UNHCR Report Says A Record 65 Million People Are Displaced Worldwide

“An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18,” UNHCR writes in remarks to its Global Trends report for 2015. More than 65.3 million people worldwide were displaced by the end of last year, which is 5.8 million more people, as opposed to 2014 where it was 59.5 million people. 1 in every 113 people on the planet are now internally displaced in a home country, a refugee, or an asylum seeker. For the first time in UNHCR’s history, since World War II, the threshold of 60 million has been surpassed.

The rate at which people are fleeing war and persecution has soared from 6 per minute in 2005 to 24 per minute in 2015, according to UNHCR figures. The rising number of displaced people raise concerns for the world and the lack of response by wealthier nations to address the root causes paints a troubling picture for a very large population of the world who have had their lives disrupted. “If these 65.3 million persons were a nation, they would make up the 21st largest in the world,” the report said.

The intense fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, Burundi and South Sudan have led to displacements amounting to 21.3 million people. Syria at 4.9 million, Afghanistan at 2.7 million, and Somalia at 1.1 million together accounted for more than half the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate worldwide. Colombia at 6.9 million, Syria at 6.6 million, and Iraq at 4.4 million had the largest numbers of internally displaced people. The Syrian war, which began in 2011 can be attributed to the alarming increase of nearly 50 percent in five years. This mass exodus of people are a cause of long-standing conflicts, such as those seen in Somalia and Afghanistan.

The second reason, as outlined in the UNHCR report for the rise in forced displacement since the mid-1990’s, is the frequent occurrence of new or reignited conflicts and situations of insecurity. While today’s largest is Syria, wars have broken out in the past five years in South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, Ukraine and the Central African Republic. Adding to this, thousands of people have fled raging gang and drug violence in Central America. The United States has taken in more than 172,700 asylum claims, mostly from southern neighbors.

The third reason, as explicitly stated by the UNHCR, is the slowing rate at which solutions are being found for refugees and internally displaced people. This rate has been on a falling trend since the end of the Cold War. At a time where political barriers and xenophobia, which is the irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries is on the rise, refugees and migrants attempting to flee countries face further hardships. “The refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean and arriving on the shores of Europe, the message that they have carried is that if you don’t solve problems, problems will come to you,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said at a news briefing. “We need action, political action to stop conflicts that would be the most important prevention of refugee flows.”

The deal between the EU and Turkey has been heavily criticized given that stopping the flow of migrants does not solve the root causes of displacement. The slow response by EU countries to take in 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy is also not being implemented swiftly enough. The lack of response and increased legislative barriers by other wealthy countries to actively grant asylum and take on refugees also contributes to the problem at hand.  Although many news outlets focus on Europe’s response to the “migrant crisis,” the report shows that 86 percent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate in 2015 were in low and middle-income countries close to situations of conflict. As we celebrate World Refugee Day, it is important that the world comes together to address these root causes and alleviate problems caused by migration for those who are displaced.  

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