GENEVA - The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, warns the number of people being displaced worldwide by conflict and persecution is spiraling out of control at a time when aid agencies are too broke to help them.
Speaking in Geneva, he opened the annual refugee conference with a plea for more financial support to tackle a myriad of global refugee crises.
A video of people fleeing conflict and persecution provided a moving image for conference participants of the desperation facing tens of thousands of refugees forced to uproot themselves from their homes.
When Guterres assumed his post in 2005, there were 38 million displaced people around the world. Now, 10 years later, there are more than 60 million refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people.
Over the past five years, the UNHCR reports 15 new conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and elsewhere have broken out or been reignited. It estimates the number of people globally displaced by conflict every day has nearly quadrupled in that period.
Crisis largest since WWII
Guterres says it is becoming more difficult for the world to ignore the plight of refugees since Syria’s almost five-year long civil war has been brought to European shores, triggering the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
He highlighted the reluctance of Europe to deal with today’s refugee crisis by noting how quickly and humanely European countries responded to and assisted 200,000 Hungarian refugees who had fled to Austria and Yugoslavia in 1956.
“What was possible then, when Europe was still recovering from the… worst war in human history, should also be possible today. Over half a million people have arrived on Europe’s shores since January. In a continent of more than 500 million inhabitants, 5,000 people arriving daily is a very significant number. But, it is not an unmanageable one, provided things are properly managed,” he said.
Guterres noted the European refugee crisis is just one of many. For example, he said millions of people have become refugees or internally displaced over the past year alone because of conflicts in places such as South Sudan, Yemen, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Afghanistan.
He said the UNHCR and other aid agencies have received less than half of the money they need to provide humanitarian assistance to 82 million people around the world. He said the humanitarian system is not broken, as some argue. But, Guterres said the humanitarian system is financially broke and that must be fixed.