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War in Ukraine pushes number of people forcibly displaced globally to 100 million

The Russian offensive has turned to a key Donbas city.

Two national guard soldiers drink a shot to honor the memory of two late soldiers in Kharkiv cemetery.
Two national guard soldiers drink a shot to honor the memory of two late soldiers in Kharkiv cemetery.
Image: Bernat Armangue/PA

RUSSIA’S WAR IN Ukraine has pushed the number of forcibly displaced people around the world above 100 million for the first time ever, the United Nations said today.

“The number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution has now crossed the staggering milestone of 100 million for the first time on record, propelled by the war in Ukraine and other deadly conflicts,” the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said. 

The “alarming” figure must shake the world into ending the conflicts forcing record numbers to flee their own homes, the UNHCR said in a statement.

UNHCR said the numbers of forcibly displaced people rose towards 90 million by the end of 2021, spurred by violence in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February and since then, more than eight million people have been displaced within the country, while more than six million refugees have fled across the borders.

‘Wake-up call’ 

“One hundred million is a stark figure — sobering and alarming in equal measure. It’s a record that should never have been set,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said.

“This must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution, and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes.”

The 100 million figure amounts to more than 1% of the global population, while only 13 countries have a bigger population than the number of forcibly displaced people in the world.

The figures combine refugees, asylum seekers, as well as more than 50 million people displaced inside their own countries.

russia-ukraine-war A child and a man, fleeing from heavy shelling, wave before departing in an evacuation train at Pokrovsk train station. Source: Francisco Seco/PA

“The international response to people fleeing war in Ukraine has been overwhelmingly positive,” Grandi said.

“Compassion is alive and we need a similar mobilisation for all crises around the world. But ultimately, humanitarian aid is a palliative, not a cure.

“To reverse this trend, the only answer is peace and stability so that innocent people are not forced to gamble between acute danger at home or precarious flight and exile.”

The UNHCR will outline the full data on forced displacement in 2021 in its annual Global Trends Report, due for release on 16 June.

‘Never been as bad’ 

More than two years on since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, at least 20 countries still deny access to asylum for people fleeing conflict, violence, and persecution based on measures to clamp down on the virus.

Grandi called on Friday for those countries to lift any remaining pandemic-related asylum restrictions, saying they contravene a fundamental human right.

“I am worried that measures enacted on the pretext of responding to Covid-19 are being used as cover to exclude and deny asylum to people fleeing violence and persecution,” he said.

A joint report last week by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said around 38 million new internal displacements were reported in 2021. Some of those were by people forced to flee multiple times during the year.

The figure marks the second-highest annual number of new internal displacements in a decade after 2020, which saw record-breaking movement due to a string of natural disasters.

press-conference-of-ukrainian-and-polish-presidents-in-kyiv Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shakes hands with President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda during their joint press conference in Kyiv. Source: Pavlo Bagmut/PA

Last year, new internal displacements specifically from conflict surged to 14.4 million — marking a 50% jump from 2020, the report showed.

“It has never been as bad as this,” NRC chief Jan Egeland told reporters.

“The world is falling apart.”

Natural disasters continued to account for most new internal displacement, spurring 23.7 million such movements in 2021.

Donbas

Russian forces are bombarding a key city in eastern Ukraine with artillery and missiles in an attempt to take more of the Donbas region.

Sievierodonetsk is the main city under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which together with Donetsk province make up the Donbas.

Luhansk’s governor, Serhii Haidai, said on Sunday that the Russians were “simply intentionally trying to destroy the city… engaging in a scorched-earth approach”.

He said the Russians had occupied several towns and cities in Luhansk after indiscriminate, 24-hour shelling, adding Moscow was concentrating forces and weaponry there, bringing in forces from Kharkiv to the northwest, Mariupol to the south, and from inside Russia.

The Ukrainian military said Russian forces had mounted an unsuccessful attack on Oleksandrivka, a village outside of the city.

While Russian and Ukrainian forces battled along a 551-kilometre wedge of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, Poland’s president travelled to Kyiv on Sunday to support Ukraine’s European Union aspirations, becoming the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian parliament since the start of the war.

President Andrzej Duda received a standing ovation when he thanked the lawmakers for letting him speak where “the heart of a free, independent and democratic Ukraine beats”.

Duda said Ukraine need not submit to conditions given by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Unfortunately, in Europe there have also been disturbing voices in recent times demanding that Ukraine yield to Putin’s demands,” he said.

“I want to say clearly: Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its future. Only Ukraine has the right to decide for itself.”

It was Duda’s second visit to Kyiv since April. Poland has become an important ally of Ukraine, welcoming millions of Ukrainian refugees and becoming a gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons.

It is also a transit point for some foreign fighters who have volunteered to fight the Russian forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the visit “a historic opportunity not to lose such strong relations, built through blood, through Russian aggression”.

“All this not to lose our state, not to lose our people.”

Duda credited the US and President Joe Biden for unifying the West in supporting Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Moscow.

Poland is ramping up efforts to win over EU members who are more hesitant about accepting Ukraine into the bloc. Zelenskyy has urged the 27-member EU to expedite his country’s request to join, and it is to be discussed at a Brussels summit in late June.

France’s European Affairs minister Clement Beaune on Sunday told Radio J it would be a “long time” before Ukraine gains EU membership, perhaps up to two decades.

“We have to be honest,” he said. “If you say Ukraine is going to join the EU in six months, or a year or two, you’re lying.”

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War crimes 

On the battlefield, grinding, town-by-town fighting continued as Russian troops try to expand the territory that Moscow-backed separatists have held since 2014 in the Donbas.

To bolster its defences, Ukraine’s parliament voted on Sunday to extend martial law and mobilise the armed forces for a third time, until 23 August.

Ukrainian officials have said little since the war began about the extent of their country’s casualties, but Zelenskyy said at a news conference on Sunday that 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently each day, in the east.

In a general staff morning report, Russia said it was also preparing to resume its offensive on Slovyansk, a city in Donetsk province that saw fierce fighting last month after Moscow’s troops backed away from Kyiv.

The conflict was not confined to Ukraine’s east. Powerful explosions were heard early this morning, for example, in Korosten, about 160 kilometres west of Kyiv, the town’s deputy mayor said.

It was the third straight day of apparent attacks in the Zhytomyr District, Ukrainian news agencies reported.

russia-ukraine-war Doctor Ivan Mozhaiev attends to a patient during morning rounds at Pokrovsk hospital in Pokrovsk. Source: Francisco Seco

In Enerhodar, a Russian-held city 281 kilometres northwest of Mariupol, an explosion on Sunday injured the Moscow-appointed mayor at his residence, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported.

Ukraine’s Unian news agency said a bomb planted by “local partisans” wounded 48-year-old Andrei Shevchuk, whose lives near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest.

Today, a Ukrainian court is expected to reach a verdict for a Russian soldier who was the first to go on trial for an alleged war crime.

The 21-year-old sergeant, who has admitted to shooting a Ukrainian man in the head in a village in the north-eastern Sumy region on 28 February, could get life in prison if convicted.

Ukrainian prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova has said her office was prosecuting war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting.

© AFP 2022 with reporting by PA

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