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Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2019

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Global forced displacement

Almost 80 million people are forcibly displaced

At least 100 million people were forced to flee their homes during the last 10 years, seeking refuge either within or outside the borders of their country. Forced displacement and statelessness remained high on the international agenda in recent years and continued to generate dramatic headlines in every part of the world. As we approach two important anniversary years in 2021, the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 60th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, it is clear these legal instruments have never been more relevant.

Several major crises contributed to the massive displacement over the past decade, and the numbers include people who were displaced multiple times. These crises included but are not limited to the ones listed here:

• the outbreak of the Syrian conflict early in the decade, which continues today

• South Sudan’s displacement crisis, which followed its independence

• the conflict in Ukraine

• the arrival of refugees and migrants in Europe by sea

• the massive flow of stateless refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh

• the outflow of Venezuelans across Latin America and the Caribbean

• the crisis in Africa’s Sahel region, where conflict and climate change are endangering many communities

• renewed conflict and security concerns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Somalia

• conflict in the Central African Republic

• internal displacement in Ethiopia

• renewed outbreaks of fighting and violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

• the large humanitarian and displacement crisis in Yemen.

Tens of millions of people were able to return to their places of residence or find other solutions, such as voluntary repatriation or resettlement to third countries, but many more were not and joined the numbers of displaced from previous decades. By the end of 2019, the number of people forcibly displaced due to war, conflict, persecution, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing public order had grown to 79.5 million, the highest number on record according to available data. The number of displaced people was nearly double the 2010 number of 41 million (see Figure 1) and an increase from the 2018 number of 70.8 million. The most recent annual increase is due to both new displacement and the inclusion in this year’s report of 3.6 million Venezuelans displaced abroad who face protection risks, irrespective of their status – a category that was not included in the broader global forced displacement total in previous versions of the Global Trends report.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burkina Faso, the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria), the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Venezuela) and Yemen represent just a few of the many hotspots in 2019 driving people to seek refuge and safety within their country or flee abroad to seek protection.

The proportion of the world’s population who were displaced continued to rise. One per cent of the world’s population – or 1 in 97 people – is now forcibly displaced. This compares with 1:159 in 2010 and 1:174 in 2005 as the increase in the world’s forcibly displaced population continued to outpace global population growth.

During 2019, an estimated 11.0 million people were newly displaced. While 2.4 million sought protection outside their country, 8.6 million were newly displaced within the borders of their countries. Many displaced populations failed to find long-lasting solutions for rebuilding their lives. Only 317,200 refugees were able to return to their country of origin, and only 107,800 were resettled to third countries. Some 5.3 million internally displaced people returned to their place of residence during the year, including 2.1 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 1.3 million in Ethiopia. In many cases, however, refugees and IDPs returned under adverse circumstances in which the sustainability of returns could not be assured.

At the end of 2019, Syrians continued to be by far the largest forcibly displaced population worldwide (13.2 million, including 6.6 million refugees and more than six million internally displaced people). When considering only international displacement situations, Syrians also topped the list with 6.7 million persons, followed by Venezuelans with 4.5 million. Afghanistan and South Sudan had 3.0 and 2.2 million, respectively (see Figure 2).

Turkey hosted the highest number of people displaced across borders, 3.9 million, most of whom were Syrian refugees (92%). Colombia followed, hosting nearly 1.8 million displaced Venezuelans. Germany hosted the third largest number, almost 1.5 million, with Syrian refugees and asylum-seekers constituting the largest groups (42%). Pakistan and Uganda hosted the 4th and 5th largest number, with about 1.4 million each (see Figure 3).

During crises and displacement, children, adolescents and youth are at risk of exploitation and abuse, especially when they are unaccompanied or separated from their families (these children are referred to as UASC). In 2019, UASC lodged around 25,000 new asylum applications. In addition, 153,300 unaccompanied and separated children were reported among the refugee population at the end of 2019. Both figures, however, are significant underestimates due to the limited number of countries reporting data.