UNHCR’s latest Global Trends report reveals there are now more than 80 million displaced people
In 2020 alone, more than 30.7 million people were displaced by disasters, mainly storms and floods (more than three times the number displaced by conflict). The cyclone season was particularly intense for many countries, with May’s Cyclone Amphan forcing 5 million people to flee their homes in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Myanmar.
There’s often a belief that people will return to their homes once floods or storms have passed, but that’s not always the case. Months after the Amphan disaster, almost 300,000 people were still uprooted across Bangladesh. In Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee settlement, UNHCR has been building monsoon-ready shelters to replace those vulnerable to high winds and flooding.
Tragically, conflict and weather disasters often go hand in hand. Ninety-five per cent of all conflict displacements in 2020 occurred in countries vulnerable, or highly vulnerable, to climate change, according to the Global Trends report.
Children make up almost half of all displaced people, and UNHCR estimates that almost one million children were born into refugee life between 2018 and 2020. It is vital that these children receive an education in order to prevent child labour and to equip them with the skills they need to build a brighter future.
Despite lockdowns, there are encouraging signs that more refugee children are going to school. In Turkey, currently home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees, the government prioritised schooling early in the pandemic, helping Syrian refugee children transition into the Turkish public school system. In 2020-2021, nearly 80 per cent of Syrian primary-school-aged children were in formal education.
But barriers remain. Tertiary education for Syrian refugees in Jordan is out of reach for many. Aya, 20, who fled Homs in 2014, graduated high school in 2019 with 98 per cent in her final exams, but can’t afford to fulfil her dream of studying medicine. Instead, she’s halfway through a two-year diploma in pharmacy. “All I hope is to be a doctor,” she says. “That I can go back to Syria and treat people who need it.”
Just over a quarter of a million refugees were able to return to their home country in 2020. This is the third-lowest number of the past decade and continues on a downward trend from the previous two years.
Rates of resettlement also fell dramatically in 2020.
Only 34,400 refugees were resettled to third countries last year, two-thirds of them assisted by UNHCR. This marks a dramatic 69 per cent decline from the previous year, at a time when 1.4 million refugees are estimated to be in need of resettlement because it’s impossible for them to return to their home country.
Fortunately, the US plans to offer a home to more displaced people. In May, President Joe Biden announced he would quadruple the number of refugees allowed into the US this year, and increase it to 125,000 next year. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi praised the move.
“I hope this decision will now inspire other countries to follow suit, to restore or expand their resettlement commitments.”
The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.