The Geneva-based UN refugee agency says war, violence, persecution and human rights violations caused nearly three million people to flee their homes last year, even though the Covid-19 crisis restricted movement worldwide.This content was published on June 18, 2021 - 11:36
In its latest Global Trends reportExternal link released on Friday, the UNHCR says the cumulative total of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million. It marks the ninth straight annual increase in the number of people forcibly displaced.
However, the number of asylum applications in Europe has declined. Only 11,041 asylum applications were submitted in Switzerland in 2020, according to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). This is the lowest figure since 2007.
Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said conflict and the impact of climate change in places such as Mozambique, Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Africa’s broad Sahel area were among the leading sources of new movements of refugees and internally displaced people in 2020.
They added hundreds of thousands more people to the overall count, which has for years been dominated by the millions who have fled countries such as Syria and Afghanistan owing to protracted wars or fighting.
The UNHCR said that 99 of the more than 160 countries that closed their borders because of Covid-19 hadn’t made exceptions for people seeking protection as refugees or asylum-seekers.
Some 251,000 refugees were able to return to their country of origin in 2020, either assisted by UNHCR or spontaneously. This is the third lowest number of the past decade, and it continues a downward trend from the previous two years.
Only 34,400 refugees were resettled to third countries in 2020, two-thirds of them assisted by the UNHCR. This compares with 107,800 the year before.
“We urgently need more resettlement places,” said Anja Klug, head of UNHCR’s office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein. “The UNHCR calls on all states to increase their programmes. I hope that Switzerland will also accept more resettlement refugees, especially as the asylum application figures are very low. Resettlement saves refugees dangerous journeys and relieves the burden on states in crisis regions.”
The report said that at the end of last year there were 5.7 million Palestinians, 3.9 million Venezuelans and an additional 20.7 million refugees from various other countries displaced abroad. Another 48 million people were internally displaced in their own countries. Some 4.1 million more sought asylum.
Turkey, a neighbour of Syria, has taken in the most refugees in absolute numbers – 3.7 million – a figure more than twice that of the second-placed host country, Colombia, which borders Venezuela. Afghanistan’s neighbour Pakistan was third.
The UNHCR said that 1% of all humanity is now displaced, and there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than a decade ago. Some 42% of them were aged under 18, and nearly one million babies were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020.
“Solutions require global leaders and those with influence to put aside their differences, end an egoistic approach to politics, and instead focus on preventing and solving conflict and ensuring respect for human rights,” Grandi said.