Thu, Jun 20, 2019 - Page 6 News List

UN says 70.8m displaced at the end of last year

AFP, GENEVA, Switzerland

More than 70 million people last year were counted as displaced from their homes, a record that underestimates the real number of refugees and asylum seekers, the UN said yesterday.

In its annual global trends report, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agency described the figure of 70.8 million at the end of last year as “conservative,” particularly because the number of people who fled Venezuela’s devastating crisis is undercounted.

At the end of 2017, by comparison, 68.5 million people were counted as being forcibly displaced by violence or persecution.

The UNHCR attributed the increase partly to surging displacement in Ethiopia caused by inter-ethnic conflict and in Venezuela, where thousands are fleeing every day amid an economic collapse that has triggered shortages of basic food and medicine.

An estimated 3.3 million people have left Venezuela since the start of 2016, according to the UN.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees head Filippo Grandi told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland, that the figure of 70.8 million only includes Venezuelans who had officially applied for asylum — about half a million people.

Overall, the number of displaced people in the world has doubled over the past 20 years and now exceeds the population of Thailand.

The trend continues to go in “the wrong direction,” Grandi said

According to Amnesty International, a refugee is a person who flees their home nation and cannot or will not return due to conflict or fear of persecution.

The report lists 41.3 million internally displaced people, 25.9 million refugees and 3.5 million asylum seekers — those awaiting a decision on their bid for official refugee protection.

The nations with the most internally displaced people — fleeing within their own nations — are Syria, wracked by conflict since 2011, and Colombia, plagued by decades of violence, the UNHCR said.

The group of refugees, it added, included 5.5 million Palestinians scattered across several nations, notably Lebanon and Jordan.

The best solution for a refugee is to be able to return home once their nation stabilizes, but Grandi said that 20 percent have been in exile for more than two decades.

“We have become almost unable to make peace,” Grandi 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?”

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