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By Kristy Siegfried | 19 June, 2020


Forced displacement now affecting over 1 per cent of humanity. Global displacement reached a record 79.5 million people by the end of last year – nearly double the figure recorded a decade ago, according to UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report released on Thursday. The report notes that an additional 8.7 million people were uprooted from their homes in 2019, an increase that UNHCR attributed to “worrying new displacement”, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sahel, Yemen and Syria, as well as the inclusion for the first time of 3.6 million Venezuelans displaced outside their country. The 79.5 million figure – which includes 26 million refugees, 45.7 million internally displaced people and 4.2 million asylum-seekers – represents more than one per cent of the global population. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi noted that forced displacement nowadays is “no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon” but often leaves people living in a state of upheaval “for years on end”. In a virtual briefing to the Security Council on Thursday, Grandi said the COVID-19 pandemic had further exposed refugees’ vulnerabilities, stripping away their hope for a better future. The report came ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June which, due to the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to be celebrated mainly through virtual events this year.

COVID-19 increases economic hardships for Syrian refugees. The economic downtown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed hundreds of thousands of already vulnerable Syrian refugees in the Middle East into an even more desperate situation, increasing their humanitarian needs, UNHCR warned this week. During the past three months, the number of Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who needed emergency cash support increased by nearly 200,000. Many have lost their jobs and are struggling to pay rent and cover basic needs. Spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said UNHCR lacked the funds to extend its programmes to help all those in need. In Jordan, for example, only 17,000 out of 49,000 newly identified vulnerable families have received emergency support. A separate study focused on refugees living in Turkey by the Red Cross and Red Crescent found that 70 per cent of those surveyed had lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic. Even prior to the pandemic, most of the 5.5 million Syrian refugees in the region were living below the poverty line. UNHCR also expressed concern about more than 6 million internally displaced people in Syria where the economy has deteriorated sharply in recent months.

Resettlement departures for refugees to resume. In a joint statement on Thursday, UNHCR and IOM announced that a temporary hold on resettlement travel due to COVID-19 restrictions on air travel has been lifted. The pause in resettlement travel since March has delayed the departures of some 10,000 refugees for resettlement countries, according to the two agencies which noted that they had continued to process resettlement applications and to resettle urgent cases. As travel restrictions begin to lift in many countries, more refugees are expected to depart for resettlement countries. UNHCR noted that the gap between the number of refugees in need of resettlement and the places made available by governments remained “worrisome”. According UNHCR’s latest Global Trends report, 107,8000 refugees were resettled last year.


Dr Heval Kelli, former Syrian refugee and cardiologist, living in the United States

In the midst of so much economic and social upheaval this year, why do you think it’s important to mark World Refugee Day?

“World Refugee Day represents the resilience of refugees. We have been through unimaginable challenges and tragedies to find a place to seek safety. Once we are given the opportunity to build a new life, we are giving back to the communities that welcomed us. Many refugees and immigrants are on the frontlines fighting COVID-19, one of the worst pandemics of our lifetime. My entire family is working on the frontline, dedicated to serving our new home, America.

“We were welcomed by Americans and now it is our turn to be there for the same people who gave us a home. Our experience and resilience prepared us to be part of the solution. Therefore, World Refugee Day highlights the importance of welcoming refugees.”


NGO ship rescues 165 people off coast of Libya. A ship operated by the German NGO Sea-Watch picked up 165 migrants and refugees from rubber dinghies off the coast of Libya on Wednesday in two rescue operations. The first group of almost 100 people included women and children and several people with injuries. Another 65 people were rescued from a second boat later the same day after it was spotted by Sea-Watch’s search plane. The Sea-Watch vessel was the first NGO ship to resume search-and-rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean in over two months. On Wednesday night, another 328 people were intercepted at sea and returned to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard.

Traffickers demand payments for Rohingya refugees stranded at sea. Reuters reports that people traffickers are demanding payments from families for the release of hundreds of Rohingya refugees from boats that have been at sea off the shores of Southeast Asia for several months. Three people with relatives on the boats who left camps in Bangladesh in February told Reuters that traffickers had demanded additional money to bring them to shore. Authorities in Malaysia detained 269 Rohingya brought ashore from a damaged boat last week, but at least one vessel with some 300 passengers remains at sea in an unknown location, according to rights groups.

Fears that COVID-19 spreading silently in Somalia’s camps for displaced. The Telegraph reports on warnings by humanitarians that the coronavirus could be spreading undetected in some 2,000 camps spread across Somalia where 2.6 million people displaced by conflict and natural disasters live. Flash floods in recent months have displaced almost 500,000 more people in the centre of the country, according to the UN. At the same time, swarms of locusts are devouring crops in rural areas. Thousands are now moving into overcrowded camps with few facilities for hand washing. While no COVID-19 cases have been officially recorded in the camps, community leaders report that nine people have died from the virus in camps in and around the capital, Mogadishu.


Djuba Alois, a 75-year-old pastor from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is sharing a new message with other refugees at Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp – how to stay safe from COVID-19. He is one of the many refugees who have stepped up to help respond to the pandemic and is among seven profiled in this story.


More than two thirds of the people displaced across borders at the end of 2019 came from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.