GENEVA — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that 51.2 million people were forced to flee their homes across the world at the end of last year. This figure marks the highest rise in global displacement since World War II.
Half of the world’s refugees are children, and many travel alone, increasing the risk of being captured by human traffickers. Those who traveled across borders were especially vulnerable.
Networks of trafficking and smuggling are becoming more widespread and powerful across the globe. National authorities in the developing world have limited resources available to address the rising issue of human-trafficking gangs, which have been linked to cases of rape, torture, sexual exploitation, extortion and murder.
“We are witnessing a quantum leap in forced displacement in the world,” said Antonio Guterres, head of the United Nations Refugee Agency. A country composed of just the displaced people across the globe would be the 24th most populous in the world; additionally, the number of forcibly displaced individuals exceeds the populations of countries like South Africa, Spain and South Korea.
Forcibly displaced persons are split into three groups: (1) refugees, (2) asylum seekers and (3) internally displaced people. An estimated 16.7 million people worldwide are refugees. Most are Palestinians. The biggest refugee populations come from Afghans, Syrians and Somalis. The main host countries include Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Developing countries host a large percentage of the world’s refugees as well. Nearly 1.2 million people submitted asylum claims last year (usually in developed nations.) Germany received the largest number of asylum seekers, most of whom are from Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma. A record number of internally displaced people – 33.3 million – were also forced to flee their homes, however, they remained within country borders.
Compared to figures from 2012, the current number of forcibly displaced people is greater by around 6 million. This increase has mostly been attributed to the war in Syria. By the end of last year, 2.5 million Syrians had escaped from the country, and an additional 6.5 million were internally displaced. Conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan have also played a role in augmenting the global displacement figure.
On average, 32,200 people flee their homes each day. There are various factors that force people to leave: climate change, population growth, urbanization, food insecurity and water scarcity. Most of these factors are codependent on each other, making it difficult for experts to identify the main source of the global rise of forcibly displaced people.
Guterres believes that the new data represents “a world where peace is dangerously in deficit… the incapacity of the international community firstly to prevent conflicts and secondly, to find solutions to those conflicts.” Although some conflicts that contributed to displacement were unpredictable, the international community has demonstrated few efforts to prevent the issue from worsening.
Given the enormous scale of the refugee crisis, Guterres has stated that the solution lies with political entities, not humanitarian organizations. UNHCR, for example, has noted an increasing strain in available resources, even after halving the proportion of its budget spent on costs of headquarters. It is hoped that a political approach could gradually alleviate conflicts that produce the current high levels of global displacement.