Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020

UNHCR, 2021


This report presents data compiled by UNHCR on forced displacement in 2020 due to persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order.


Key findings:

  • By the end of 2020, the number of people forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing public order reached a record high of 82.4 million, including 48 million IDPs, 4 million refugees (20.7 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate and 5.7 million Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate), 4.1 million asylum-seekers, and 3.9 million Venezuelans displaced abroad. As a result, more than one percent of the world’s population—or 1 in 95 people—is now forcibly displaced.
  • 2 million people were newly displaced (or newly registered) in 2020, including 9.8 million IDPs, 305,500 refugees and 1.1 million asylum-seekers. While the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cross-border displacement is not yet clear, UNHCR data shows fewer arrivals of refugees and asylum-seekers in most regions—about 1.5 million fewer people than would have been expected in non-COVID circumstances.
  • Asylum-seekers submitted 1.1 million new individual applications in 2020. The United States was the largest recipient of new individual applications (250,800), followed by Germany, Spain, France and Peru.
  • With pandemic-related border closures and travel restrictions, only a limited number of refugees and IDPs were able to avail themselves of voluntary return and resettlement opportunities. 4 million displaced people returned to their areas or countries of origin during 2020, including 3.2 million IDPs and 251,000 refugees. Only 34,400 refugees were admitted for resettlement during the year (with and without UNHCR assistance).
  • More than two thirds (68 percent) of all refugees and Venezuelans displaced abroad came from just five countries: Syria (6.7 million); Venezuela (4.0 million); Afghanistan (2.6 million); South Sudan (2.2 million); and Myanmar (1.1 million).
  • 73 percent of refugees and Venezuelans displaced abroad lived in countries neighboring their countries of origin. Developing countries hosted 86 percent of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate and Venezuelans displaced abroad, while Least Developed Countries hosted 27 percent of the total. Countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate were: Turkey (3.7 million), Colombia (1.7 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.4 million), and Germany (almost 1.2 million). The countries hosting the largest proportions of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate and displaced Venezuelans abroad relative to their national populations were Aruba (1 in 6), Lebanon (1 in 8), Curacao (1 in 10), Jordan (1 in 15), and Turkey (1 in 23).
  • New UNHCR estimates show that almost one million children were born into a refugee life between 2018 and 2020. UNHCR estimates that between 2018 and 2020, an average of between 290,000 and 340,000 children were born into a refugee life per year. Children account for 30 percent of the world’s population, but 42 percent of all forcibly displaced people.
  • At the end of 2020, 76 percent of refugees were in protracted refugee situations (i.e., 25,000 or more refugees from the same nationality have been in exile for five consecutive years or more in a given host country). In 2020, the situations of Burundian and South Sudanese refugees in DRC became protracted. Two protracted situations—Ukrainians in the Russian Federation and Iraqis in Iran—no longer meet the statistical definition for protracted displacement since numbers of refugees in each situation have fallen below the 25,000 refugee threshold.
  • Approximately 47 percent of all refugees and asylum-seekers are estimated to be women and girls. Based on 22 out of 34 UNHCR operations where demographic data was available at the end of 2020, women constituted on average 52 percent of all IDPs.


This year’s report includes a new chapter on the impact of COVID-19, highlighting the following effects of the pandemic on forcibly displaced people:

  • The closure of borders and restrictions on movement are making it harder for people fleeing war and persecution to reach safety. Restrictions on movement also led to the suspension of resettlement and voluntary repatriation programs.
  • In some cases, COVID-19 may have been a factor in triggering new movement of people.
  • Forcibly displaced people have been among the hardest hit population groups, facing increased food and economic insecurity as well as impediments to accessing health and protection services.
  • Forcibly displaced women and girls have been particularly affected in many countries, with the available data pointing to more incidents of gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual exploitation.
  • The World Bank-UNHCR Joint Data Center (JDC), UNHCR and the World Bank are collecting household data covering forcibly displaced populations in eight countries through high-frequency monitoring surveys using mobile phones. This data provides insights into the range of socioeconomic challenges faced by forcibly displaced people and host communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, including: decreases in labor and non-labor income; increases in food insecurity; reductions in access to education; and challenges in accessing health care.