MUMBAI, INDIA - COVID-19 is presenting new challenges for displaced populations and humanitarian actors, and further constricting migration routes.

At the end of 2019, a record 50.8 million people were displaced inside their countries, according to a new report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), including an estimated 45.7 million displaced by conflict and violence and 5.1 million by disasters.

The total number of internally displaced persons worldwide (IDPs) has doubled since 2009, and this is the first time that IDMC has included displacement by disaster in its yearly report.

There were an estimated 33.4 million new displacements in 2019, according to the report, the highest number since 2012. That number includes people who were already internally displaced and who were forced to move more than once, a regular occurrence in highly volatile conflict areas.

Weather-related disasters accounted for 24.9 million of the new displacements, with India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, China, and the United States recording the highest numbers. Many of the weather-related displacements resulted from government-led, pre-emptive population evacuations ahead of severe weather events.

Of the 8.5 million new displacements caused by conflict and violence, IDMC recorded the highest numbers in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and Afghanistan. The report also mentioned increasing levels of violence in long-running conflicts in Yemen, Libya, and South Sudan as contributing to the total.

Some countries, such as Afghanistan, host both large numbers of conflict IDPs as well as people displaced by disasters.

“An ever-growing number of internally displaced people (IDPs) remain so for long periods of time, often for many years or even decades,” the report noted. “As time passes, returning home becomes less and less relevant as a solution to their displacement.”

In the past year, there were promising developments in some countries – such as Niger, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq – that showed how increased political commitment, building the capacity of humanitarian and development organisations, and improved information on internal displacement could point to possible solutions.

In the meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting new challenges for displaced populations and humanitarian actors, and further constricting migration routes that some IDPs turn to in order to reach countries where they can claim asylum.