Millions forced out of their homes by violence, persecution amid Covid-19

Africa's central Sahel region also saw significant new displacement due to brutal violence.
Africa's central Sahel region also saw significant new displacement due to brutal violence.PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA • Despite calls for ceasefires and compassion amid the Covid-19 crisis, violence and persecution have continued to force people from their homes, with record numbers now displaced, the United Nations said yesterday.

By the end of last year, 79.5 million people were living uprooted and displaced, including nearly 30 million refugees - more than 1 per cent of the world's population.

The UN refugee agency said preliminary data showed more people had been forced to flee this year, pushing the number past 80 million.

"We are now surpassing another bleak milestone that will continue to grow unless world leaders stop wars," said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi.

In March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire while the world fights Covid-19, which has now killed more than 1.5 million people.

But while some factions heeded the call, UNHCR said preliminary figures through the first half of this year showed that violence in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Somalia and Yemen drove fresh displacement.

Africa's central Sahel region also saw significant new displacement due to brutal violence, including rape and executions, it said.

"With forced displacement doubling in the last decade, the international community is failing to safeguard peace," Mr Grandi said.

The UN agency pointed out that instead of calming conflict, the coronavirus crisis had "disrupted every aspect of human life and severely worsened existing challenges for the forcibly displaced and stateless".

It pointed out that some of the measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 had made it more difficult for refugees to reach safety.

At the peak of the first wave of transmission in April, 168 countries fully or partially closed their borders, including 90 that made no exception for asylum seekers.

Since then, though, 111 countries have found pragmatic solutions to ensure asylum processes can remain functional, UNHCR said.

Despite this, new asylum applications dropped by a third during the first half of the year compared with the same period last year.

At the same time, the number of vulnerable refugees resettled to third countries was slashed in half, to just 17,400 in the first half of the year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2020, with the headline 'Millions forced out of their homes by violence, persecution amid Covid-19'. Subscribe