YET AGAIN, wars, violence and persecution have driven record numbers of people from their homes worldwide, according to the latest annual study released yesterday on World Refugee Day by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
The yearly Global Trends report found that 70.8 million men, women and children were forcibly displaced at the close of 2018, the highest number in the organisation’s almost 70-year history.
This is twice as many people as 20 years ago, 2.3 million more than the previous year, and is greater than the population of Thailand.
Worryingly, this global figure is probably on the low side, UNHCR said.
Of the 25.9 million refugees, nearly one in five are Palestinians under the care of UNRWA.
The report states: ‘The total global refugee population is now at the highest level ever recorded – 25.9 million at the end of 2018, including 5.5 million Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s mandate.’
Overall, an estimated 13.6 million people became newly displaced during the year due to wars or persecution, a number equivalent to the population of Tokyo, and greater than that of Moscow and Manila.
Big displacements across international borders are not as common as the 70.8 million global total implies.
Almost two thirds of those uprooted from their homes are internally displaced people (IDPs) who have not left their homelands.
The total included 10.8 million IDPs and 2.8 million new refugees and asylum-seekers.
The growth in displacement continued to outpace the rate at which solutions are being found for people who become displaced.
The Global Trends report stated: ‘Large numbers of people were on the move in 2018. During the year, 13.6 million people were newly displaced, including 2.8 million who sought protection abroad (as new asylum-seekers or newly registered refugees) and 10.8 million internally displaced people, who were forced to flee but remained in their own countries.
‘This means that on every day of 2018, an average of 37,000 people were newly displaced. Many returned to their countries or areas of origin to try to rebuild their lives, including 2.3 million IDPs and nearly 600,000 refugees.
Some 1.6 million Ethiopians made up the largest newly displaced population during the year, 98 per cent of them within their country. This increase more than doubled the existing internally displaced population in the country.
‘Syrians were the next largest newly displaced population, with 889,400 people during 2018. Of these, 632,700 were newly displaced/registered outside the country, while the remainder were internally displaced.
Nigeria also had a high number of newly displaced people with 661,800, of which an estimated 581,800 were displaced within the country’s borders.
‘The vast majority of newly displaced people remained close to home. For example, most Syrians fled to Turkey, where there were half a million new refugee registrations and asylum applications.
‘Most of those forced to flee South Sudan went to Sudan or Uganda, and those displaced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also headed to Uganda.
‘At the end of 2018, Syrians still made up the largest forcibly displaced population, with 13 million people living in displacement, including 6.7 million refugees, 6.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and 140,000 asylum-seekers.
‘Colombians were the second largest group, with 8 million forcibly displaced, most of them (98 per cent) inside their country at the end of 2018.
‘A total of 5.4 million Congolese from DRC were also forcibly displaced, of whom 4,517,000 were IDPs and 854,000 were refugees or asylum-seekers.
‘Other large displaced populations of IDPs, refugees or asylum-seekers at the end of 2018 were from Afghanistan (5.1 million), South Sudan (4.2 million), Somalia (3.7 million), Ethiopia (2.8 million), Sudan (2.7 million), Nigeria (2.5 million), Iraq (2.4 million) and Yemen (2.2 million).
‘The situation in Cameroon was complex as it was both a source country and host country of refugees and asylum-seekers, along with multiple internal displacements in 2018. In total, there were 45,100 Cameroonian refugees globally at the end of 2018.
‘Nigeria hosted 100 at the beginning of 2018 compared to 32,800 by the end of the year. This is in addition to 668,500 IDPs. At the same time, Cameroon hosted 380,300 refugees, mainly from the Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigeria.’
The report noted: ‘As in 2017, over two thirds of the world’s refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.
‘As has been the case since 2014, the main country of origin for refugees in 2018 was Syria, with 6.7 million at the end of the year, an increase over the 6.3 million from a year earlier.
‘These refugees were hosted by 127 countries on six continents, however the vast majority (85 per cent) remained in countries in the region.
