Record 71 million people displaced worldwide, UN says

Record 71 million people displaced worldwide, UN says

A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide as a result of war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said.

This is an increase of more than two million on last year, and an overall total that would amount to the world's 20th most populous country.

The annual Global Trends report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) counted the number of the world's refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018 - in some cases following decades of living away from home.

The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics - especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.

Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US president Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it "damaging" to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries.

He said that often, these people are fleeing insecurity and danger.

The report puts a statistical framework onto poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, both natural and man-made, in order to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other violence at home.

The UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 - and nearly a 65% increase on a decade ago.

Among them, nearly three in five people - more than 41 million people - have been displaced within their home countries.

Mr Grandi told reporters in Geneva: "The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction.

"There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved."

The phenomenon is growing in size and duration.

Some four-fifths of the "displacement situations" have lasted more than five years.

After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.

Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 - or more than one in five worldwide last year.

Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.

The UNHCR said that its figures are "conservative" and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.

Some four million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years.

Many of those have travelled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection.

The outflow continues, suggesting that strain on the welcoming countries could worsen.

Mr Grandi predicted a continued "exodus" from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.

The United States, meanwhile, remains the "largest supporter of refugees" in the world, Mr Grandi said, with the US the biggest single donor to UNHCR.

He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in America for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.

But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings which have given the US the world's biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.

He also spoke out against recent rhetoric which has been hostile to migrants and refugees.

"In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees - but not just refugees, migrants as well - with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values," Mr Grandi said.

"And I want to say to the US administration - to the president - but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging."

PA

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