GENEVA - A new report has found that more people than ever before have become refugees or are internally displaced worldwide because of war, violence, and persecution.
The U.N. refugee agency’s “Global Trends Report,” released on the eve of World Refugee Day, June 20, shows an unprecedented 65.6 million people were determined forcibly displaced at the end of 2016, an increase of 300,000 over the previous year.
Nearly two-thirds of this total are people who have been forcibly displaced within their own country. Refugee numbers worldwide have reached 22.5 million, which the report notes “is the highest ever seen.”
The UNHCR reports that one in every 113 people worldwide is either a refugee or is forcibly displaced within his or her own country. Of the 65.6 million people that were found displaced last year, the report notes that 10.3 million were newly displaced, which equates to one person becoming uprooted every three seconds.
While people continued to flee in record numbers, the report found that last year around one half million refugees returned home and about 6.5 million internally displaced people went back to their places of origin although “many did so in less than ideal circumstances and facing uncertain prospects.”
Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for Refugees said, “It is an extremely moveable situation, an extremely dynamic situation, which reflects in turn conflicts that continue to affect mostly and primarily and very violently civilians.”
Syria tops list
Data show that the Syrian conflict has generated the largest numbers of displaced people worldwide, with 12 million people, or nearly two-thirds of the population, either internally displaced or living as refugees, mainly in five neighboring countries — Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt.
“Turkey continues to be for the third consecutive year, the largest hosting country,” said Grandi. “But, Lebanon, another one of the neighboring countries, is the country that has the highest per capita ratio compared to the local population in terms of the number of refugees.”
The report notes Afghanistan and Iraq have the second and third largest numbers of forcibly displaced people and that South Sudan has the world’s fastest growing refugee and displacement crisis.
“The report, which records statistics at the end of 2016 indicates [that] 1.4 million refugees from South Sudan [are] in neighboring countries and almost two million internally displaced people,” said Grandi. “Those figures are probably higher. We certainly have counted at least half a million more in the first semester of this year in terms of refugees.”
He added that most of the South Sudanese have sought refuge in neighboring Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.
The report notes that most refugees — 84 percent — are in developing countries, half of them children. While the world’s poorest nations shoulder the greatest burden of the global refugee crisis, the report found that most of the 2.8 million asylum claims made in 2016 were lodged in rich countries.
The UNHCR said the largest recipient of new asylum applications was Germany with more than 722,400 registered last year. The United States came in second with 262,000 newly filed applications.
The report called the large number of unaccompanied children asking for asylum a growing and unsettling development.
“Tragically, 75,000 asylum claims were received from children travelling alone or separated from their parent.” The UNHCR report added that even this number probably “underestimated the true figure.”
Declining aid contributions
High Commissioner Grandi said that one of his greatest concerns was the declining contributions of the international community to meet the needs of this burgeoning refugee and displacement crisis.
For example, he said only 23 percent of the U.N.’s $8 billion appeal for the Syrian crisis has been received. “This is very low for mid-year.”
He told VOA “I only hope this is a matter of pledges delayed by different factors and not because the Syrians are forgotten.”
He noted that the United States was the largest donor to refugee programs and that Washington had contributed $1.5 billion to UNHCR last year.
“I think this year the budget will be fundamentally stable. There is uncertainty regarding the budget of next year,” he said. “It is not just in respect to refugee aid, but it is in general regarding foreign aid.”
He said that the UNHCR had added its voice to many others, including the U.S. establishment “to say that foreign aid is an important tool of international stability, of positive influence, and it is a humanitarian tool that saves lives.”
“So, for all these reasons,” he added, “we hope that the levels of U.S. aid globally, including refugee aid, will be considered at the appropriate levels.”
The Trump administration has proposed cutting the $30 billion foreign-aid budget by 31 percent next year. Although this amount is less than one percent of the U.S. $3.8 trillion Federal Budget, polls show Americans believe foreign aid takes up a much larger share.