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Global refugee numbers hit 70 million

19 June 20190 comments

The number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict has soared above 70 million, the highest level ever recorded, according to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR.

Data from UNHCR’s annual ‘Global Trends’ report shows that almost 70.8 million people are now forcibly displaced.

This is double the level of 20 years ago, 2.3 million more than a year ago, and is about as many people as there are in Thailand or Turkey.

The UNHCR says the figure of 70.8 million may even be conservative, as the growing crisis in Venezuela is still only partly reflected in this number.

More than 4 million Venezuelans, according to data from governments receiving them, have left their country, making this among the world’s biggest recent displacement crises.

“What we are seeing in these figures is further confirmation of a longer-term rising trend in the number of people needing safety from war, conflict and persecution,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugee Filippo Grandi.

“While language around refugees and migrants is often divisive, we are also witnessing an outpouring of generosity and solidarity, especially by communities who are themselves hosting large numbers of refugees,” he said.

“We are also seeing unprecedented engagement by new actors including development actors, private businesses, and individuals, which not only reflects but also delivers the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees.

“We must build on these positive examples and redouble our solidarity with the many thousands of innocent people who are forced to flee their homes each day,” Mr Grandi said.

The Global Trends report’s 70.8 million figure includes three main groups: ‘refugees’, referring to people the 25.9 million forced to flee their country because of conflict, war or persecution; ‘asylum seekers’, referring to the 3.5 million people outside their country of origin and receiving international protection, but awaiting the outcome of their claim to refugee status; and, ‘internally displaced people’, referring to the 41.3 million people displaced to other areas within their own country.

In 2018, the number of refugees reached 25.9 million worldwide, 500,000 more than in 2017. Included in this total are 5.5 million Palestine refugees who are under the care of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

The second group is asylum seekers – people outside their country of origin and receiving international protection, but awaiting the outcome of their claim to refugee status. At the end of 2018 there were 3.5 million asylum seekers globally.

The third and biggest group, at 41.3 million, is people displaced to other areas within their own country, a category commonly referred to as Internally Displaced People or IDPs.

The Global Trends report said that overall growth in displacement continued to exceed the rate at which solutions are being found for people who become displaced.

“With refugees, the best solution is being able to return home voluntarily, in safety and dignity. Other solutions include being integrated into the host community or being resettled to a third country,” the report said.

However, only 92,400 refugees were resettled in 2018, less than 7 per cent of those awaiting resettlement. Some 593,800 refugees were able to return home, while 62,600 became naturalized.

“With every refugee situation, wherever it is, however long it has been going on for, there has to be an enduring emphasis on solutions and removing obstacles to people being able to return home,” Mr Grandi said.

“This is complex work in which UNHCR is constantly engaged but which also requires all countries to come together for a common good. It is one of the great challenges of our times,” he said.

The report also revealed that in 2018, every second refugee was a child and many – up to 111,000 – were alone and without their families. It said Uganda was caring for 2,800 refugee children aged five or below alone or separated from their families.

The report said that refugees were more likely to live in a town or city (61 per cent) than in a rural area or camp.

It said high income countries on average were hosting 2.7 refugees per 1000 by population; middle and low-income countries on average were hosting 5.8 per 1000 of population; and, the poorest countries were hosting a third of all refugees world.

The report found about 80 percent of refugees were living in countries neighbouring their countries of origin and nearly four in every five refugees were in displacement situations that have lasted for at least five years – with one in five having been displaced for more than 20 years.

The greatest number of new asylum applications in 2018 was from Venezuelans (341,800), the report said.

And the proportion of humanity who are refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced is now 1 in 108; ten years ago it was 1 in 160.