.

He said those impacts, coupled with extreme poverty, political instability and disasters, have driven humanitarian needs to new levels.

"At the end of last year, over 235 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance and protection," he said.

He said the imposition of border restrictions and travel bans had also left migrants stranded, including seasonal workers and many others.

He noted working migrants still managed to send some $545bn in remittances last year, an overall sum that surpasses foreign direct assistance and foreign direct investment.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of migration in Africa remains inside the continent, he said.

For its part, the European Union has been negotiating an EU resettlement scheme for the past three years.

"It is about time we conclude this file and adopt it as soon as possible," said Spanish socialist MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar. The EU had also recently adopted a Blue Card directive to attract high skilled workers from abroad.

"We are an aging continent and that is quite clear," noted Portugal's minister of home affairs, Eduardo Cabrita. But the thrust of the EU's migration policy still remains focused on preventing unwanted arrivals, as it seeks to secure deals with countries of origin and transit.

Some 54 ministers of foreign affairs and home affairs in March had gathered to discuss the external dimension of migration. Those talks have helped set the stage for an EU summit among heads of government and state later this month.

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