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The world now harbours 80 million refugees – UN renews appeal for an end to conflicts on World Refugee Day

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The world now harbours 80 million refugees – UN renews appeal for an end to conflicts on World Refugee Day

  • Figures of refugees reached 79.5 million in 2019,
  • 10 million people fled their countries in 2019
  • Nearly seven in 10 of those displaced came from Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar,
  • UN High Commissioner for Refugees calls COVID-19 ‘livelihoods crisis’; worried about mass movements across the borders

 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has renewed the UN’s appeal to feuding parties in crises devastated places to embrace peace. Guterres stated the UN position in a special message on the World Refugees Day. Global displacement reached a staggering 79.5 million people last year – almost double the number of people in crisis registered a decade ago – owing to war, violence, persecution and other emergencies. The position was canvassed in a UN statement today.

Guterres reminded countries of their fundamental obligation to protect the nearly 80 million people worldwide forced to flee their homes due to conflict, persecution and other crises.  Additionally, the UN chief also praised those nations and communities hosting refugees and internally displaced people, often amid their own economic and security challenges. “We owe these countries our thanks, our support and our investment,” he said.

Global displacement is at a record high, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR  Figures reached 79.5 million in 2019, with 10 million people fleeing in the past year alone. On World Refugee Day, we pledge to do everything in our power to end the conflict and persecution that drive these appalling numbers”, said Mr. Guterres. Stepping up to COVID-19 While refugees and internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary-General commended them for stepping up on the frontlines of response.

“From camps in Bangladesh to hospitals in Europe, refugees are working as nurses, doctors, scientists, teachers and in other essential roles, protecting themselves and giving back to the communities that host them”, he said. “On World Refugee Day, we thank refugees for their resourcefulness and determination to rebuild their own lives, and to improve the lives of those around them.” In a recent policy brief, Mr. Guterres urged governments to ensure “people on the move” are included in pandemic response and recovery.

A heart for refugees: In a related development, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR is hoping people everywhere will ‘have a heart’ for refugees. The agency has partnered with Twitter and a young Ivorian graphic artist, O’Plérou Grebet, to launch the 2020 World Refugee Day. It consists of two different coloured hands linked together to form a heart, symbolizing solidarity and diversity. The artist, known professionally as ‘O’Plérou’, is famous for creating 365 emojis representing elements of life in West Africa. He is also included on Forbes Africa’s list of young talents under 30.

“Refugees are people like everyone else”, he told UNHCR recently. “Just because you find yourself in another country, it does not mean you are worthless. Friends of my parents are refugees. In 2010, there was a crisis in Côte d’Ivoire after the elections. Those who were close to the previous ruling party had to flee for their lives. So, this impacted people I know.”

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 hosted 85 per cent of those forced from their home. “This continues to be a global issue, an issue for all States, but one that challenges most directly the poorer countries – not the richer countries – in spite of the rhetoric,” he said. Numerous emergencies old and new are behind the massive people flows, from Afghanistan to Central African Republic, to Myanmar, with hotspots including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burkina Faso – and the wider Sahel – and the continuing fallout in Syria, after nearly a decade of civil war.

Staying close to home: UNHCR’s /Vincent Tremeau stated in a release that  73 per cent of the 79.5 million on the move have sought shelter in a country neighbouring their own, Mr. Grandi continued, dismissing the regularly politicised misconception, that most migrants and refugees target richer countries far from home. Nearly seven in 10 of those displaced came 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”, he said. COVID impact. Asked about the impact of COVID-19 on mass population movements, Mr. Grandi said that it would “no doubt” push more people into crisis. “I am very worried and we’ve said it to a lot of different Governments that have asked us the question”, he said. “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”.

‘Stagnant’ Rohingya situation: Since the global health crisis began, the agency has also reported an increase in the number of Rohingyas moving from Bangladesh and Myanmar, towards Malaysia and other States in South East Asia.

“That in my opinion is linked more than COVID once again by the very stagnant situation of the Rohingya issue”, Mr. Grandi said. “No solution, great poverty and lack of opportunities in the camps in Bangladesh, now maybe also couple with the lockdown that was made necessary by COVID that has added to the hardship.”

Venezuelans’ mass movement: For the first time, Venezuela’s 3.5 million displaced people feature in the UNHCR report, accounting in part for the significant rise, compared with the 2018-19 data. Taking into account people forced to move multiple times as a net figure, the total displacement figure for 2019 is not 8.7 million, but 11 million.

This covers 2.4 million people who sought protection outside their country and 8.6 million who were newly displaced within the borders of their countries, according to the agency.

Many displaced populations failed to find long-lasting solutions for rebuilding their lives last year, with only 317,200 refugees able to return to their country of origin and only 107,800 resettled in third countries, UNHCR said.

Displaced children in their millions

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.

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 Palestine refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Pix credit — UN Women/Allison JoyceA woman holds her child in Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.