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2020: A year of challenges and opportunities  


As I write this last director’s letter of 2020, a turbulent year is coming to an end. Here at IDMC, in Geneva and around the world, Covid-19 has changed the way we work, disrupted our daily lives and confronted us with challenges unimaginable only a year ago. 

Some things, however, have continued unabated. Civil wars, political and ethnic violence and record-breaking storms have uprooted millions of people around the globe.  

The urgency of our work was highlighted right at the beginning of the year as the Syrian military renewed its offensive on Idlib governorate, triggering around 959,000 new displacements. It was the largest single displacement event since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011.  

In the Sahel region of Africa, the expansion of Islamist armed groups led to mass displacement, particularly around the porous borders between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. A million people were displaced in Burkina Faso in 2020, making it the fastest growing displacement crisis of the year.  

The pandemic, conflict and disasters also combined to generate more internal displacement in Yemen. Conflict between the government and Ansar Allah had already uprooted tens of thousands of people when heavy rains between March and August forced more people to flee, while the virus served to significantly heighten IDPs’ existing vulnerabilities.  

And finally, extreme weather events continued to trigger mass displacement across the world, from Nicaragua to Viet Nam. This year’s Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record, while Cyclone Amphan led to 3.3 million pre-emptive evacuations across India and Bangladesh in May, and super typhoon Goni close to 2 million in the Philippines in November. 

Documenting the scale and scope of this human suffering can be challenging, even at the best of times. This year, our work was complicated by the cumulative impact of successive rounds of confinement, coupled with the constant threat of exposure and illness. This has left us all exhausted, and looking forward to a break.  

We are proud to see that, against all odds, we also made great advances in 2020. 

We began the year on a positive note when the UN secretary general, António Guterres, launched the high-level panel on internal displacement. As a member of the expert advisory group, I have been honoured to contribute to the panel’s work, serving not only its members but also the world’s tens of millions of IDPs. 

We published our Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID) 2020 at the height of the pandemic’s first wave in Europe. For the first time, we presented our flagship report virtually, an approach we would repeat for many other publications during the year.  GRID 2020’s focus on promoting solutions and mobilising national political will could not have been more timely, given that the importance of local response was one of the first lessons Covid-19 taught us as international travel became impossible.  

Conscious that a disproportionate number of women and girls are living in internal displacement, this year we published our first estimates of how many are doing so as a result of conflict and violence. Our research showed that displacement takes a high toll on women’s livelihoods, security, access to health services and education. Studies in Colombia and Afghanistan point to an increase of domestic violence during displacement. The Covid-19 pandemic has only served to aggravate this trend, as our mid-year update revealed.   

As the pandemic rendered our annual conference in October impossible, we launched instead three expert forums to improve understanding of climate change and displacement. These will continue the conversation well into next year, focusing on monitoring disaster displacement, displacement risk modelling and investing in solutions. Their results will feed into our 2021 GRID and help shape the policy discourse, research agenda and programme priorities on this important topic. 

We also published this year our new 10-year strategy, From Evidence to Impact. This new vision will help align our own goals with those of Agenda 2030 by continuing to generate evidence on internal displacement, galvanising action and strengthening capacity at the country level.  

In view of the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war, we will also publish our first Middle East and North Africa report in February 2021, which shows how significantly this region has been affected by internal displacement over the past 10 years.  

All in all, we have learned this year to be creative and flexible, to rely more on local expertise, travel less and appreciate the delicate balance of the natural environment. At IDMC we will keep these lessons in mind as we go into the new year, one which we see as full of opportunities. We will start to implement our new strategy, draw attention to successful practices in addressing displacement with a new global repository and continue to reach broader audiences by hosting engaging and interactive virtual events.  

We send our warm thanks to all of you who have supported our work in the last year and hope you will remain by our side as we move into this next chapter.  

On behalf of the IDMC team, I wish you a happy and restful holiday, and all the very best for 2021.  

Signature of IDMC Director, Alexandra Bilak
Alexandra Bilak, Director, IDMC