GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency reports more than nine million people were newly displaced by persecution and conflict in 2019, bringing the total number of forcibly displaced around the world to a record-breaking 79.5 million people. These unprecedented figures appear in the agency’s annual Global Trends report, released in advance of World Refugee Day on June 20.
More than one percent of humanity or one in every 97 persons on earth is now uprooted.
The U.N. refugee agency considers this a matter of great concern. It notes most of the nearly 80 million uprooted are displaced inside their own countries, while 29.6 million are refugees, who have sought asylum in other countries.
Despite commonly held perceptions, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, says most refugees do not seek asylum in richer countries, but flee to nearby countries. He says 85 percent are being hosted by poor developing countries.
The UNHCR chief says only five countries generate 68 percent of the world’s refugees.
“Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. You know what this means. If crises in these countries were solved, 68 percent of the global forced displacement would probably be on its way to being solved," he said.
Grandi says conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s Sahel region, Yemen and Syria account for most of the nine million newly displaced last year. He says he is particularly worried about the dramatic drop in the number of refugees who are able to return home or find countries of resettlement.
In the 1990s, he notes an average 1.5 million refugees were able to return home each year. This number, he says, has now declined to fewer than 400,000 a year.
“This, of course, is a sign of the persistence of conflicts, the emergence of new conflicts, the inability, the paralysis of the international community, including institutions like the Security Council to address these conflicts, to bring them to an end and to create conditions for refugees and displaced people to return home," he said.
The report notes the number of refugees resettled in third countries has fallen to 107,000 last year from a high of 163,000 in 2016. U.S. resettlement figures have declined dramatically. Canada now has replaced the United States as the biggest receiving country.
Information in the Global Trends report does not include the likely impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on asylum. But High Commissioner Grandi notes 164 countries have totally or partially closed their borders because of the pandemic. This, he says has put a brake on people’s ability to cross borders in search of international protection.