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Forced displacement passes 80 million by mid-2020 as COVID-19 tests refugee protection globally

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Forced displacement passes 80 million by mid-2020 as COVID-19 tests refugee protection globally

9 December 2020
Uganda. Borders opened to thousands fleeing Congo violence
A Congolese asylum-seeker holds her six-month-old child in Zombo, Uganda, close to border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), July 2020.

While a full picture for 2020 is yet to be established, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, estimates that global forced displacement surpassed 80 million at mid-year, according to a report on trends in global forced displacement released today in Geneva.

At the beginning of this year, some 79.5 million people had been forced from their homes due to persecution, conflict, and human rights violations. This total included 45.7 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 29.6 million refugees and others forcibly displaced outside their country, and 4.2 million asylum seekers. Existing and new conflicts and the novel coronavirus have dramatically affected their lives in 2020.

Despite the U.N. Secretary-General’s urgent appeal in March for a global ceasefire while the world fights the pandemic, conflicts and persecution continued. Violence in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Somalia, and Yemen drove new displacements in the first half of 2020. Significant new displacement has also been registered across Africa’s Central Sahel region as civilians are subjected to brutal violence, including rape and executions .

“With forced displacement doubling in the last decade, the international community is failing to safeguard peace,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We are now surpassing another bleak milestone that will continue to grow unless world leaders stop wars.”

For people forced to flee, COVID-19 became an additional protection and livelihoods crisis on top of the global public health emergency. The virus has disrupted every aspect of human life and severely worsened existing challenges for the forcibly displaced and stateless.

Some of the measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 made it harder for refugees to reach safety. At the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in April, 168 countries fully or partially closed their borders, with 90 countries making no exception for people seeking asylum. Since then, and with UNHCR’s support and expertise, 111 countries have found pragmatic solutions to ensure their asylum system is fully or partially operational while ensuring necessary measures are taken to curb the spread of the virus.

Despite such measures, new asylum applications dropped by a third compared to the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, the underlying factors leading to conflicts globally remain unaddressed.

Fewer durable solutions were found for the displaced in 2020 compared to the same period in previous years. Just 822,600 displaced people returned home, most – 635,000 – were IDPs.  With 102,600 voluntary repatriations in the first half of the year, refugee returns dropped by 22 per cent compared to 2019.

Resettlement travel for refugees was on temporary hold due to the COVID-19 restrictions from March to June. Consequently, only 17,400 refugees were resettled in the first six months of 2020 according to government statistics, half the figure of 2019.

Although the actual number of stateless people remains unknown, 79 countries in the world have reported 4.2 million stateless people on their territory.

UNHCR publishes annual worldwide data on forced displacement each June in its Global Trends reports. The Mid-Year Trends report released today is available here.

Global displacement statistics can be accessed at


For more information on this topic, please contact your nearest UNHCR Spokesperson

  • The UNHCR list of spokespersons is available here