It seems like hardly a day goes by without seeing or hearing the news about another tragic boatload of refugees drowning off the coast of Greece, Italy, Libya, or elsewhere. We see thousands of hopeful would-be migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and other south and central American countries trying desperately to enter the US – stuck behind walls and barbed wire, children in hand. We see whole cities, towns and villages destroyed in Ukraine, leaving hardly a house standing. Refugees, asylum-seekers, people in need of protection, and of course, economic migrant numbers – all are steadily rising in number as millions seek safety and to improve their lives.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, other conflicts like those in Syria and Sudan, and climate-fueled crises have pushed the number of people displaced by war, persecution, violence, human rights abuses, and other events to a record 110 million, the United Nations (UN) refugee agency said in a new report a couple of weeks ago.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), recent report is “quite an indictment on the state of our world…we are constantly confronted with emergencies.” There were 108.4 million forcibly displaced individuals — or one in 74 people worldwide — at the end of 2022, up 19 million compared to 2021. That was the largest year-to-year increase since UNHCR began tracking displacement. The global total includes 62.5 million internally displaced people, 35.3 million refugees, 5.4 million asylum seekers and 5.2 million others who are “in need of international protection,” as per the report.
The upward trend has shown no sign of slowing this year. As of May, UNHCR estimated that the number of forcibly displaced people has already climbed to 110 million, largely due to the conflict in Sudan. About 52% of refugees and other people in need of international protection came from just three countries: Syria (6.5 million), Ukraine (5.7 million) and Afghanistan (5.7 million). Women and children remain disproportionately affected by violence and disasters. The UN estimates 41% of all refugees at the end of last year were children, and 51% were women and girls.
Russia’s invasion was the “top driver of displacement” in 2022, with the exodus from Ukraine representing the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. But protracted conflicts and crises in Syria, the Congo, Venezuela, and elsewhere also continued to force people from their homes.
Climate-fueled natural disasters are also increasingly pushing people to flee, says the UNHCR, pointing to places like Pakistan, which suffered deadly floods last year, and Somalia, where a prolonged drought has worsened a hunger crisis. More than “70% of the world’s refugees and displaced people come from some of the most climate-vulnerable countries.”
There were 2.6 million new asylum claims in 2022, with the US receiving the most, per the report. The high number of new claims comes amid what human rights groups describe as a crackdown on asylum worldwide. While the need for asylum is greater than ever, many countries are feeling the pressure of domestic politics to refuse new claims, expel and pushback many applications.
There are few easy solutions to these complex situations, and it becomes a wretched contest of priorities and interest groups whether to accept those in desperate need whose numbers seem almost uncountable, with the concerns of domestic groups seeking to limit entry only to those officially sanctioned. A complex and sad situation indeed.
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