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There Are More Displaced People in the World Than Ever Before

A report from the United Nations refugee agency says that the global displacement crisis is worsening by practically every metric. A refugee's chances of returning home is at its lowest point in more than three decades.
December 18, 2015, 9:05pm
Foto via EPA

The number of people who have been forcibly displaced across the globe is likely to have "far surpassed" 60 million for the first time, a United Nations refugee agency report said on Friday.

Among the unprecedented masses are some 20.2 million refugees, a figure that has risen "significantly and consistently" over the past four years in lock step with the worsening Syrian civil war. Two million more people were recorded as displaced within their own countries, bringing the number of internally displaced persons to roughly 34 million worldwide. But the UN says that number is likely even higher, pushing the global total of refugees and internally displaced above 60 million.

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"Forced displacement is now profoundly affecting our times," said Antonio Guterres, the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees. "It touches the lives of millions of our fellow human beings — both those forced to flee and those who provide them with shelter and protection."

"Never has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything," he added.

Related: 12,000 Syrian Refugees Are Stranded in a Desert Purgatory Because Jordan Won't Admit Them

The displacement crisis is worsening by practically every metric. According to the UN, a refugee's chances of returning home is at its lowest point in more than three decades. Only 84,000 people did so in the first half of this year, compared to 107,000 during the same period in 2014.

UN figures indicate that roughly 839,000 people became refugees in the first six months of 2015 — a rate of 4,635 people forced from their homes daily within that span.

"A consequence of more refugees being stuck in exile is that pressures on countries hosting them are growing too — something which unmanaged can increase resentment and abet politicization of refugees," said Guterres' office in a statement.

Indeed, a tide of anti-refugee politicians from the US to Europe have in recent months renewed calls to shut borders to people from certain countries, particularly Syrians, out of fear that they could be members or supporters of terrorist organizations like the Islamic State.

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But despite such rhetoric in some of the world's wealthiest countries, lower- and middle-income countries near conflict zones have borne the brunt of the crisis in recent years. Of some 4.2 million Syrian refugees who have fled their country since 2011, the vast majority are in just three countries — Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Without the Syrian civil war, the UN estimates there would have been a much smaller increase of about 500,000 in the global refugee population since 2011. Instead, that total increased by 45 percent in just three and half years to 4.7 million people.

Related: Afghan Migrants Are Bracing for Winter on the Streets of Paris

Struggling to support their refugee populations, some of Syria's neighbors have begun to tighten controls on the movement of displaced people. Earlier this month, the UN reported that some 12,000 Syrians were stranded in a desert area along the border with eastern Jordan, unable to pass through traditional routes into the country that are now closed.

Conflicts in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, among others, have led to marked increases on several continents. According to the UN, Sub-Saharan African countries host some 4.1 million refugees, the most of any region in the world. Meanwhile, the number of Afghans living as refugees abroad totaled roughly 2.6 million, the second-highest number behind Syria.

Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford