Over 2 million people were forced to flee their homes last year, driving up the number of the displaced to a record 70.8 million worldwide, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a new report Wednesday.
The figure includes refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people at the end of 2018.
Launching the agency’s “Global Trends” report, UNHCR Chief, Filippo Grandi, said the phenomenon was growing in the “wrong direction.”
“We have become almost unable to make peace,” he said.
“It is true there are new conflicts, new situations producing refugees…, (but) the old ones never get resolved,” he added. “When is the last conflict that you remember was resolved?”
Violence in Ethiopia drove about 1.56 million people to leave their homes last year, although the vast majority of the displaced stayed inside Ethiopian borders. Over one-fifth of global asylum seekers came from Venezuela, where people are fleeing deep political and economic crisis. The UNHCR noted some 340,000 asylum seekers from the South American country, but said the actual number is likely much larger due to the Venezuelan crisis being underreported. The UN believes some 4 million people have left Venezuela since the start of 2016.
Grandi pleaded for donors to help countries taking in Venezuelan migrants. “Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
Grandi commended the United States for being the “largest supporter of refugees” and the biggest single donor to the UNHCR. At the same time, he decried the hostility that the displaced people face. “In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He also criticised long-term administrative issues in the US that caused it to have world’s biggest backlog of asylum seekers. Some 719,000 asylum claims are currently waiting to be resolved in the US.
The number of forcibly displaced people has been growing for the last seven years and has risen nearly 65% compared to 10 years ago.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of the British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”
The Wednesday report also notes that developing countries take in by far the largest number of refugees.