‘Turkey continued to host the largest population of Syrian refugees, 3.6 million by the end of the year. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa with significant numbers of Syrian refugees included Lebanon (944,200), Jordan (676,300) and Iraq (252,500).
‘Outside the region, countries with large Syrian refugee populations included Germany (532,100), Sweden (109,300) and Sudan (93,500).
‘Refugees from Afghanistan were the second largest group by country of origin, in what has remained a significant population since the 1980s. At the end of 2018, there were 2.7 million Afghan refugees, mainly in Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, who between them hosted 88 per cent.
‘South Sudan remained the third most common country of origin and neighbouring countries hosted almost all refugees originating from there. Of 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees most were in Sudan (852,100), followed by Uganda (788,800) Ethiopia (422,100), Kenya (115,200) and DRC (95,700).
The refugee population from Myanmar, the fourth largest population group by country of origin, remained stable at 1.1 million. Most refugees from Myanmar were hosted by Bangladesh (906,600).
‘Other countries with sizable populations of refugees from Myanmar were Malaysia (114,200), Thailand (97,600) and India (18,800).
‘The number of Somali refugees worldwide continued to decline slowly, and 80 per cent remained in countries close to Somalia. ‘At the end of 2018, there were 949,700 Somali refugees. Ethiopia was the largest host of Somali refugees with 257,200 at the end of 2018. This was followed by Kenya (252,500) and Yemen (249,000).
‘The number of refugees originating from Sudan reached 724,800 by the end of 2018, up from 694,600 the previous year, again mostly in neighbouring countries.
‘Chad continued to host the largest Sudanese refugee population with 336,700, while 269,900 Sudanese refugees were living in South Sudan.
At the year’s end, DRC was the seventh largest country of origin of refugees, with 720,300 refugees. As in 2017, CAR remained the country of origin of the eighth largest refugee population.
‘Violence continued to force people to flee, with refugee numbers increasing from 545,500 to 590,900 during 2018. Eritrea remained the ninth largest country of origin with 507,300 refugees at the end of 2018, a slight increase from end-2017 when this population stood at 486,200.
‘Most were in neighbouring countries, such as Ethiopia and Sudan.’
Referring to the US attempt at regime change, the UNHCR press release added: ‘The crisis in Venezuela, in particular, is still only partly reflected in the total. In all, some four million Venezuelans have left their country, making this one of the world’s biggest current displacement crises.
Among those who fled the deepening political, economic and human rights crisis there is Euligio Baez, a 33-year-old indigenous Warao, who took his entire family to Brazil after three relatives died.
‘When my nine-month-old daughter died because of the lack of medicines, doctors or treatment, I decided to take my family out of Venezuela before another one of my children died,’ Baez said
UNHCR continued: ‘Although the majority of Venezuelans are in need of international refugee protection, as of today only around half a million have taken the step of formally applying for asylum.
‘The increased global figure gives further confirmation of a longer-term rising trend in the number of people around the world needing safety from war, conflict and persecution,’ UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.
Grandi stressed that while language around refugees and migrants is often divisive, not all is bleak.
He noted an ‘outpouring of generosity and solidarity’, especially by communities who are themselves hosting large numbers of refugees.
‘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,’ he said.
‘We must … redouble our solidarity with the many thousands of innocent people who are forced to flee their homes each day.’
Approved by the UN General Assembly in December, the Global Compact seeks a more equitable sharing of responsibility for hosting and supporting refugees, about 80 per cent of whom live in countries neighbouring their place of origin.
‘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,’ the High Commissioner added.
With refugees, the best solution is being able to return home voluntarily, in safety and dignity.
That hope remains uppermost for father-of-five Abdullah, a Syrian refugee who has lived in the same white, metallic shelter at Azraq refugee camp in Jordan since fleeing the war at home in July 2014.
‘For most Syrian refugees, our driving hope and purpose is to go back,’ he says, noting that ongoing conflict, compounded by lack of work, medicines and food in Syria, has made that return elusive. ‘We are yearning to see our country safe once more and to go back home.’