Number of refugees hits five-year high, UNHCR report reveals

Posted at 5:24 PM, Jun 19, 2018

More than 68 million people were forced to flee their homes last year as a result of war, violence and other forms of persecution, according to a new report from the UN's refugee agency.

The number of displaced people hit a record high -- up from 65.6 million in 2016 -- according to the annual UNHCR Global Trends report published Tuesday.

The UNHCR noted that the Syrian war had once again played a role in driving up the figures across the globe. But it also noted that substantial growth had come from new displacement in other developing countries -- such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Myanmar.

To illustrate the mammoth number of people on the move, the UNHCR said the latest trends suggested that on average last year, a person became displaced every two seconds.

One in every 110 people on the planet is a refugee, is internally displaced or is seeking asylum, the report states.

'No one becomes a refugee by choice'

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the world had reached a critical turning point, indicating that a global deal on refugees was critical.

"We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren't left dealing with this alone," Grandi said in a statement.

"But there is reason for some hope. Fourteen countries are already pioneering a new blueprint for responding to refugee situations and in a matter of months a new Global Compact on Refugees will be ready for adoption by the United Nations General Assembly," Grandi continued.

"Today, on the eve of World Refugee Day, my message to member states is please support this. No one becomes a refugee by choice; but the rest of us can have a choice about how we help."

Most refugees from 5 countries

The yearly report, released ahead of World Refugee Day on Wednesday, provided several key insights into the realities of forced displacement.

For the fourth year in a row, Turkey was the world's top refugee-hosting country, receiving 3.5 million refugees inside its borders. Pakistan and Uganda followed as other main countries of asylum with 1.4 million refugees respectively.

Most refugees -- just over two-thirds of all refugees worldwide -- came from just five countries: Syria (6.3 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2.4 million), Myanmar (1.2 million) and Somalia (986,400).

And while there is a narrative that many of the world's displaced are trying to cross the Mediterranean sea into Europe, the report said those movements actually decreased last year compared to 2016. The UNHCR found that the majority of displaced persons remained closer to home, with four out of five refugees remaining in countries next door to their own. Only a relatively smaller amount of people ventured further afield to seek protection from persecution, the organization added.

With 331,700 requests, the United States received the most new asylum claims, followed by Germany, Italy and Turkey.

Meanwhile, 138,700 unaccompanied and separated child refugees and asylum seekers were reported in 2017 by 63 UNHCR operations, the report said.

The report highlighted that conflicts remained a strong driver of displacement, with around five million people returning to their countries of origin in 2017.