Two days prior to World Refugee Day on 20 June, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that by the end of 2020, 82.4 million people had had to flee their homes or had been violently displaced. By way of comparison, that corresponds to the population of Germany. This figure has been on the increase for many years and has now reached a record high.
The majority of those who have been violently displaced, 48 million, are internally displaced persons, those who had to flee within their national borders. In the overall context of violent displacement, this group has once again seen the greatest increase.
The remaining 44.4 million people are asylum seekers and persons who have fled to another country to escape persecution, war and armed conflict. Most of these people live in a country in the vicinity of their own country of origin. Just five countries, including Germany, bear most of the responsibility, having taken in almost 40% of displaced persons across the globe.
More than two-thirds of refugees come from only five countries: Syria remains the largest country of origin in a global context (6.7 million people). It is followed by Venezuela (4 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2.2 million) and Myanmar (1.1 million).
Working together to overcome the pandemic
Refugees and internally displaced persons often have no opportunity to visit a doctor or to buy the medicines they need. Many host countries allow only limited access to local healthcare. In the COVID-19 pandemic particularly, refugees are especially at risk. Many live in cramped conditions and have only basic sanitation. The indirect consequences of the pandemic have also hit refugees and internally displaced persons particularly hard, for many jobs in the informal sector have been lost due to local restrictions and the worsening of the economic situation.
Yet during the pandemic, many refugee communities have also demonstrated their resilience. Within just a few weeks, they managed to prepare refugee camps for the pandemic – with mobile hand washing stations, home-made masks and great consideration for one another. That is the reason why one of the mottos the UNHCR chose for this year’s World Refugee Day, alongside the tenet “Together we can achieve anything!”, is “Together we heal”.
What is Germany doing?
Germany is the second-largest bilateral donor to the UNHCR (around 447 million US dollar in 2020). All in all, the German Foreign Office made available more than 900 million euro for the protection and care of refugees in more than 30 countries in 2020. With Germany’s financial contribution, the UNHCR was, for example, in a position to respond quickly by providing emergency shelters and food for the people in need when several tens of thousands of people had to flee from Tigray in the north of Ethiopia to the Sudan. At the same time, Germany is also an important host country for refugees.
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the German Government is working to ensure that countries can continue to guarantee protection for refugees and that refugees are included in national vaccination plans. To ensure that the UNHCR can effectively curb the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate its consequences, the Federal Foreign Office has made available an additional 70 million euro since the onset of the pandemic.
The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees: adopted 70 years ago and still crucially important
In 1951, after the Second World War, a large of number of countries agreed to adopt an international treaty: the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The Convention was designed to regulate the legal status of those people who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”, have to flee their homes. The Convention provides the basis for the work of the UNHCR. Over the past 70 years, it has helped ensure the protection of millions of refugees – in Germany and all over the world. Particularly as a result of its historical responsibility, Germany strives to ensure that refugees are protected and that the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is respected.
In view of the constantly growing numbers of refugees and in some cases decades-long refugee situations, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees needs to be strengthened and other documents, such as the Global Compact on Refugees, be put into practice. As co-host of the first Global Refugee Forum – a key element in the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees – Germany will continue to work to improve the situation of the millions of refugees around the world.