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Imagine to be deafened by the sound of explosions, to see buildings collapsing around you, to breathe smoke. Imagine to witness violence, death and destruction all around you. And imagine to leave behind everything you’ve always considered familiar: your personal belongings, your friends, your house, your town, maybe even your country. Now imagine to be abused by people who, rather than helping you, exploit your sufferance to make profit. And imagine to use all the money collected throughout your life to cross deserts, seas and borders, with no food, no water, no medicines, no mercy, and just a tiny hope of arriving alive to the other side. Now, scale that to the size of countries like Italy or the United Kingdom, and imagine the entire population (children, youth, adults, elders) going through that ordeal. That’s exactly the story of millions of refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and asylum seekers around the world. Happening now, increasing every day.
Today, June 20, the international community celebrates World Refugee Day, and UNHCR, the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees, released on Thursday (June 18) its annual Global Trends Report: “World at War”. Numbers are appalling. Ten years ago there were 37.5 million people forcibly displaced around the world. At the end of 2013 the number raised to 51.2 million. In 2014, worldwide displacement reached the highest level ever recorded: 59.5 million. 19.5 million were refugees (up from 16.7 million in 2013); 38.2 million were IDPs, people displaced within their home countries (up from 33.3 million in 2013); and 1.8 million people were asylum seekers (up from 1.2 million in 2013). 86% of refugees came from regions and countries considered economically less developed, and over half the world’s refugees are children.
In 2014, worldwide displacement reached the highest level ever recorded: 59.5 million. 86% of refugees came from regions and countries considered economically less developed, and over half the world’s refugees are children.
To understand the scale of the phenomenon, imagine to put these 59.5 million people together in one place, forming one country: it would be the 24th most populous nation in the world. As UNHCR notes, “Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.”
Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.
UNHCR further notes that, besides decades-old conflicts in countries such as Afghanistan or Somalia, during the past five years 15 new conflicts have erupted or reignited: eight in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and this year in Burundi); three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); one in Europe (Ukraine) and three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan). The Syrian war alone has produced the largest mass migration since 2011. Every day in 2014 on average 42,500 people left their land, becoming internally displaced, asylum seekers, or refugees. Only 126,800 refugees were able to return to their countries, the lowest number in 31 years.
The Middle East was the world’s largest producer and host of forced displacement, with 7.6 million IDPs in Syria and 3.88 million Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries, in addition to 2.6 million people displaced in Iraq; Lebanon hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its national population, with 232 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants. Europe experienced the highest increment in migration flows (+51% compared to 2013), with a record 219,000 Mediterranean crossings, 1.59 million Syrian refugees in Turkey (the largest refugee-hosting country worldwide), and the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. While in Northern Africa the Libyan crisis produced 309,000 newly displaced people, 3.7 million refugees and 11.4 million IDPs were registered in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Nigeria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, and Democratic Republic of Congo. 9 million people were forcibly displaced in Asia in 2014, with Iran and Pakistan as two of the world’s top four refugee hosting countries. Colombia was the most affected country in the Americas, with 6 million IDPs, while the United States received 36,800 more asylum claims than in 2013, a growth of 44%.
Click HERE to read the full UNHCR Global Trends Report: “World at War”.
[Cover image: photo collage by artist, Elena Dorfman, on assignment for UNHCR in the Syria region]
Andrea Pregel is an inclusion professional with experience in disability, development, education, gender and health across Europe and Asia. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Social Research from the University of Turin (Italy), and an Erasmus Mundus MA/Mgr in Special and Inclusive Education from the University of Roehampton in London (UK), the University of Oslo (Norway) and Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic). He is Co-founder and President of the Global Observatory for Inclusion (GLOBI), and works as Programme Advisor for Social Inclusion and Disability at Sightsavers International.