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Press Release

On 70th anniversary of Refugee Convention, IRC calls for urgent action on growing global displacement

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On the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling on the United States and European countries to step up to the plate to tackle the unprecedented levels of global displacement. The IRC’s latest report illustrates how conflict, COVID-19 and the increasing impact of climate change are fueling unprecedented levels of global displacement - met with increasingly hostile conditions for refugees and displaced persons who are seeking safe haven worldwide.

U.S. and European humanitarian leadership is sorely needed as some of the wealthiest countries in the world retreat from their obligations under international law to protect vulnerable populations fleeing conflict and persecution. This decline has had a direct and deleterious impact on refugees, leaving them in precarious circumstances, undermining the willingness of low and middle-income countries to host and integrate them, and contributing as a result to instability that can only lead to further displacement. The report highlights that:

  • Only 34,400 refugees were resettled globally in 2020, a mere one-third of those resettled in 2019 (107,800) and resulting in a 97% gap between global resettlement and actual needs last year.
  • With the US retreat from refugee resettlement during the prior Administration, global resettlement commitments followed suit - plummeting nearly 50% from 2016 to 2019, even before the COVID-19 pandemic further curtailed resettlement slots.
  • European member states (and the UK) resettled just over 9,000 refugees last year, a mere 0.6% of global resettlement needs. The percentage of global resettlement needs met by EU states has never exceeded 2%. Reports of grave human rights violations resulting from pushbacks have been reported across EU territory.
  • The number of countries participating in resettlement has been falling steadily, from 34 countries in 2017, to 26 in 2019, and only 21 countries in 2020. Meanwhile, countries accounting for a mere 1.3% of global GDP - and struggling with their own strained resources - are hosting 40% of the world’s refugees.
  • Whereas humanitarian need has increased by 88% since 2016, humanitarian aid has only increased by 8.3% in that same period. Humanitarian need has increased 40% since last year alone.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee said:

“Now is the time to defend the life-saving tenets and obligations of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Conflict, COVID and climate change have driven humanitarian need and global displacement to the highest levels since the Second World War. More humanitarian leadership, not less, is what is sorely needed to meet this global challenge head-on. We call on all countries, including the US and EU where the Convention was born, to both uphold and interpret the Refugee Convention for the modern day. This effort should be fourfold. First, to jointly commit to a significant boost to resettlement efforts with ambitious targets for 2022. Second, the commitment to protection must extend beyond resettlement and include fair and humane asylum systems, with barriers to accessing safety swiftly removed. Third, donor countries, including the US and EU, should support more flexible, multi-year financing to support refugee-hosting states and partners. Finally, the US-EU partnership, leadership and convening power must be activated to incentivize allies to boost their own commitments to refugee protection - sparing the lives and livelihoods of millions in the process.”

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.