More than 70 million men, women and children fled war, persecution and conflict last year – a record annual high and an overall total amounting to the world’s 20th most populous country – according to the UN’s refugee agency.
The yearly Global Trends report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), published on Wednesday, put the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people worldwide in 2018 at 70.8 million, up more than two million from 2017, and signalled a nearly 70 percent increase from a decade ago.
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Half of those forced to flee their homes were children, with the overall total marking the highest figure in UNHCR’s nearly 70 years of operations and the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
Filippo Grandi, the UNHCR commissioner, said the figures showed “confirmation of a longer-term rising trend in the number of people needing safety from war, conflict and persecution”.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in the Swiss city of Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations producing refugees adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
‘Another dreadful record’
The displaced figure for 2018 – which included 41.3 million internally displaced people, 25.9 million refugees, 3.5 million asylum seekers – was equivalent to 37,000 individuals being forced from their homes every day.
Asylum seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
Reacting to UNHCR’s findings, Fionna Smyth, head of humanitarian campaigns for global NGO Oxfam International, called on the international community to do more to help those in need of protection.
“No country is above doing something to help and wealthy countries have a special responsibility to step up their efforts by offering aid to host nations and by resettling people who need protection,” Smyth said.
“Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make because of threats to their safety and most basic rights,” Smyth added. “Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten.”
The report showed the phenomenon was both growing in size and duration with some 80 percent of the “displacement situations” having lasted more than five years.
After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continued to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Meanwhile, amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum seekers in 2018. More than 340,000 such cases – about 20 percent worldwide last year – involved Venezuelan nationals.
About four million people are known to have left the country in recent years, with the majority moving to nearby nations in the region.
Altogether, more than two thirds of all refugees worldwide last year came from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.
For the fifth consecutive year, meanwhile, Turkey hosted the largest number of those fleeing overseas – some 3.7 million people, the vast majority of whom are Syrian. Pakistan, Uganda, Sudan and Germany followed with each accommodating more than one million people seeking refuge.
Overall, just 92,400 refugees were resettled across 25 different countries last year, fewer than seven percent of all those awaiting such a move.
Noting the figures, Grandi decried recent hostile rhetoric to migrants and refugees, pouring particular scorn on US President Donald Trump and his “America First” agenda.
“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 to take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said.
“I want to say to the US administration – to the president – but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging,” he added.
The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR and the world’s largest recipient of asylum applications, according to the agency.