World Refugee Day 2021: Supporting Those Most Vulnerable to Disasters

World Refugee Day 2021: Supporting Those Most Vulnerable to Disasters

On June 25th, Airlink hosted a panel discussion in recognition of World Refugee Day. Guest speakers from CADENA and International Medical Corps shared their experiences supporting Venezuelan migrants in Colombia and Syrian refugees in the Middle East.
UNHCR estimates that between 2018 and 2020, 1 million children were born as refugees. 

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in a recently-published report on global trends around forced displacement, a staggering 82.4 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of natural disasters, persecution, conflict, and violence. In the last ten years, the number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) has more than doubled. 

Humanitarian crises and protracted displacement 

The report sheds light on the magnitude of the displacement unfolding in Venezuela: Venezuelans currently constitute the second-largest population of people displaced across borders, with about 171,800 registered refugees and a further 3.9 million Venezuelans displaced abroad without formal refugee status. 

On the other side of the globe, the conflict in Syria has dragged on for a full decade, with more than half of the country’s population still forcibly displaced. This ongoing crisis has resulted in the largest forcibly displaced population worldwide by far.

When it comes to the host populations, 86 percent of people displaced across borders are in developing countries. Turkey reported the highest number with just under 4 million, most of whom were Syrian refugees. Colombia followed, hosting over 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans.

The devastating impact of disasters

Internally Displaced People constitute the majority of the world’s forcibly displaced population. In 2020 alone, disasters triggered 30.7 million new internal displacements around the globe according to data published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC). This is the highest figure in a decade and more than three times as much as the 9.8 million displacements triggered by conflict and violence. Most displacements were triggered by weather-related events, primarily storms and floods.

With extreme weather events becoming the new normal, we can expect more refugee populations around the world to experience these destructive floods and storms. In 2019, Cyclone Idai not only devastated Mozambique, but it also wiped out 2,000 mud-brick homes in the Tongogara refugee camp in Zimbabwe, which hosts some 13,000 Congolese and Mozambican refugees. 

In Asia, monsoon season in Bangladesh disproportionately affects Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar—and these rains are becoming increasingly erratic, leading to deadly mudslides and dangerous floods that affect tens of thousands of people yearly. 

And over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had an outsize impact on internally displaced people and refugees all over the world, as these populations have less access to reliable healthcare, sanitation, and hygiene; are more vulnerable to food insecurity; and are often living in camp settings, where social distancing is difficult. And now, they face unreliable access to the COVID-19 vaccine as well.

Airlink’s work supporting refugees and forcibly displaced people 

Developing solutions for the millions of forcibly displaced people is a complex challenge that requires collaboration from all sectors. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play an important role in strengthening the local capacity of host communities to foster greater inclusion of refugees and forcibly displaced people. 

At Airlink, we are proud to play a part in the work that our nonprofit partners do to address these monumental crises. Last month, we provided flights for a program in Colombia with NGO CADENA to deliver essential health services and relief supplies to over 6,000 Venezuelans. Some of our nonprofit partners have extensive experience working with refugee populations and host communities in Africa and the Middle East, Airlink supports those programs providing transportation of relief workers and essential supplies. Earlier this month, we facilitated a shipment of 60,000 pieces of personal protective equipment to Erbil, Iraq in collaboration with International Medical Corps, and we are currently coordinating a second shipment of 180,000 face masks to Baghdad. 

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on everyone’s lives, but more so on those who were already vulnerable. As the global community continues to recover from the pandemic amidst concerning trends of vaccine nationalism, rising poverty, food insecurity, and climate-related disasters, it is essential that refugees and forcibly displaced people are included in the calls to leave no one behind.


Picture of Cindy Rocha

Cindy Rocha

Cindy Rocha is a process improvement and corporate responsibility professional with 10 years of experience in the transportation and nonprofit sectors. At Airlink, she contributes to sector-wide initiatives that build logistics capacity and improve overall support to the humanitarian community.

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