UN: refugee numbers increase despite Covid border closures

The world hit a new peak in 2020 with 82.4 million people displaced even with pandemic travel restrictions

epa09250436 Rohingya refugees talk to UNHCR representative on Idaman island, East Aceh, Indonesia, 06 June 2021. About 81 Rohingya refugees were found stranded on Idaman Island in East Aceh Regency on Friday, 04 June. M. Ilyas, leader of the group of Rohingya refugees, said they previously departed from Bangladesh on 11 February heading to Malaysia and were later stranded in the Andaman Sea, India for four nights due to boat engine failure. They were rescued by Indian coast guards and given food and supplies before being sent back to the open seas. The refugees have been adrift for months before their boat ran aground on Idaman islands in Aceh, Indonesia.  EPA/HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK
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The number of people who fled war, violence and persecution rose again in 2020 to more than 82 million despite the closing of borders and travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, the UN said on Friday.

Filippo Grandi, the UN refugee commissioner, said the number of people forced to flee their homes increased by 4 per cent, from 79.5 million at the end of 2019 to about 82.4 million at the end of last year, a record high.

The numbers of refugees and internally displaced people grew despite travel restrictions in more than 160 countries at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, UNHCR said in its annual report.

"We're talking about the year of Covid-19 – the year where we didn't move, where we were confined, locked down," Mr Grandi said in New York this week before the report's release.

“In spite of that, there are three million more people who have been compelled to flee because of war, because of discrimination, because of persecution and other forms of violence.”

By the end of 2020, UNHCR counted 20.7 million refugees globally, 4.1 million asylum seekers, 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, 3.9 million Venezuelans displaced abroad and 48 million people uprooted within their own borders.

This represents a doubling of the number of people forcibly displaced over the past decade, Mr Grandi said.

This means that "1 per cent of humanity" have had to flee their homes, he said.

"In spite of appeals for a global ceasefire, in spite of peace efforts, redoubled in many places, conflicts have not ceased," Mr Grandi said.

"New conflicts have emerged and all conflicts continue to be unresolved. Think of Afghanistan, of Somalia, of Tigray. Think of displacement in the Sahara that has dramatically increased."

Syria remains the world’s top source for refugees, with 6.7 million Syrians having fled their homeland.

Other countries in the top five were Venezuela (4 million refugees), Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2 million) and Myanmar (1.1 million).

Many of those uprooted are children. Girls and boys aged under 18 make up 42 per cent of those forcibly displaced around the world, and as many as one million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020, Mr Grandi said.

The agency’s annual report was released on Friday before World Refugee Day, which is held on June 20 each year.

The Afghan-Canadian artist Hangama Amiri, born a refugee in a camp in Pakistan, designed an emoji to mark this year's event.