In addition to preventing travel for tourism and business, the closure of the borders of several countries due to Covid-19 has had a more dramatic effect: it has made it difficult for victims of wars and persecution to escape across the country. world.
However, the pandemic could not prevent the number of people forced to leave their homes from breaking a record for the ninth consecutive year: 82.4 million were forcibly displaced in 2020, according to a new report published on Friday (18) . by the UNHCR (United Nations Commissioner for Refugees).
“The pandemic has reduced the possibilities of movement, but it has not ended wars, conflicts, despite the Secretary General’s demands for a ceasefire [da ONU, António Guterres]Says Luiz Fernando Godinho, UNHCR spokesperson in Brazil. “In 2012, there were 45 million people. We have now reached 82 million. The report points out that the uptrend unfortunately persists. We no longer ask if we will reach 100 million, but when will we reach it.
The impact of the health crisis is, however, visible in the data for 2020. The main increase concerns internally displaced people, ie people forced to move to other regions of the country. . They were 48 million, up from 45.7 million in 2019. Among refugees — who seek protection in other countries — growth has been low, from 26 million to 26.4 million.
In total, the increase from 2019 to 2020, of 3.6%, was 1.5 million less than expected had 2020 not seen the pandemic.
At the same time, the number of asylum applications fell by almost half: from 2.3 million to 1.3 million, further reflecting the difficulties of processing during the year. And the number of those who succeeded also fell, from over 950,000 to 765,000.
“The measures to contain Covid-19 have had a direct impact on the functioning of refuge systems around the world. Border closures and restrictions on movement make it more difficult for people to escape wars and persecution for their safety, ”the report said. “This scenario has led many countries to adapt their asylum procedures, adopting remote registers, medical examinations and quarantine at the border.”
In May of last year, 164 countries had their borders closed and 99 of them made no exceptions for the entry of refugees. By December, many had already opened, but 63 countries still vetoed entry for everyone, including those seeking international protection.
UNHCR recommends that governments adopt measures to allow the entry of those in need of refuge without endangering public health. Uganda, for example, has accepted thousands of people from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, demanding that they be quarantined upon entry.
“Countries have the authority and the right to close borders for sanitary control, but it is possible to relax the border with simple measures: mass tests, isolation at the entrance, strengthening of sanitation at the points. transfer ”, specifies Godinho.
The health crisis has also affected the number of returns and resettlements in a third country. Only 251,000 refugees managed to return to their countries of origin in 2020, the third lowest number in the last decade.
As a result, approximately 15.7 million ended the year in extended refuge (for more than five years). Among them are those who left their country many years ago, such as Afghans and Iranians, or more recently, such as those from South Sudan who live in Kenya or Uganda.
And between 290,000 and 340,000 children were born with refugee status last year, according to UNHCR estimates.
Still with regard to children, the number of those who have applied for asylum after having traveled without any member of their family or totally unaccompanied has increased proportionally. They were 21,000 in 2020 (2% of the total), against 25,000 the previous year (1%).
The main countries of origin and destination of refugees have not changed. Eight in ten people seeking protection abroad come from just ten countries, mainly Syria, ranked first since 2014, Venezuela and Afghanistan.
Among the destinations, the ranking places Turkey (Syrians) in first place, followed by Colombia (Venezuelans) and Pakistan (Afghans), confirming the tendency to seek protection mainly in neighboring countries.
Overall, developing countries remain the largest recipients of refugees – 86% of them.
Brazil is mentioned in the report as one of the main destinations for Venezuelans, who are the second nationality with the highest number of people seeking protection outside their country. They were 4 million in 2020, and they are already 5.4 million including 2021 data.
Also in South America, Colombia is once again the champion of the internally displaced, because of the cases accumulated since the 1980s, due to the violence of the guerrillas. Among the most recent movements, African countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Mozambique are cited as examples. In addition to conflict and persecution, natural disasters resulting from climate change and the pandemic itself were the motivations for these displacements.
In Yemen, at least 10,000 people between March and July cited fear of contracting the coronavirus or the impact of the pandemic on the economy as a reason to move to less affected areas of the country.
As the pandemic worsens the economic situation and inequalities in several countries – the World Bank estimates that up to 124 million people have fallen into extreme poverty as a result – UNHCR forecasts for 2021 indicate further growth in the country. number of refugees.
“The scale of food crises worsened in 2020, and protracted conflicts, extreme weather conditions and the Covid-19 economic crisis have exacerbated pre-existing situations,” the report said. “The forecast for 2021 is equally worrying.”