Skip to main content

Hindu refugees from Pakistan, Mushandi Lal, 34, and his wife Naseeban, 28, sit with their children who watch a video on a mobile phone in their home at a Hindu refugee settlement where they live near Majnu ka Tilla in New Delhi, India, June 3,2020.ANUSHREE FADNAVIS/Reuters

Almost 80 million people were forcibly displaced by war, violence and persecution by the end of 2019, representing one per cent of the world’s population, says a new report from the United Nations Refugee Agency.

The annual report on forced displacement globally, released Thursday, shows that about 10 million people have been displaced since 2018. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says this is the result of conflict, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Syria and Venezuela. The report also says that only 107,800 refugees were resettled in other countries.

“This year’s report represents the single most dramatic increase we’ve ever seen from one year to the next. It’s actually the highest ever recorded displacement we have ever documented since we started collecting this information,” said Rema Jamous Imseis, the UN refugee agency’s representative to Canada.

The agency commended Canada for welcoming more than 31,000 refugees last year, which is the highest resettlement number globally. The United States took in 27,500 and Australia,18,200.

“That recognition, I think, is testament largely to the generosity of spirit of individual Canadians who have really taken this call of solidarity and trying to make life better for those in the world who are suffering from extreme vulnerability and risk and welcoming them here into Canada,” Ms. Jamous Imseis said.

She said Canada’s private sponsorship program in particular is a reflection of that “generosity.” Canada was the first country in the world to adopt a refugee system where private citizens and community groups can sponsor refugees from abroad.

The report said that while resettlement is primarily facilitated by UNHCR in most countries, in Canada almost 58 per cent of people resettled during the past decade were conducted through private sponsorship. It also said that research commissioned last year by UNHCR in Canada showed that refugees are creating jobs for themselves and other Canadians, with almost 1 in 7 refugees self-employed or business owners.

Of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced worldwide, 26 million are refugees, the report said, and 45.7 million people are internally displaced. The report found that about 30-34 million displaced persons were children under 18 years old.

Many people who are displaced have not been able to rebuild their lives. Just over 300,000 refugees returned to their country of origin, and about 5.3 million internally displaced people returned to their place of residence last year. However, the report said, people returned home under adverse circumstances where their safety could not be assured.

At the end of last year, Syrians continued to be the largest forcibly displaced population worldwide, the UN agency said, with more than six million refugees and more than six million people internally displaced.

About 4.5 million Venezuelans left their country by the end of last year, marking the largest exodus of people in the region’s recent history.

The report said it is difficult to predict future displacement trends. In the mid-1990s until about 2010, the number of people displaced remained relatively stable, it said, because many people who were displaced eventually repatriated or resettled in third countries.

The past decade, though, has brought a marked change where more people sought refuge with fewer options to rebuild their lives as wars and conflicts in their home countries persisted.

“We are witnessing a changed reality in that forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread but is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon,” Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in the report.

Climate change and natural disasters, hunger and poverty also exacerbate threats that force people to leave their homes, the report said. Similarly, the agency found, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact for asylum seekers, with the number of applications in Europe dropping significantly as countries close their borders or impose restrictions.

Ms. Jamous Imseis said the protracted conflicts that have forced people to flee their homes need solutions from the international community.

“Political actors need to find political solutions to these problems to prevent the continued perpetuation of conflict so that people can return to their countries of origin, [so] people can go home,” she said.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.