The pandemic will worsen the refugee crisis; the world needs to collaborate to fight for them.
Even as the Covid-19 crisis could prompt a more insular world, it will also exacerbate conditions that force people to flee their homes for survival. The recently released Global Trends in Forced Displacement in 2019 report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that nearly 1% of humanity—79.5 million people—had faced forced displacement. This means one in every 97 people in 2019 has had to leave her native land per force, as compared to one in every 174 people in 2005. The most pressing factors behind forced displacement are conflict, human rights violations, persecution and events that lead to disruption of public order.
Refugee numbers doubled between 2010 and 2019—a decade that saw conflict and civil war in West Asia, with the rise of religious fundamentalism, clashing power centres, and tacit/overt support from Western nations to one or the other party in regional conflicts, force hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, in the most dangerous conditions. The report also finds that 8 out of 10 displaced people across borders in 2019 originate from 10 countries—four of these are in Africa. The refugee crisis will likely worsen as Covid-19 wreaks economic havoc in some of the most impoverished and volatile nations.
Forced displacement leads to socio-economic hardships, wherein the refugees lose livelihoods, health, access to education, etc. For instance, a study on Kenya in 2018 showed that around 58% of the refugees were unemployed, and one-third of them were likely to be deprived or severely deprived with respect to education, health and living standards. It is important that refugees get proper resettlement avenues to prevent such outcomes. To tackle this, the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) suggests two crucial paths.
First, expand access to resettlement and other complementary measures. Second, enable suitable conditions for the refugees to return back to their homes. Over the past decade, merely a million refugees were resettled. Local integration is also a path—very few want to return back to the conflict present in their home countries, but that will be a long and complex process. The report suggests that, for local integration to take place effectively, government institutions, civil society organisations and local communities must proactively foster social cohesion. How far that can be possible in a post-pandemic world remains to be seen.