Coronavirus compounds global crisis of forced displacement

1 / 2
Displaced Syrian, some wearing protective masks, listen as medics hold an awareness campaign on how to be protected against the novel coronavirus pandemic, in a camp for displaced people in Kafr Lusin, in the northwestern province of Idlib, following heavy storms on March 18, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
2 / 2
Short Url
Updated 20 June 2020

Coronavirus compounds global crisis of forced displacement

  • UN refugee agency has released Global Trends Report on June 20 to mark World Refugee Day
  • The report says 79.5 million people around the world were displaced as of the end of 2019 

ABU DHABI: Every minute, nearly 30 people worldwide leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror.

As a result, one in every 97 people on the planet — more than 1 percent of humanity — is forcibly displaced.

These are just two of the many grim statistics cited by the latest edition of the Global Trends Report, which is being released by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to mark World Refugee Day on June 20.

The UNHCR, which has termed the current global refugee crisis as the highest level of human displacement on record, is appealing to nations, governments and individuals to do more to help displaced people find homes and a stable future.

The Global Trends Report says that “an unprecedented 79.5 million were displaced as of the end of 2019,” and that the “UNHCR has not seen a higher total.”

More than half of the displaced population — 45.7 million people — fled to other areas in their own country, thus becoming internally displaced persons (IDPs).

A child sits on a couch found in a street, ravaged by pro-regime forces air strikes, in the town of Ariha in the southern countryside of the Idlib province on April 11, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Another 4.2 million awaited the outcome of asylum requests. The number of “refugees and others” forcibly displaced from their home countries stood at 29.6 million.

Among the displaced are an estimated 30-34 million children, tens of thousands of them unaccompanied, according to the Global Trends Report.

Two-thirds of people displaced across borders originated from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.

From South America to South Asia, the effects of conflict continue to be felt most by neighboring countries.

Three countries hosted displaced people almost exclusively from one country: Turkey (3.6 million Syrians), Colombia (1.8 million Venezuelans) and Pakistan (1.4 million Afghans).

The UNHCR says two factors mainly accounted for the increase in global refugee numbers from 70.8 million at the end of 2018 to 79.5 million at the end of 2019.

An aerial view shows charred tents, after a fire that was reportedly caused by a cooking accident destroyed dozens of temporary shelters housing displaced Syrians, in the Deir Hassan camp for the displaced, in Syria's northwestern Idlib province's northern countryside near the Turkish border, on May 17, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

The first was continued unrest in two areas in Africa — the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Sahel — and in two countries in the Middle East — Yemen and Syria.

Syria, which is in its 10th year of conflict, has created 13.2 million refugees, asylum-seekers and IDPs, who together account for a sixth of the current global population of displaced peoples.

The second factor behind the rise in the refugee numbers, according to the UNHCR, is a better understanding of the situation of Venezuelans currently outside their country.

In recent years, deteriorating political, socioeconomic and human rights conditions in Venezuela have resulted in the displacement of 3.6 million people.

Though not legally registered as refugees or asylum-seekers, many of them require protection-sensitive arrangements.

This means the host country is obliged to avoid applying legitimate control measures in an arbitrary manner when dealing with the cases of asylum-seekers and other categories. Rather, it is encouraged to address and understand the special protection needs of the displaced Venezuelans.

The increase in the numbers of displaced people worldwide is not the only challenge for the UNHCR. The inability of these people to return to their home country is also a growing cause for concern.


World Refugee Day

* World Refugee Day aims to raise awareness of refugee crisis.

* UNHCR says 79.5m people displaced worldwide as of end-2019.

* Children make up 30-34m of displaced population.

In the 1990s, about 1.5 million refugees were able to go back from their host country each year, says the Global Trends Report.

Over the past decade, however, that number has fallen to around 385,000, which means that the problem is in need of new solutions.

“We are witnessing a changed reality in that forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread, it is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon,” said Filipo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees.

Syrian refugees watch from their window as others get tested for the covid-19, during a testing campaign organised by Lebanon's health ministry and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the southern city of Sidon, on May 28, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

The increase in the number of displaced shows the “human impact of decades of crises, wars, social breakdown, violence and persecution, aggravated by the climate emergency, inequality and exclusion.

“People cannot be expected to live in a state of upheaval for years on end, without a chance of going home, nor a hope of building a future where they are.

This year’s World Refugee Day is being marked against the backdrop of another unprecedented crisis: COVID-19, the largest health care emergency in modern history.

A child rests by her family's belongings as Afghan families who arrived from Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, camp at a central Athens square on June 14, 2020 after receiving a blue stamp which allowed them to travel to the mainland. (AFP)

As a result of the pandemic, which has affected 7.8 million people in more than 213 countries, the world’s attention and resources have been diverted away from issues such as the refugee crisis. For the displaced, the consequences have been dire.

Many refugees have lost their livelihood as a result of the restrictions on physical movement that host countries have imposed in an effort to halt the spread of coronavirus infections.

Their access to health care and education has also been affected in countries where the host communities have been hit hard by COVID-19 outbreaks.

This in addition to food shortages, poor living conditions and exposure to the infection in densely populated refugee camps.

The economic and psychosocial repercussions of the coronavirus crisis are of particular concern to the UNHCR, which believes that loss of daily wages will result in hardship for millions of refugees.

Even before the pandemic hit, the fact that 84 percent of the world’s refugees resided in developing regions meant they had limited access to mental health care.

A child sits on the doorstep of his home al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, as Palestinians mark the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba on May 14, 2020. - Palestinians are marking the 1948 Nakba, or "catastrophe", which left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the war accompanying the birth of Israel. (AFP/File Photo)

“COVID-19 is not just a physical health crisis, it is now also triggering a mental health crisis,” said Grandi.

“While many refugees and internally displaced people are remarkably resilient and are able to move forward despite having experienced violence or persecution first-hand, their capacities to cope are now being stretched to the limit.”

In this environment of multiple crises competing for every host country’s limited pool of resources and generosity, the importance of understanding the message of World Refugee Day cannot be overstated.


• On World Refugee Day, the UNHCR is launching its first online collection of home decor products and accessories hand-crafted by refugees.

• Across the Middle East, June 20 is being observed with expressions of solidarity for the displaced, homeless and stateless.

• Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower will be lit up in the color of UN blue, as will Kuwait’s Al-Hamra Tower.

• Egypt is commemorating World Refugee Day with Yadawee, a social enterprise that promotes Egyptian handicrafts. The virtual workshop encourages refugee artisans to talk about their experiences and teach participants how to make their own face masks.

• The UAE’s New York University Abu Dhabi Arts Center, in partnership with the UNHCR, is organizing a virtual play — “Revisit CARTOGRAPHY” — lives seen through the lens of four refugees. The play combines storytelling with interactive video technology, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”