For the first time, the threshold of 60 million people has been exceeded. The data are scary, shocking… they concern last year alone and are the only numbers retrievable with certainty; in 2016, they have been even worse… UNHCR, the main organization in the world committed to saving lives and protecting the rights of millions of refugees, displaced, and stateless persons, provides these data through the annual report Global Trends. The latter tracks forced migration in the world on the basis of data provided by local governments, partner agencies, one of which is the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. UNHCR reports that 65.3 million people were forced to flee in 2015, compared with 59.5 million a year earlier.
On a global scale, with a world population of 7.349 billion people, these numbers mean that one person out of 113 is now an asylum seeker, refugee or internally displaced – an unprecedented level of risk, according to UNHCR. Overall, the number of people forced to flee is higher than the population of France, UK, or Italy.
We often wonder: why now? Current events are the result of several factors: intensification of tribal conflicts, Isis, more and more evident poverty; but also long-lasting war situations, we do not always perceive in a proper way here, in the West. Conflicts in Somalia or Afghanistan, for example, are now respectively entering their third and fourth decade; the increased frequency with which new tragic events occur or preexistent crises deteriorate (the worst one in Syria, but looking at the last five years, we can also mention South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, Ukraine, Central African Republic, etc.).
After the end of the Cold war, the promptness of solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons has been constantly decreasing. Until 10 years ago (at the end of 2005), UNHCR had recorded about 6 people forced to abandon their homes every minute. Today, this number has risen to 24 people every minute, which is nearly twice as frequent as an adult’s respiratory rate.
More and more people are forced to flee because of war and persecution. This is worrying in itself, but also the factors that jeopardize refugees are multiplying,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “A frightening number of refugees and migrants die at sea every year; whereas on the mainland, the journey of people who flee from war is blocked by closed borders. The policy is some countries gravitates more and more towards restricting their access to asylum procedures.”
Three countries alone produce half of the world’s refugees: Syria with 4.9 million refugees, Afghanistan with 2.7 million, and Somalia with 1.1 million. At the same time, Colombia, with 6.9 million, is the country with the highest number of internally displaced persons, followed by Syria, with 6.6 million, and by Iraq with 4.4 million. Yemen is the country that generated the greatest number of new internally displaced persons in 2015: 2.5 million people, 9% of the country’s population.
In 2015, much attention was focused on the difficulties Europe experienced in managing the over one million refugees and migrants who reached Mediterranean countries by sea, but the report shows that the majority of refugees in the world were elsewhere. As much as 86% of the refugees under UNHCR mandate in 2015 were in low- and middle-income countries, in close proximity to conflict situations. Turkey is the main host country, with 2.5 million refugees. Whereas Lebanon hosts the highest number of refugees compared to the population in the country (183 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants).
Among industrialized countries, 2015 became also a record year in terms of the number of new asylum applications, with 2 million requests (which contributed to 3.2 million cases still pending at the end of the year). Germany received more asylum requests than any other country (441,900). The United States is the country with the second highest number of asylum applications (172,000), mostly received from people who have fled the violence of armed groups in Central America.
Special attention shall be paid to children: they represented 51% of refugees worldwide in 2015, according to data collected by UNHCR (the authors of the report did not have complete demographic data at hand). Many of them were separated from their parents or were traveling alone, which is a worrying fact.
And there is only one way to solve this issue: by creating the necessary conditions for these young people to return in peace to their countries and build a new future there. But to do so, we must first receive them, then change the situation in their countries of origin. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” it is not a slogan, but a lesson we need to transform into the underlying principle of every choice – even political – that concerns human lives.