Apr 28, 2020 - World

Record 50 million people internally displaced

Economists have worried that one major effect of the coronavirus pandemic could be that Americans become more conscious of their savings and cut back on spending.
Venezuelan migrants in Cali, Colombia, in April. Many have made the long trek home after losing their jobs during the pandemic. Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images

A record 50.8 million people are internally displaced because of conflict or disaster and the novel coronavirus pandemic is making them "more vulnerable."

Details: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) issued the warning to coincide with the release of a report Tuesday showing 45.7 million people have been forced to flee their homes as a result of conflict and violence in 61 countries, mostly in Syria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Yemen and Afghanistan.

Why it matters: Access to health care is limited and social distancing is impossible for many refugees and displaced people, with public health experts concerned about a major outbreak in a refugee camp during the coronavirus crisis, per Axios' Rashaan Ayesh.

The big picture: 33.4 million more people were displaced in their own countries in 2019 — the highest annual figure since 2012, the Global Report on Internal Displacement said.

  • 5.1 million people in 95 countries have had to flee their homes because of disasters, the Norwegian Refugee Council's IDMC found. This includes 33,000 people impacted by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.  
  • 24.9 million new displacements were triggered by disasters, including 4.5 million by Cyclone Fani in India and Bangladesh, Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Mozambique and hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. Heavy and prolonged rains resulted in widespread flooding in Africa, resulting in 2 million new displacements.  
  • Some 8.5 million took place in the context of conflict and violence in countries like Syria, DRC, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Burkina Faso.

Zoom in: The coronavirus is already having a devastating effect on displaced peoples.

  • Thousands of displaced Venezuelans who lost their low-income jobs in Colombia because of lockdown measures opted to walk for hundreds of miles to cross the officially closed border and return home, per DW News and the Guardian.
  • In India, people "had to walk hundreds of miles to return to their villages" after lockdown measures were introduced in the country, the IDMC notes.

Of note: Internally displaced people "stay within their own country and remain under the protection of its government, even if that government is the reason for their displacement," the UN Refugee Agency notes. They are often forced into areas where it's difficult to give humanitarian assistance.

The bottom line: Per a statement from IDMC director Alexandra Bilak, COVID-19 will "compromise their already precarious living conditions, by further limiting their access to essential services and humanitarian aid."

Go deeper: The pandemic highlights the man-made disasters to come

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