Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed global displacement numbers above 100 million for the first time, and the UN warns the resulting food crisis could force even more to flee their homes.
Some 89.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, abuse and violence at the end of 2021, according to the UN refugee agency’s annual report on displacement, which was released on Thursday.
But as many as 14 million more people have joined that number since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, while surging prices linked to blocked grain exports and disrupted harvests are expected to drive more displacement elsewhere.
“If you have a food crisis on top of everything I have described – war, human rights, climate – it will just accelerate the trends I’ve described in this report,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told journalists this week, describing the figures as “staggering”.
“Clearly the impact if this is not resolved quickly will be pretty devastating.” Already, more people were fleeing as a result of rising prices and violent insurgencies in Africa’s Sahel region, he said. “It is already devastating,” Grandi added.
The numbers displaced – many of them within their own country’s borders – have more than doubled over the past 10 years, according to the UN.
“Every year of the last decade, the numbers have climbed,” Grandi said.
“Either the international community comes together to take action to address this human tragedy, resolve conflicts and find lasting solutions, or this terrible trend will continue.”
The report said that at the end of 2021, some 27.1 million people – a record – were living as refugees, while the total number of asylum seekers rose 11 percent to 4.6 million.
For the 15th straight year, the number of people living displaced within their own country due to conflict increased, reaching 53.2 million.
The UNHCR said last year was notable for the escalation in violence in countries already facing protracted conflict, such as Afghanistan, as well as the emergence of new unrest.
Grandi welcomed the outpouring of support for fleeing Ukrainians but highlighted the contrast with the response to people escaping war in countries like Syria and Afghanistan.
He also criticised what he called a “monopoly” of resources given to Ukraine while other programmes to help the displaced were underfunded.
“Ukraine should not make us forget other crises,” he said, noting the two-year-old conflict in Ethiopia and a drought in the Horn of Africa.
The European Union’s response to refugee crises has been “unequal”, Grandi added. He compared the bickering between states over taking in small groups of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean by boat with EU countries’ generosity towards Ukrainian refugees.
“Certainly it proves an important point: responding to refugee influxes, to the arrival of desperate people on the shores or borders of rich countries is not unmanageable,” he said. The report says that low- and middle-income countries hosted 83% of the world’s refugees at the end of 2021.