When we last updated our "9 Facts About Refugees" blog post in 2018, an estimated 70 million people around the world had been forced from their homes by disaster, conflict or other life-threatening events. As of 2020 that number has climbed to 80 million, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
That's 80 million people who were caught between two impossible choices this year: follow mandates to "stay home" during a global pandemic, or flee from desperate conditions like famine and war to seek safety elsewhere.
COVID-19 has created new challenges for everyone, but especially those who were already struggling to survive. As we observe World Refugee Day on June 20, here are five new facts about refugees and displaced people in the COVID-19 era.
1. Weather disasters made "sheltering in place" impossible for millions
COVID-19 was not the only emergency in the last year. Changing weather patterns have created larger and more frequent natural disasters around the world, like the back-to-back hurricanes in Central America for example.
In 2020, weather-related disasters like storms, floods, droughts and wildfires displaced three times more people than conflicts did. That is a significant jump from previous years. (For the past decade, weather events have caused only twice as much displacement as conflict.) As climate change worsens, more and more people will be forced to find more hospitable places to live.
3. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened hunger for refugees and IDPs
Already living on the edge of survival, with some literally running for their lives, many refugees have struggled even harder to find enough to eat since the pandemic began.
One survey of people affected by conflict and displacement found that three out of four had lost their income since the start of the pandemic.
In East Africa, millions of refugees have received up to 30% less food assistance in the last year, because the COVID crisis diverted resources away from the World Food Programme. Plus, extended school closures have meant refugee children who normally receive meals at school no longer have access to their most reliable sources of food.
In these communities, which are often just informal camps, starvation remains a bigger threat than the virus.
4. Hunger can lead to desperate choices
Being malnourished has serious consequences on health. It weakens the immune system, increasing a person's risk of becoming seriously ill. Malnourished children may become stunted and fail to develop physically and cognitively. But hunger also has devastating impacts beyond physical health.
For example, at least 4 million people in Yemen have been driven from their homes by the country's ongoing civil war, and the number only continues to grow. Nearly half of the population is going hungry, and cases of acute malnutrition among young children are at their at record levels. In a recent survey, three in five people said they could not afford basic items, and some are resorting to child labor and child marriage to ease expenses and feed their families.
5. The needs are vast, especially as the pandemic continues, but you can help
Climate, conflict and COVID-19 continue to force people from their homes in large numbers. But no matter where they live, they are our neighbors. They are mothers and fathers who want their children to grow up healthy. They are children who deserve nourishment, peace and stability.