Just under 80 million people were forcibly displaced globally in 2019 due to “persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or events seriously disturbing public order,” according to a new Global Trends report from UNHCR, the United Nations’ (UN) Refugee Agency.
The 79.5 million figure pushes the total number of forcibly displaced people worldwide to more than 1% of humanity — the highest total ever recorded by UNHCR.
According to the aid agency, “fewer and fewer of those who flee [are] able to return home.”
Of the new forcibly displaced individuals in 2019, 26 million people are considered refugees, 46.7 million are internally displaced, and 4.2 million are asylum-seekers. Just under 70% of all refugees and people displaced abroad originated from five nations — Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar.
The report also reveals that around 40% of all forcibly displaced individuals are below 18 years of age.
"We are witnessing a changed reality in that forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread but is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, in a media release. “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. We need a fundamentally new and more accepting attitude towards all who flee, coupled with a much more determined drive to unlock conflicts that go on for years and that are at the root of such immense suffering.”
Carina Hoang was just 16 years old when she fled war-torn Vietnam in 1979 by boat.
After spending time in the Galang refugee camp, Hoang finally resettled in the US, where she and a few of her siblings continued their education. Fourteen years later, she reunited with her parents and other siblings, before migrating to Australia with her Australian-born husband and their daughter in 2007.
Hoang, now an Australia for UNHCR Special Representative, acclaimed author, publisher, and actor, told Global Citizen she is saddened by the figures and explained her life would have been exponentially different had she never been resettled.
"I think that inevitably, my emotional and mental health would have deteriorated. It’s unavoidable because of boredom and uncertainty, lack of life purpose, and feeling trapped with nothing to do,” Hoang said. “My physical health would have continued to suffer greatly too, from malnutrition or disease, not to mention the danger for an unaccompanied minor female like myself.”
Hoang added: “After fleeing my war-torn country and persecution — and then enduring a treacherous sea journey — I could not imagine being stuck in Galang refugee camp indefinitely. It was a life without hope.”
Hoang said her experience reflects the experiences of many refugees.
"I didn’t choose to be a refugee; I was a victim of circumstances that I had no control over. At a young age, I just wanted to be with my parents and family and live in my country. I did not wish to make a dangerous journey alone, but we were persecuted, and I had to escape my war-torn country in search of safety. I survived a life-threatening escape and endured extreme hardships in a refugee camp,” she told Global Citizen. “My story is not unique; it is a typical refugee story.”
Now, Hoang has urged world leaders to realize the positive impact refugees have on communities and expedite efforts to stop wars, prevent violence, and help refugees and asylum seekers rebuild their lives.
"When I was given refuge — I felt safe, I had restored hopes and was able to pursue my dreams. Now, I am a proud citizen of Australia, and I embrace the opportunities to give back and to contribute to my community whenever I can,” she said. “At the end of 2019, the world witnessed a shocking figure of 79.5 million displaced people. I urge world leaders to work together to stop war and prevent violence. I urge world leaders to give hope to displaced people and give them the tools to rebuild their lives so they can give back and help make their resettlement country prosperous.”
The latest data in the Global Trends report is being used by the UNHCR to form policy around the refugee crisis.
The organization is also urging governments, humanitarian actors, and development partners to come together with refugees and asylum seekers to find durable solutions for those in need. Typically, durable solutions include addressing the outset of displacement, fostering conditions that enable refugees to return voluntarily to their home countries, and resettlement to a third country.