Nearly 40 million at heightened risk of violence, discrimination and rights abuses as Covid spawns a ‘coping crisis’

Published 30. Nov 2020|Updated 29. Nov 2020
A new report reveals a severe deterioration in international efforts to protect the world’s most vulnerable people, with human rights violations including gender-based violence, trafficking and child recruitment on the rise.

Geneva, 30 November 2020: A new report released today by the Norwegian Refugee Council and the UNHCR, UN Refugee Agency-led Global Protection Cluster* (GPC) finds that millions of people internally displaced or affected by conflict could be missing out on humanitarian protection support due to insufficient funding.

GPC data indicates that of the 54 million people targeted for assistance in 26 humanitarian response plans, almost 40 million could be missing out this year.

“The human toll of the pandemic on the world’s vulnerable should not only be measured by the number of lives it has taken, but by the eclipsing number it has shattered. Covid-19 has hardest hit millions of people with absolutely no access to protection services. Children recruited by armies cannot reclaim lost childhoods. Women raped and beaten wear their scars for life,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Gender-based violence has increased dramatically since the onset of Covid-19. Experts projected in April that for every three months lockdown measures continued around the world, an additional 15 million women and girls would be exposed to gender-based violence.

In Mali, over 4,400 cases of gender-based violence were reported between January and September, but only 48 per cent of towns had support services. In the Central African Republic (CAR), reported incidents of gender-based violence more than doubled, including rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage. CAR was already one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman or girl. In Niger, reports have been received of women being tortured for engaging in economic activity outside of the home, and not wearing full veil coverings.

Child marriages are also on the rise. Thirteen million more underage marriages could occur over the next 10 years because of the side effects of the pandemic, according to UN estimates. Trafficking is also a concern, with protection aid workers in 66 per cent of the countries surveyed reporting that people are at increased risk of trafficking due to Covid-19.

An increase in violence and armed conflict has also been recorded, with attacks on civilians increasing by 2.5 per cent since the pandemic began. For example, over 1,800 violent events involving communal armed groups have been registered since the start of the pandemic - a 70 per cent increase - largely across East and West Africa.

“COVID-19 is inflicting an unprecedented human rights crisis for the world’s most vulnerable. Millions of internally displaced and conflict-affected people are in harm’s way or are falling through the gaps,” said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs.

“The world cannot afford to be complacent and indifferent to their plight. Millions of lives are at stake. Humanitarians can only do so much. Armed conflict continues to be the main driver of forced displacement, so peace is indispensable to end conflict and suffering.”

According to the report released today, the gap between protection needs during the pandemic and protection funding is growing wider. This year’s funding for protecting people most in need of assistance in humanitarian crises has received just 25 per cent of what is needed. Furthermore, historically nearly 70 per cent of funding for protection services comes from just five donors; the European Union, United Kingdom, Germany, the United Nations and the United States.

“As we enter the new year, the aftershocks of 2020 will begin to take hold. As our report shows, more funding is needed not only to save lives and heal wounds, but also to effectively prevent new outrageous abuse and violence from taking place,” warned Jan Egeland.


Facts and figures:

  • In 2020, 54 million people were targeted for protection assistance in Humanitarian Response Plans, including Covid-19 additional plans, across 26 operations where the Protection Cluster is active. This number does not include countries without a Humanitarian Response Plan, Refugee Response Plan as the data is not yet available for 2020. The real number will be much higher.
  • Between 2013 and 2019, the protection sector received only 38 per cent of its requirements compared with 61 per cent overall for humanitarian appeals. In 2020, only 24 per cent of requirements had been met by November.
  • In Mali, 66 per cent of gender-based violence survivors reported since January are girls under 18 years old.
  • Northern Mozambique is one of the fastest growing protection crises in the world. In November, civilians witnessed massacres by non-state armed groups in several villages, which resulted in beheadings and abductions of women and children.
  • In Yemen, it is estimated that more than two thirds of girls are married before they reach 18 years of age, compared to 50 per cent before the conflict.
  • Funding for protection in Cameroon in 2020 has fallen wildly short of what is needed. Only 13 per cent of requirements have been received so far, which is just $3 per person. This has left more than 2 million people without assistance.
  • According to the UN Population Fund, 48 per cent of Venezuelan women on the move are travelling alone, putting them at serious risk for human trafficking and all forms of gender-based violence.

For editors:

  • * The Global Protection Cluster is a network of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations and United Nations agencies engaged in protection work in humanitarian crises, including armed conflict, climate change related and disaster. It is led by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
  • Breaking the glass ceiling: A smarter approach to protection financing, the report by the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Global Protection Cluster can be downloaded here.
  • Aftershock: Abuse, exploitation & human trafficking in the wake of Covid-19 is the latest report from the Global Protection Cluster and can be read here.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Global Protection Cluster in Geneva: +447989307511,

NRC in Oslo: Global media hotline on +47 905 623 29,

UNHCR in Geneva: +41793377650,