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June 22, 2020 -- There were more than 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world at the end of 2019, some of them living in cramped refugee camps without proper sanitation, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHRC). That figure represents about 1% of the world’s population, the agency said.

June 20 is World Refugee Day 2020. International officials marked the day by pointing out the extra challenges these refugees face during the fast-moving COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has further exposed their vulnerabilities, it has weakened even more their ability to cope with difficult situations … and stripped away the residual hope they had of a better future,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.

World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said international organizations have an obligation to help refugees.

“We have a shared duty to do everything we can to prevent, detect and respond to transmission of COVID-19 among refugee populations,” Tedros said. “Public health measures that reduce transmission of COVID-19 require strict and sustained implementation. This is difficult to achieve in refugee camps, where the public health situation is weak.

Where do the refugees come from?

The UNHRC said 6.6 million come from Syria, 3.7 million from Venezuela, 2.7 million from Afghanistan, 2.2 million from South Sudan and 1.1 million from Myanmar. Turkey is the top host country, taking in 3.6 million people.

The UNHRC advocates for nations to include refugees into national health responses to the coronavirus, the World Economic Forum said.

UNHCR has also distributed 6.4 million masks and more than 600 ventilators, said Jaime de Bourbon de Parme, UNHCR's senior adviser for Private Sector Partnerships.

“We are currently in the ‘stillness before the storm’ isn’t a question of if the pandemic will hit the refugee population, but a matter of when,” he said, according to the World Economic Forum.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said refugees and displaced people face three kinds of crises: A health crisis because they may live in crowded conditions without proper sanitation; a socioeconomic crisis because they’ve lost their jobs; and a protection crisis, because more nations have imposed border restrictions.

Show Sources

UNHRC. “Figures at a Glance”

UNHRC. "Resolving displacement critical for regional, international stability – UN refugee chief"

World Economic Forum. "On World Refugee Day, a look at how COVID-19 is affecting refugees and asylum seekers"

World Health Organization. “World Refugee Day 2020: united to stop COVID-19”

World Health Organization. “WHO director general’s opening remarks at the media briefing on Covid-19. 19 Une 2020”

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