The Myanmar Coup Has Made The World Refugee Problem Worse

The United Nations refugee agency reports that a record 82.4 million people have been displaced worldwide in 2020 because of violence and persecution, including 680,000 in Myanmar following ethnic conflict and the recent military coup.

According to UNHCR Director Indrika Ratwatte, in Bangkok on Friday, there have been an estimated 200,000 more internally displaced people (IDPs) within Myanmar since the removal of Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government in February 2021.

The majority of the recent IDPs come from the states of Kayah and Kayin, where ethnic groups are engaged in armed combat with the military. There are also tens of thousands of displaced people in Shan and Kachin states.

Ratwatte said the situation in Myanmar is of extreme concern, adding that life-saving assistance must be provided to the Myanmar refugees.

After a military crackdown in 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled to neighboring Bangladesh, while more than 100,000 of the persecuted minority remain in camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Forcibly displaced individuals continue to be a global phenomenon, and the numbers are increasing every day, he said.

According to the report, children make up 42 percent of all refugees worldwide, with nearly one million of them born as refugees between 2018 and 2020.

Nearly two-thirds of all people who fled abroad came from just five countries, including 6.7 million from Syria, 4 million from Venezuela, 2.6 million from Afghanistan, 2.2 million from South Sudan, and 1.1 million from Myanmar.

A record low of only 37,000 refugees were resettled in a third country in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many countries closed their borders because they feared infection vectors, which also meant that those seeking protection had limited access,” he said.

Ratwatte cited the plight of Rohingya, about 200 of whom died last year while attempting to cross from Bangladesh to a third country.

According to the report, the record number of refugees in 2020 is four percent higher than the previous record of 79.5 million refugees in 2019.

UNHCR oversees about 20.7 million refugees, including 5.7 million Palestinians and 3.9 million Venezuelans.

More than 800,000 Rohingya refugees have registered with the UNHCR in Bangladesh since the latest influx in August 2017. However, the actual number is likely to be much higher since some of them have not been registered, or arrived during earlier waves of mass migration.

“This is a group of people living in 34 refugee camps in an area with about 40,000 people per square kilometer of population density,” Saleh said.

The Rohingya refugees have become more vulnerable to the COVID pandemic, which, like most other countries, has hit Bangladesh.

The government in Dhaka has managed the disease’s spread in the country, as well as in the camps, but the situation remains “unpredictable” with COVID vaccines still in short supply, Saleh said.

A massive fire in Rohingya camps in recent months further worsened the refugees’ already dire situation, destroying about 10,000 of their shelters and making 60,000 of them homeless.

UNHCR reported that millions of people were displaced within their own countries as well as fleeing across borders.

Nader Nadery, a member of Afghanistan’s peace negotiating panel, said armed violence remained the driving force behind Afghanistan’s refugee crisis.

“Unfortunately, that is not likely to change anytime soon,” Nadery said, predicting that factors driving the refugee crisis will continue.

The violence has increased since the United States announced its withdrawal of coalition troops, with the Taliban and other armed groups increasing attacks on towns and villages, he said. There has also been an increase in targeted killings against certain sectors of society and ethnic groups, such as Hazaras.

The ongoing drought in Afghanistan has also contributed to the displacement, as has the continuing spread of COVID-19, Nadery said. At least 3,800 deaths have been reported due to COVID in the country so far.

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