Moral Low Ground


World Refugee Day: UN Counts 65 Million Displaced People Worldwide, a New Record

June 21, 2016 by Brett Wilkins in Immigration, War, World with 0 Comments
A Syrian refugees cries tears of joy upon arrival on the Greek island of Kos. (Photo: Daniel Etter/Flickr Creative Commons)

A Syrian refugees cries tears of joy upon arrival on the Greek island of Kos. (Photo: Daniel Etter/Flickr Creative Commons)

The number of refugees in the world has reached the highest level ever recorded, according to a new United Nations report released on World Refugee Day.

The Global Trends 2015 report released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) counts 65.3 million people displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of more than 5 million from the previous year. Of those, 21.3 million are refugees, 3.2 million are asylum seekers and 40.8 million are people internally displaced within their own countries. One in every 113 human beings on Earth is now either a refugee, an asylum-seeker or internally displaced person. On average, 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015. Children comprise more than half of all refugees worldwide, with many separated from their parents or traveling alone.

According to the report, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia produce half the world’s refugees, at 4.9 million, 2.7 million and 1.1 million, respectively, while Colombia has the largest numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), at 6.9 million, followed by Syria’s 6.6 million and Iraq’s 4.4 million.

Most of the mainstream media coverage in the developed world has focused on the more than 1 million refugees who risked—and often lost—life and loved ones while making the perilous journey from war- and poverty-stricken Middle Eastern, Asian and African nations. However, the overwhelming majority of refugees—86 percent—are found in the global South, with Turkey, which has 2.5 million refugees, housing the most. On a per-capita basis, Lebanon has the highest proportion of refugees to citizens—nearly 1 for every 5 Lebanese.

The UN report did not mention the key role played by the United States in precipitating much of the global refugee crisis. From Libya to Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan, successive and sustained US invasions, coups, occupations and bombings have been a destabilizing force leading to increased sectarian violence and civil wars and the rise of Islamist radicals like Islamic State, whose genocide and ethnic cleansing campaigns have sent millions of refugees fleeing for their lives.

American leaders are both refusing to acknowledge the role US policies and actions play in the crisis and refusing to allow the refugees it created to find safe haven in the United States. Although President Barack Obama said last year that 10,000 Syrian refugees would be resettled in the United States, so far only around 3,000 have been. In total, the US has resettled some 41,000 refugees this year.

Rising xenophobia and Islamophobia, stoked by right-wing, nationalist politicians, have fueled growing rejection of refugees on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called for a total temporary ban on Muslim immigration and travel to the United States in the wake of Islamist terror attacks at home and abroad.

“Our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Trump said in explaining his proposed ban. Similar sentiments have been expressed by far-right leaders throughout Europe, prompting UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi to warn against the “climate of xenophobia” gripping the continent.

“Refugees don’t bring danger but flee from dangerous places,” Grandi said in Tehran, Iran last week. “[Those who] stir up public opinion against refugees and migrants have a responsibility in creating a climate of xenophobia that is very worrying.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was important to acknowledge the extraordinary outpouring of compassion and solidarity shown by host communities throughout the world, and not just focus on the negative responses to the crisis.

“With anti-refugee rhetoric so loud, it is sometimes difficult to hear the voices of welcome. But these do exist, all around the world,” he said. Perhaps no other country on earth has welcomed refugees as warmly as Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally greeted the first of more than 25,000 new arrivals at Toronto’s airport, giving them hugs and winter coats. More refugees became citizens of Canada than of any other country last year, with 25,900 granted citizenship.

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