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Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2021 [EN/AR]



Global Forced Displacement

"Every year of the last decade, the numbers have climbed. Either the international community comes together to take action to address this human tragedy, resolve conflicts and find lasting solutions, or this terrible trend will continue."
Filippo Grandi
UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Continuing a worrying decade-long rising trend, the number of people forced to flee due to persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing public order climbed to 89.3 million by the end of 2021. This is more than double the 42.7 million people who remained forcibly displaced at the end of 2012 and represents a sharp 8 per cent increase of almost 7 million people in the span of just 12 months. As a result, above one per cent of the world’s population – or 1 in 88 people – were forcibly displaced at the end of 2021. This compares with 1 in 167 at the end of 2012. During 2021, some 1.7 million people crossed international borders seeking protection and 14.4 million new displacements within their countries were reported. This is a dramatic increase from the combined 11.2 million a year earlier. While internal displacement in 2021 was markedly higher than in recent years, the number of people crossing international borders seeking protection remained muted compared to pre-pandemic levels as healthrelated border and travel restrictions remained in effect in many locations. Access to asylum did improve during the year, and most countries that remained closed to people seeking international protection at the end of 2021 had at least introduced some adaptive elements, albeit to varying degrees, rather than keep their asylum systems completely closed. The year was perhaps most notable for the sheer number of existing conflicts that escalated and new conflicts that flared up (see map 1). According to the World Bank, 23 countries, hosting a combined population of 850 million people, faced high- or medium-intensity conflicts in 2021. The number of conflict-affected countries has doubled during the last decade, with women and children disproportionately exposed to deep-rooted discrimination and extreme vulnerability.

In Afghanistan, the events leading up to the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021 resulted in displacement within the country as well as into neighbouring countries. The number of people displaced internally rose for the 15th straight year, even as more than 790,000 Afghans returned during the year.

The conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia led to at least 2.5 million more people being displaced within their country, with some 1.5 million of them returning to their homes during the year.

Violent insurgencies in the Central Sahel region of Africa continued to drive internal displacement, particularly in Burkina Faso. The root causes of conflict in the region include extreme poverty and chronic underdevelopment. The climate crisis, with temperatures in the region rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, is making the humanitarian situation even worse.

In Myanmar, the military takeover in February 2021 ignited widespread violence and forced many people to flee.

With renewed displacement from Venezuela, primarily to other Latin American countries, the number of Venezuelans displaced abroad also grew by more than half a million.

In addition, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen all saw increases of between 100,000 and 500,000 people displaced internally during the year.

While this report is focused on forced displacement in 2021, it is impossible to ignore more recent events in early 2022. The war in Ukraine has captured global attention with, at the time of writing, more than 7 million Ukrainians displaced within their country and more than 6 million refugee movements from Ukraine having been registered. It is one of the largest forced displacement crises since World War II, and certainly the fastest. It should be remembered that refugees fleeing Ukraine are hosted by predominately high-income European countries. They have also been offered temporary protection status by European Union Member States, with more than 2.8 million refugees having registered for such schemes.18 Many of the 36.2 million refugees, asylum seekers and others forced to flee across borders who were already displaced at the end of 2021 faced conditions that were much more dire.

As an example, people forced to flee are heavily impacted by food crises, with many refugees, asylum seekers and people displaced within their countries struggling to feed their families. In Afghanistan, for example, a staggering 55 per cent of the population in the country did not have enough to eat each day. Worldwide, 82 per cent of internally displaced people (IDPs) and 67 per cent of refugees and asylum seekers originated from countries with food crises in 2021. Some 40 per cent of refugees and asylum seekers were hosted in countries with food crises at the end of 2021.

There is also a clear equity gap in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations. As of March 2022, only 1 per cent of the 10.9 billion administered doses worldwide have been given in low-income countries. This means that 2.8 billion people around the world are still waiting to get their first shot. Resources are therefore still needed for immunization-related activities and to ensure last-mile vaccine delivery.

Prior to the war in Ukraine, the global economy was expected to recover to pre-pandemic growth rates between 2022 and 2024. Recent forecasts are more downbeat, primarily due to the resulting impact of inflationary pressures on food and fuel. Low-income countries, hosting nearly a quarter of the world’s refugees, and more than two-thirds of people displaced within their countries are likely to be disproportionately affected. This will compound immediate and longer-term socio-economic challenges faced by displaced populations.

In last year’s Global Trends report, UNHCR predicted that “the question is no longer if forced displacement will exceed 100 million people – but rather when”. The when is now. With millions of Ukrainians displaced at the time of writing, as well as further displacement elsewhere this year, notably in Burkina Faso and Myanmar, total forced displacement now exceeds 100 million people (see figure 1). This means 1 in every 78 people on earth has been forced to flee – a dramatic milestone that few would have expected a decade ago.