Record numbers displaced: UN
War, violence, persecution, human rights violations and other factors caused nearly three million people to flee their homes last year, even though the COVID-19 crisis restricted movement worldwide, the UN refugee agency says.
In its latest Global Trends report, UNHCR said the world's cumulative number of displaced people rose to 82.4 million in 2020 - roughly the population of Germany and a post-World War II record.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations' high commissioner for refugees, said conflict and the fallout from climate change in places such as Mozambique, Ethiopia's Tigray region and Africa's Sahel area were key drivers of refugees and internally displaced people.
Such factors added hundreds of thousands to the overall count, the ninth consecutive annual increase in the number of forcibly displaced people.
The millions who have fled countries such as Syria and Afghanistan due to protracted wars or fighting have dominated the UN agency's tally for years.
"This is telling, in a year in which we were all locked down, confined, blocked in our homes, in our communities, in our cities," Grandi said.
"Almost three million people have had to actually leave all that behind because they had no other choice.
"COVID-19 seems to have had no impact on some of the key root causes that push people to flee.
"War, violence, discrimination - they have continued, no matter what, throughout the pandemic."
UNHCR said one per cent of all humanity is now displaced, and there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than a decade ago.
Some 42 per cent of them are under 18, and nearly one million babies were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020.
"Many of them may remain refugees for years to come," the agency's report said.
UNHCR, which has its headquarters in Geneva, said 99 of the more than 160 countries that closed their borders because of the coronavirus did not make exceptions for people seeking protection as refugees or asylum-seekers.
Among recent hotspots, Grandi said hundreds of thousands of people were newly displaced in Mozambique and the Sahel last year, and up to one million in the Tigray conflict that started in October.
"I'm worried that if the international community is not able to stop these conflicts, we will continue to see the rise in the numbers," he said.
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.
The figure is more that twice that of the number two host country, Colombia, which borders Venezuela. Afghanistan's neighbour Pakistan was third.
David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said the UNHCR counts should be "a wake up call for the international community." He appealed in particular to the European Union.
"The triple threat of conflict, climate change and COVID-19 continues to destroy lives and livelihoods, demanding a truly global response," Miliband said.
"As one of the world's wealthiest and most stable regions, the EU can and must be at the forefront of these efforts."
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