More than 660,000 people have been displaced from their homes in conflict zones around the world since March, despite a UN call for a global ceasefire during the coronavirus pandemic, a top international aid group said Friday.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said its figures showed that armed conflict around the world had continued during the pandemic, even as much of globe went into lockdown.
This was despite a call on March 23 by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire for the pandemic.
The NRC said a total of 661,000 people have been displaced in 19 countries since then, with the highest number by far in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"At a time when health experts tell us to stay at home, men with guns are forcing hundreds of thousands out of their homes and into extreme vulnerability," said the NRC's Secretary-General Jan Egeland.
"This not only hurts those who are forced to flee, it seriously undermines our joint efforts to combat the virus."
The NRC accused the UN Security Council of failing to show leadership to encourage peace talks.
"While people are being displaced and killed, powerful members of the UN Security Council squabble like children in a sandbox," Egeland said.
He called on world leaders to "rise to the occasion" and jointly push parties to put down their weapons and unite in protecting all communities from COVID-19.
"Now is not the time for kindergarten politics," he added.
The NRC said it was appealing to UN Security Council members to issue a "clear call" to warring parties to halt the conduct of hostilities and to "settle their conflicts through talks and allow for a systematic response to the pandemic."
In DR Congo alone, clashes between armed groups and the country's military forced 482,000 people to flee their homes, it said.
Meanwhile fighting has continued in Yemen despite pledges to implement a ceasefire by Saudi authorities, resulting in the displacement of 24,000 people since March 23.
Africa's Lake Chad region has also experienced a surge of displacement, the NRC said, with Chad and Niger worst affected.
Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Syria, Somalia and Myanmar all saw more than 10,000 people displaced in the same period, the group added.