There’s no place like home: Record Human Displacement

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reiterated its call for the international community to seek solutions to the causes that force people into states of displacement. The UNHCR’s Global Trends report for 2017, released in June, affirmed the total number of displaced people around the world continued to grow, reaching record numbers for the fifth consecutive year. 2018 seems likely to continue the trajectory of human displacement, as well as its accompanying level of tragedy; following UNHCR confirmation that over 1500 people have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea in the past seven months.

As at the end of 2017, more than 68.5 million people, the world over, were estimated by the UNHCR to be displaced. The majority of these people (58%, or 40million) were believed to be internally displaced within their own country.  A further 25.4 million (37%) were forecast to be refugees, and only a relatively small 3.1 million (or less than 5% of the total 68.5 million people), were formally recognised as asylum seekers.

The UNCHR’s estimated number of displaced people has grown over 70% in the past five years, between 2012 and 2017. The Commissioner for Refugees cites the primary causes of displacement to be “Persecution, conflict and violence”.

While the majority of people forcibly displaced from their homes seek safety within the bounds of their country, others choose to leave, more often via avenues that further endanger their lives. However, the decision to leave is often the last to be made, as most people do not willingly leave their homes or homeland, if given the choice.

Yet with all these facts, formal support for people seeking asylum insufficiently meets the demand required by the growing number of displaced people on the move in search of safety. This arguably evidences a failure of the efforts actioned by the international community to adequately meet the shared Responsibility to Protect (R2P) vulnerable people.

Indeed, much needs to be done to provide a coordinated impact effort. High level international discussions to realise the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants have been on-going over the past eighteen months. The Declaration sets out commonly agreed goals to create an international strategy that provides collective responsibility to support the world’s refugees, and the countries who welcome them.

Discussions and work towards drafting an effective compact agreement, is now just a final draft away, following the end of formal discussions among UN members in July in Geneva. The completed agreement will be presented to the UN General Assembly for consideration and adoption. Through the compact, the international community will agree, as stated by the UNHCR, to “ease pressures on host countries; enhance refugee self-resilience; expand refugee’s access to solutions in third countries; and support conditions in countries of origin for refugees to return in safety and dignity.”   

If endorsed and adopted, the Global Refugee Compact will be a just-in-time measure that will more effectively deal with the ever-growing number of displaced people, including refugees and asylum seekers. For many though, the compact will not be delivered in time to save them from making dreadful, and often dead-ended decisions to flee their homes. A multidimensional strategy, as advocated by the UNHCR, to address conflict resolution and enable initiatives that support peace-building, must accompany the Compact, so as to maximise its effective and genuine capacity to assist humans in need of a safe environment; because, there is no place like home. 

Carolina Morison