Worldwide, a record of 65.3 million people were displaced last year, many of them fleeing wars only to face walls, tougher laws and xenophobia as they reach borders, the United Nations refugee (UNHCR) agency said on Monday.
The figure, which jumped from 59.5 million in 2014 and by 50 percent in five years, means that 1 in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee, asylum-seeker or internally displaced in a home country.
Fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, Burundi and South Sudan has driven the latest exodus, bringing the total number of refugees to 21.3 million, half of them children, the UNHCR said in its “Global Trends” report marking World Refugee Day.
“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,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told a news briefing.
“It’s painful that it has taken so long for people in the rich countries to understand that,” he said. “We need action, political action to stop conflicts, that would be the most important prevention of refugee flows.”
A record 2 million new asylum claims were lodged in industrialised countries in 2015, the report said. Nearly 100,000 were unaccompanied children or separated from their families, a three-fold rise on 2014 and a historic high.
Germany, where one in three applicants was Syrian, led with 441,900 claims, followed by the United States with 172,700, many of them fleeing gang and drug-related violence in Mexico and Central America.
Developing regions still host 86 percent of the world’s refugees, led by Turkey with 2.5 million Syrians, followed by Pakistan and Lebanon, the report said.
Rise of Xenophobia
Asylum-seekers fleeing conflicts or persecution are increasingly confronted with walls or anti-foreigner sentiment, Grandi said. “The rise of xenophobia is, unfortunately, becoming a very defining feature of the environment in which we work.
“Barriers are rising everywhere – and I’m not just talking about walls. But I’m talking about legislative barriers that are coming up, including in countries in the industrialised world that have been for a long time bastions of principle in defending the fundamental rights linked to the asylum.”
After Balkan countries closed borders, Turkey and the European Union (EU) struck a deal in March to stem an influx that brought a million refugees and migrants to Europe in 2015.
“The fact that that flow has stopped does not mean the problem of displacement has ended. It may have ended for some countries that don’t have to deal with it anymore, for now,” Grandi said.
Progress has lagged on a scheme to redistribute 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU states to alleviate pressure on the two frontline countries. Only 2,406 people have been relocated, EU figures show.
Grandi, when asked about stalled relocation, said:
“There is no Plan B for Europe. Europe will continue to receive people seeking asylum. Everybody has to share responsibility now.”
Displacement in 2015, by region (from highest to lowest)
- The Middle East and North Africa
Syria’s war remained the world’s leading cause of displacement and associated suffering. By the end of 2015 it had driven at least 4.9 million people into exile as refugees and displaced 6.6 million internally – amounting to around half Syria’s pre-war population. Iraq’s conflict had by year’s end displaced 4.4 million people internally and created more than a quarter of a million refugees. Yemen’s civil war, which began in 2015, had by the end of December displaced 2.5 million people – more new displacement than any other conflict globally. Including the 5.2 million Palestinian refugees under the mandate of UNRWA, the almost half a million Libyans forced to flee their homes and remaining in the country, plus a number of smaller situations, the Middle East and North Africa region accounted for more displacement than any other.
- Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa had the largest displacement totals in 2015 after the Middle East and North Africa. Continuing bitter conflict in South Sudan in 2015, as well as in the Central African Republic and Somalia, plus new or continuing mass displacement in or from countries including Nigeria, Burundi, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and elsewhere together produced 18.4 million refugees and internally displaced people as of year’s end. Sub-Saharan Africa meanwhile hosted some 4.4 million refugees in all – more than any other region. Five of the world’s top-10 hosting nations were African countries, led by Ethiopia, and followed by Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad.
- Asia and Pacific
The Asia and Pacific region accounted for almost a sixth of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people in 2015, making it the third largest region for displacement overall. One in six of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate were from Afghanistan (2.7 million people) where almost 1.2 million people were internally displaced. Myanmar was the region’s second largest producer of both refugees and internally displaced people (451,800 and 451,000 respectively). Pakistan (1.5 million) and Islamic Republic of Iran (979,000) remain among the world’s leading refugee hosting countries.
Rising numbers of people fleeing gang and other violence in Central America contributed to a 17 percent rise in displacement across the wider region. Refugees and asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras together reached 109,800, most coming to Mexico and the United States and representing a more than five-fold increase over three years. Colombia, a longstanding situation, remained the world’s biggest country for internal displacement (6.9 million).
The situation in Ukraine, Europe’s proximity to Syria and Iraq, plus the arrival of more than a million refugees and migrants via the Mediterranean mostly from the world’s top ten refugee-producing countries, together dominated the region’s displacement picture in 2015. European countries together produced some 593,000 refugees – most from Ukraine; and hosted 4.4 million – 2.5 million of these in Turkey. Figures provided by the Government of Ukraine list 1.6 million Ukrainians as being displaced there. The Global Trends report lists 441,900 asylum claims in Germany, where the refugee population increased by 46 percent from its 2014 level to 316,000.
Three countries produce half the world’s refugees
Among countries covered by the Global Trends report several stand out: 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 meanwhile had the largest numbers of internally displaced people. Yemen was the biggest producer of new internal displacement in 2015 – 2.5 million people, or 9 percent of its population.
Over half of the world’s refugees are children
Children constituted 51 percent of the world’s refugees in 2015 according to the data UNHCR was able to gather. Worryingly, many were separated from their parents or travelling alone. In all, there were 98,400 asylum requests from children who were unaccompanied or separated from their families. This is the highest total UNHCR has seen – and a tragic reflection of how global forced displacement is disproportionately affecting young lives.