UNHCR – Forced displacement hit record high in 2021 and too few were able to return


Two displaced sisters from Jalalabad pictured in their temporary accommodation in Kabul, Afghanistan. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

GENEVA – The number of people displaced by conflict, violence, persecution and human rights abuses rose for the tenth consecutive year in 2021 to reach the highest level since records began, according to the latest report on global trends released today by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

“Either the international community unites to act to confront this human tragedy, resolve the conflicts and find lasting solutions, or this terrible trend will continue,” said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. .

Since the start of this year, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has pushed the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide to over 100 million. But according to detailed data in the report, last year’s numbers were already at record highs.

At the end of 2021, the number of people forced to flee their homes reached 89.3 million, up 8% from the previous year and more than double the number 10 years ago. This figure included a record 27.1 million refugees and 53.2 million internally displaced persons (those who fled their homes but remained inside their country). This number also included 4.4 million Venezuelans displaced abroad and 4.6 million asylum seekers.

Last year’s increase was fueled by new and existing emergencies, including the events leading up to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, which caused mass displacement in within the country and across borders. The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region forced at least 2.5 million people to flee within the country, and some 1.5 million returned home later in the year.

Violent insurgencies in the Central Sahel region of Africa have caused further internal displacement, particularly in Burkina Faso and Chad. In Myanmar, a military coup in February 2021 sparked violence that forced many to flee, while the number of Venezuelans displaced abroad rose by more than 500,000 last year.

Alemtsehay Hagos Gerezehr, 25, fled violence in northern Ethiopia to seek refuge in South Sudan last year with her son, now two. Pregnant when she arrived, her two-month-old daughter was born in the camp where they now live. Alemtsehay struggles to support her family with food rations in South Sudan, which is facing its worst food crisis in a decade.

“I have a small shop here where I sell soap and coffee beans, but it’s not enough to survive,” she says, sitting in a dirt-floored shelter in Doro refugee camp, in Maban County. “All I want is peace so I can go home.”

South Sudan.  Ethiopian refugees at Doro refugee camp

Ethiopian refugee Alemtsehay Hagos Gerezehr, 25, with her baby girl at Doro refugee camp in Maban County, South Sudan. © UNHCR/Tim Gaynor

Returning home in safety and dignity is the preferred solution for most refugees. Failing that, options include full integration into the community they fled to or resettlement in a third country. However, the speed and volume of displacement continue to outpace solutions for refugees.

Last year, nearly 430,000 refugees were able to return home, a 71% increase on the previous year, but still a tiny fraction of the total.

Of the approximately 1.4 million refugees in need of resettlement in 2021 – including children and adolescents, survivors of torture and violence and the elderly – 57,500 have been accommodated in new countries. This was 67% more than in 2020, but still well below pre-pandemic levels and only 4% of the total requiring resettlement.

UNHCR Global Trends Report: 100 million displaced (UNHCR)

Countries made progress on integration in 2021, with around 56,700 refugees from 161 different countries of origin naturalized in 23 host countries, representing a return to pre-pandemic levels.

The number of internally displaced people (IDPs), who make up about 60% of all people forced to flee their homes, also hit a record high last year, with Syria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Ethiopia and Afghanistan continue to experience the highest levels of internal displacement.

In 2021, IDP returns increased to pre-pandemic levels, with an estimated 5.3 million people returning during the year. However, many countries – including the DRC, Cameroon, Iraq and South Sudan – have seen a drop in the number of people able to return home.

Nzedha Ndrodza Alphosine, a displaced person in eastern DRC, fled her village in Ituri province with her family in 2019 when a militia attacked their home. Now living in a displacement camp in another part of Ituri, Nzedha fears she will never return to her village.

“Life is tough here. In my village, I had a farm with my husband. When we were farming, we received many sacks of maize and sold them. I was able to earn my living. I paid my children’s school fees and was able to give them everything they needed. I cannot afford to pay fees now,” Nzedha said.

“I feel discouraged. I do not know what to do. There is hunger and we have very little to eat here. I feel sad for my children.

Written by Sarah Schafer, with additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in South Sudan and Mary Wambui in DRC.

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