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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

UN says refugee crisis hits 'five year high'

An average of 44,000 people per day were displaced last year

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, visits a refugee camp providing temporary shelter to Libyans who were displaced from the town of Tawergha, near Tripoli, on June 18. AFP
Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, visits a refugee camp providing temporary shelter to Libyans who were displaced from the town of Tawergha, near Tripoli, on June 18. AFP

More than 68 million people worldwide are currently displaced after fleeing war and persecution, with 16.2 million fleeing their homes in the past year, according to a UN report published Tuesday.

The annual figures showed that more than half of those displaced – which includes asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced people – were children.

"We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren't left dealing with this alone," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Around 70 per cent of the displaced come from just 10 countries, he told reporters in Geneva ahead of the launch of the annual UNHCR Global Trends report.

"If there were solutions to conflicts in those 10 countries, or in some of them at least, that huge figure, instead of rising every year, could start going down," he said, calling for more political will to halt the crises driving so many from their homes.

The report, released on the eve of World Refugee Day, noted that five countries accounted for two-thirds of all refugees. Syria led with 6.3 million refugees dispersed outside its borders, followed by Afghanistan with 2.6 million refugees, South Sudan with 2.4 million, Myanmar with 1.2 million and Somalia with nearly one million.

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Along with 25.4 million refugees, a further 43.1 million people are displaced within their home country. Worldwide, one person in every 110 is displaced from their home.

While 5 million people returned to their country of origin year, an average of more than 44,000 were newly displaced every day.

The world had almost as many forcibly displaced people in 2017 as the population of Thailand.

The UNHCR said the figures debunk a flawed perception among some that the refugee crisis has disproportionately affected developed countries in the "Global North". In contrast, 85 per cent of refugees are living in developing countries, many of which are "desperately poor".

The new figures follow Hollywood actress and special envoy for the UNHCR Angelina Jolie's warning of a funding shortfall for the agency's work in Syria.

Ms Jolie, spoke to reporters on Monday after touring Domiz Camp, home to 33,000 Syrian refugees, near the town of Dohuk in northern Iraq, telling them that the agency's appeal for Syrian refugees was hugely underfunded.

Funding received by the agency to help refugees from the Syrian conflict fell sharply this year from 2017, with only 50 per cent of the funds it requested of donors being offered.

"There are terrible human consequences," she said. "When there is even not the bare minimum of aid, refuge families cannot receive adequate medical treatment."

In addition, the Syrian crisis is now witnessing a phase of "displacement of the displaced", according to the head of Doctors without Borders (MSF) in northern Syria, Brian Moller.

“Syria also hosts around 450,000 Palestinian refugees, due to the dynamics of the security context, half of those have now been displaced,” said Mr Moller, who has been in the country since 2012.

Mr Moller emphasised that people need to feel safe in order to return home and to normalise their lives.

"I don’t think that Syria is ever going to be same again after this war, I think that’s a common consensus among the people that are living and working here, under these conditions, it’s going to require a lot of work and will take a lot longer than the war has lasted," Mr Moller said, adding that calls for diplomatic solutions to end the crisis have largely failed.

"The only resolution that Syria is going to find is a military solution," he said.

Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide for the fourth year running. At the end of 2017, 3.5 million refugees, mostly Syrians, were living in the country.

The United States received the most new individual applications for asylum last year, at nearly 332,000. Germany was second with more than 198,000.

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council who once headed the UN humanitarian aid agency, said cooperation between countries and diplomacy for peace were in "deep crisis."

"International responsibility-sharing for displaced people has utterly collapsed. Rich countries are building walls against families fleeing war, at the same time as less money is available for aid to people in conflict areas," Egeland said. He said leaders in many countries are invoking border closures in Europe to carry out their own exclusion policies.

"We have to end this race to the bottom, and rather let us be inspired by generous recipient countries like Uganda, where vulnerable refugees are being protected," he said.

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