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World Refugee Day Marked By Record Surge: UNHCR

FILE: Long line of African refugees in an image produced by UNHCR in observance of World Refugee Day, June 20. Taken 06.18.2021

June 20, 2022 is World Refugee Day, a time for focus and reflection on the record number of people forcibly driven from their homes, their lives, and their dreams by conflict, by hunger, by natural disaster As VOA’s Jeffrey Young reports, Africa unfortunately dominates the statistics.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that 2021 saw the highest number of people driven from home by war, violence between factions, state persecution, and natural disasters since it began compiling records.

The tally by December’s end stood at 89.3 million, according to U NHCR’s “Global Trends Report” issued on June 16. That total combines a record 27.1 million refugees, as well as 53.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were forced from home but remain within their country’s borders.

The 2021 total was eight percent higher than in 2020, and over twice the number driven from home a decade ago. Two major factors last year were the return of conflict to the Tigray region of Ethiopia as well as the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan.

UNHCR’s report says that 2022 is even worse in the wake of the February invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The international agency says with 2021’s sum to start with, over 100 million people worldwide now forcibly driven away.

The situation in Africa is grim.

South Sudan, scene of endless conflict between political factions, led the list of nations with the greatest number of people forced to leave that country in 2021 - nearly 112,500, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). Central African Republic was second on that list, with nearly 102 ,000 people exiting that nation.

While the NRC listed Syria as third, and Afghanistan fourth, Cameroon was fifth-highest at nearly 46,000. The Democratic Republic of Congo followed with just over 35,000 external refugees, and Somalia came in seventh at 34,500 and Nigeria eighth with 31,500.

As for internally displaced people, Syria tops the NRC tally with some 6.6 million people driven from home but still within its borders. But Ethiopia had the greatest number of new IDPs in 2021, with over five million due to renewed Tigray violence.

DRC was second highest on the NRC IDP list, with over 5.3 million. It also came in second on the new 2021 IDP rankings, with over 2.7 million forced from home..

Burkina Faso was fourth on the newly displaced list for 2021, and with conflict continuing there this year, that total is expected to soar. Somalia was next on the newly displaced list, with Sudan and South Sudan coming in ninth and tenth, respectively.

The NRC says that four out of ten refugees worldwide are children.

The UNHCR refugee report spotlighted Nzeda Ndrodza Alphosine, an IDP who had to flee her home in DRC’s Ituri Province in 2019 in the face of militia violence.

She is quoted as saying “I was able to earn a living. I paid my children’s school fees and was able to give them whatever they needed.”

Now, she says, “I feel dejected. I don’t know what to do. There’s hunger, and we have very little to eat here. I feel sad about my children.”

Her story is one that could be repeated in many places, in many languages.

UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi is quoted in the report with a call for global concern and response.

“Either the international community comes together to take action to address this human tragedy, resolve conflicts, and find lasting solutions,“ Grandi states, “or this terrible trend will continue.”