More refugees on Earth than ever before, UN report
A Burundian refugee camp at Mahama, Rwanda
A shocking new report from the UN reveals there are now more refugees on the Earth than ever before in human history.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that by the end of last year 65.3 million people â€“ equal to the population of France â€“ had been forced from their homes by poverty, war or persecution.
And half of them are children, many separated from parents.
The agencyâ€™s annualÂ Global TrendsÂ report, published on Monday â€“ World Refugee Day â€“ says one person in every 113 is a refugee, in â€œa level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent”.
With continuing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Palestine, the Mena region accounts for more displacement than any other region.
This is the first time the worldâ€™s refugee population has exceeded 60 million, and it is a sharp rise of almost 10 per cent over the 59.5 million in 2014.
If refugees were the citizens of a single country, it would be the 21st largest nation in the world.
The rate at which the problem was increasing was almost incomprehensible, said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. â€œEvery minute 24 people flee their homes,” Mr Grandi said. â€œThis is a striking, striking figure.”
There were 98,400 asylum requests from children who were alone, the largest number recorded by UNHCR â€œand a tragic reflection of how global forced displacement is disproportionately affecting young lives”.
It has always been dangerous to be a refugee, â€œbut these days those risks have increased”, Mr Grandi said.
â€œThink of the refugees that have to cross thousands of kilometres of desert in hardship with a lot of people threatening them. Think of women that face exploitation in order to reach places of safety.”
Equally threatening, he said, was â€œthe hostile xenophobic environment that is growing in rich countries and elsewhere”.
But the greatest danger, Mr Grandi said, was the desperation that symbolises the crisis: â€œWe have seen more deaths at sea of refugees and migrants in the last couple of years than we have ever seen before, in the Mediterranean, in the Bay of Bengal and other places.”
The crisis was highlighted last September when aÂ photograph of the drowned Syrian Alan Kurdi, 3, who washed up on a Turkish beach after a failed attempt by his family to cross from Turkey to Greece in a small boat, shocked people around the world.
Throughout last year, the report says, more than a million people arrived in Europe by sea, a four-fold increase on the previous year. Thousands died or were reported missing during these crossings.
The UNHCR classifies as refugees the record 40.8 million people who have fled their homes but who remain in their own countries, the 21.3 million who have sought sanctuary abroad and the 3.2 million looking for asylum in industrialised nations.
Countries with the largest amount of refugees who fled abroad included Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million).
Even larger numbers were internally displaced â€“ Syria, 6.6 million and Iraq, 4.4 million. But at the top of the table is Colombia, where 6.9 million people remain displaced by that countryâ€™s decades-long civil war.
Yemen, where 2.5 million people, or 9 per cent of the population have been forced from their homes by civil war, was the biggest source of new internal displacement last year.
More than 80 UAE service personnel have lost their lives in Yemen serving as part of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition supporting the government against an insurrection by Houthi rebels.
The report also highlights the burden on the â€œcountries of asylum”, the top 10 of which were all in developing regions. Turkey, with 2.5 million refugees, hosts the most, followed by Pakistan (1.6 million), Lebanon (1.1 million) and Iran (980,000). Jordan offers refuge to 664,000.
Although much of the focus is on events in the Middle East, the report is a reminder that crises in sub-Saharan Africa account for considerable suffering.
Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad hosted 2.5 million refugees, mainly from conflicts in Somalia, Sudan and the Central African Republic.
World leaders will gather at UN headquarters in New York on September 19 to discuss the refugee crisis and Mr Grandi said the single most important issue facing them was clear. â€œThe main action the international community that world leaders, especially powerful world leaders, must take is to join forces to stop war,” he said. â€œEverybody agrees wars have to be stopped. There is just no unity in that effort and that is the most important action we must take to stop forced displacement.”
In the meantime, Mr Grandi said, â€œwe need to improve the way we respond to mass movements of people, with longer-term approaches and much bigger resources”, but he was discouraged and concerned by hardening attitudes towards refugees in Europe.
â€œThis is dangerous,” he said. â€œThis has an effect on other parts of the world that look at Europe traditionally as the birthplace of the modern concept of asylum, as the region where asylum has traditionally been upheld in a very strong manner.”