Syrian women carry their belongings as they evacuate an informal refugee camp | Photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/H.Malla
Syrian women carry their belongings as they evacuate an informal refugee camp | Photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/H.Malla

For the first time ever, the number of displaced people reached 70.8 million at the end of 2018, according to the UNHCR. The agency's chief warned against a hostile climate for refugees, but Germany came in for praise.

Over 2 million people were forced to flee their homes last year, driving up the number of the displaced to a record 70.8 million worldwide, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a new report Wednesday.

The figure includes refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018.

Launching the agency's "Global Trends" report, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said the phenomenon was growing in the "wrong direction."

"We have become almost unable to make peace," he said.

"It is true there are new conflicts, new situations producing refugees..., (but) the old ones never get resolved," he added. "When is the last conflict that you remember was resolved?"

Danger in Venezuela

Violence in Ethiopia drove about 1.56 million people to leave their homes last year, although vast majority of the displaced stayed inside Ethiopian borders.

Over one-fifth of global asylum seekers came from Venezuela, where people are fleeing deep political and economic crisis. The UNHCR noted some 340,000 asylum seekers from the South American country, but said the actual number is likely much bigger due to the Venezuelan crisis being underreported. The UN believes some 4 million people have left Venezuela since the start of 2016.

Grandi pleaded for donors to help countries taking in Venezuelan migrants.

"Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees," he said. "We are in a very dangerous situation."

Message for Trump

Grandi commended the US for being the "largest supporter of refugees" and the biggest single donor to UNHCR. At the same time, he decried hostility that the displaced people face.

"In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values," Grandi said. "And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging."

He also criticized long-term administrative issued in the US that caused it to have world's biggest backlog of asylum seekers. Some 719,000 asylum claims are currently waiting to be resolved in the US.

Praise for Merkel

On a positive note, Grandi praised Germany for accepting migrants and working to "demystify" the notion that migration is unmanageable, "even when the numbers are very big."

"I usually don't like to praise and criticise but I think in this case, I'd like to praise Germany for what it has done," Grandi said in Geneva.

He noted that Chancellor Angela Merkel had paid a "heavy price" politically for her migration policy, but said this made her actions "even more courageous."

Another year, another record

The number of forcibly displaced people has been growing for the last seven years and has risen nearly 65% compared to ten years ago.

Read more: Half of the world's refugee children can't go to school

"Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten," said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. "Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights."

The Wednesday report also notes that developing countries take in by far the largest number of refugees.

dj/rt (AP, dpa, AFP)

First published: June 19, 2019

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