The number of people forcibly displaced worldwide is higher than ever. By the end of 2020, 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced, including 48 million IDPs and 26.4 million refugees, because of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or events seriously disturbing public order. More than 1 per cent of the world’s population is now displaced, about 42 per cent of whom are children.
This represents a worrying trend that has increased for nine consecutive years and is now more than double the number compared to 10 years earlier. Many people are also driven to forced and voluntary movements for multiple reasons, including environmental factors and/or threats to their human rights and dignity.
The number of refugees remains at a record high, growing from 26.0 million in 2019 to 26.4 million at the end of 2020. Almost 65 per cent of all refugees come from just five countries: Afghanistan, DRC, Myanmar, South Sudan and Syria. Developing countries host 83 per cent of refugees, while the least developed countries have provided asylum to 33 per cent of this total. Of these refugees, at least 40 per cent are children and 49 per cent women and girls. Some 5.7 million refugees, migrants and asylum seekers remained displaced from Venezuela at mid-2021.
COVID-19 disruptions have further hampered efforts to find durable solutions. Despite efforts to adapt asylum procedures, the number of new applications worldwide was 45 per cent lower in 2020 than in 2019. In 2020, fewer than 300,000 refugees were able to return to their country of origin or resettle to a third country compared to 425,000 the year before. Some 15.7 million refugees (76 per cent) were in a protracted situation at the end of 2020, similar to 2019.
Internal displacement is also at an all-time high. The number of IDPs due to violence and conflict reached 48 million in 2020, the highest ever figure and a rise of 4.2 million on the previous year. A further 7 million people remained internally displaced due to natural disasters. Millions of IDPs are living in protracted situations, with 40 per cent fewer able to return to their place of residence in 2020 compared to 2019.
Three quarters of the 48 million people displaced due to violence and conflict come from ten countries, nine of which are located in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Following tensions and ensuing violence in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray, the number of people displaced within the country due to conflict stood at 2.1 million by the end of 2020. In Afghanistan, the number of people displaced within their own country, due to persistent conflict and violence, reached 3.5 million at the end of 2020. This is an 18 per cent increase compared with 2019 and the highest figure in more than a decade. By mid-September 2021, a further 678,000 people in Afghanistan were known to have fled their homes due to the increased fighting in the country. Significantly, 95 per cent of new conflict-related internal displacements in 2020 happened in countries with a high vulnerability to climate change.
COVID-19 has also presented interlocking health, socioeconomic and protection crises for forcibly displaced people. The pandemic is particularly devastating for displaced women and children, who experience higher rates of domestic and sexual violence and child marriages. Even before COVID-19, refugee and internally displaced women and girls were at greater risk from gender-based violence (GBV). For example, an estimated one in five forcibly displaced women in humanitarian crises has been subjected to sexual violence – one of many forms of GBV. The pandemic’s socioeconomic impacts have only intensified this risk – heightening tensions in households – while containment measures have created additional barriers to reporting abuse and seeking help. A survey of displaced women in 15 post-conflict settings in Africa found a 73 per cent increase in intimate partner violence and a 32 per cent rise in early marriage between May and July 2020.
At the onset of the pandemic, school closures inhibited learning opportunities for children from forcibly displaced households. Protection measures were often lifted and children were exposed to greater risks, reducing their chances of returning to school when they reopen.
The UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement has called for stepped-up action on solutions anchored in the affirmation of IDPs as rights holders. The panel also called for the recognition of solutions as a development priority, and greater visibility to internal displacement in Government policies, UN strategies, development financing, private sector engagement and the media.
- Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
- UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020, p. 2.
- UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020, pp. 3, 5, 9.
- Report of the UN Secretary-General, In safety and dignity: addressing large movements of refugees and migrants, A/70/59, para. 18. UN/OHCHR, Principles and Guidelines in the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations. PDD, OHCHR, Slow-onset effects of climate change and human rights protection for cross-border migrants, para. 12.
- Including people in a refugee-like situation.
- In 2019, 26 million refugees: 20.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, 5.6 million Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate. In 2020, 26.4 million refugees: 20.7 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, 5.7 million Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate – UNHCR Global Trends 2019, p. 2.
- UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020, p. 4.
- UNHCR, Refugee Data Finder, 18 June 2021.
- Sourced from UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020. Recalculated for refugees specifically.
- UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020, p. 16.
- UNHCR / IOM, Regional Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants of Venezuela
- UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020, pp. 5, 7, 58.
- UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020, p. 7.
- IDMC, Global Report on Internal Displacement, p. 14. Three countries, Syria, DRC and Colombia, accounted for more than a third of the global total.
- UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020, p. 7.
- IDMC, Global Report on Internal Displacement, pp. 8, 14.
- IDMC, Global Report on Internal Displacement, pp. 7, 25, 58.
- Humanitarian Response Info, Afghanistan: Conflict Induced Displacements (as of 24 October 2021), last visited 29 October 2021.
- UNHCR, COVID-19 Deepens Threats for Displaced Women and Children, 5 July 2021.
- IRC, What Happened? How the Humanitarian Response to COVID-19 Failed to Protect Women and Girls, October 2020, pp. 4, 7.
- Answering the Call: Forcibly Displaced During the Pandemic, JDC Paper Series on Forced Displacement, No. 2, 5 August 2021.
- United Nations, UN Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement.