Record 65 million people displaced worldwide, according to UN
Refugees making their way through the Balkans to Germany (AFP/file)
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The UN refugee agency says the number of people displaced by persecution and conflicts worldwide has hit a new record, with 65.3 million people forced from their home as of the end of 2015.
“This is the first time that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a report on Monday, adding the number of people displaced globally rose by 5.8 million through 2015.
The report, entitled Global Trends, said that the tally is greater than the population of the United Kingdom – or of Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined.
According to the report, three countries of Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia produce most of the numbers.
It further said that children made up an astonishing 51 percent of the world’s refugees last year, many of whom were separated from their parents or traveling alone.
According to the Geneva-based agency, on average 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade earlier, when six people fled every 60 seconds.
“More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too,” said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi.
“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem,” he noted.
Grandi said that anti-refugee sentiment was also standing in the way of those seeking asylum in some countries.
“The willingness of nations to work together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest is what's being tested today,” he said.
Counting Earth's population at 7.4 billion, the UN said that one out of every 113 people on the planet was now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee.
That marks “a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent,” the agency said.
The UN agency further urged leaders from Europe and elsewhere to do more to end the wars that are fanning the exodus of people from their homelands.
“I hope that the message carried by those forcibly displaced reaches the leaderships: We need action, political action, to stop conflicts,” said Grandi.
“The message that they have carried is: “If you don't solve problems, problems will come to you.”
The UN official also called on countries to work to fight the xenophobia that has accompanied the rise in refugee populations, and decried both physical barriers — like fences erected by some European countries — as well as legislative ones that limit access to wealthy and more peaceful EU states.
Such European policies are “spreading a negative example around the world,” he said.
“There is no plan B for Europe in the long run,” Grandi said. “Europe will continue to receive people seeking asylum. Their numbers may vary ... but it is inevitable.”
The new figures come as hostility is surging toward refugees and migrants in the Western countries where they are seeking sanctuary and relief.
On Saturday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced what he called “border closures, barriers and bigotry” during a visit to Lesbos, the Greek island where thousands of asylum seekers have arrived, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ban implored European leaders to stop treating refugees as criminals.
“Detention is not the answer. It should end immediately,” he said. “Let us work together to resettle more people, provide legal pathways and better integrate refugees.”
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