The number of people fleeing wars, persecution, violence and human rights violations in 2020 rose to a record 82.4 million despite the impact of the pandemic, the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) says.
This is a 4% increase on top of the already record-high 79.5 million at the end of 2019, according to the UNHCR's latest annual Global Trends report released Friday.
The total has doubled in a decade and more than 1% of the world's population is now displaced; there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than in 2011 when the number was just under 40 million.
While people continued to flee across borders, millions more were displaced within their own countries. Driven mostly by crises in Ethiopia, Sudan, Sahel countries, Mozambique, Yemen, Afghanistan and Colombia the number of internally displaced people rose by more than 2.3 million.
Throughout 2020, some 3.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and just 251,000 refugees returned to their homes – a 40 and 21% drop, compared to 2019, the UNHCR said.
Another 33,800 refugees were naturalised by their countries of asylum. Refugee resettlement registered a drastic plunge. Just 34,400 refugees were resettled last year, the lowest level in 20 years – a consequence of a reduced number of resettlement places and Covid-19.
By the end of 2020, there were 20.7 million refugees under UNHCR mandate, 5.7 million Palestine refugees and 3.9 million Venezuelans displaced abroad. Another 48 million people were IDPs.
A further 4.1 million were asylum-seekers. These numbers indicate that despite the pandemic and calls for a global ceasefire, conflict continued to chase people from their homes, the UNHCR said.
Almost 1 million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020. Many of them may remain refugees for years to come, according to a new estimate of the UN's refugee agency.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said, "While the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Global Compact on Refugees provide the legal framework and tools to respond to displacement, we need the much greater political will to address conflicts and persecution that force people to flee in the first place."
At the peak of the pandemic in 2020, over 160 countries had closed their borders, with 99 states making no exception for people seeking protection.
Yet with improved measures – such as medical screenings at borders, health certification or temporary quarantine upon arrival, simplified registration procedures and remote interviewing – more and more countries found ways to ensure access to asylum while trying to stem the spread of the pandemic.