UN: With 59.5 million refugees, world entering "era of displacement"

UN: With 59.5 million refugees, world entering "era of displacement"
19 June 2015
By Albert Otti

Mediterranean migrants - © Alessandro Di Meo, EPA

Geneva (dpa) - The complete failure of governments to stop new conflicts from erupting each year is leading to a new normal in which people are forced to flee their homes in unprecedented numbers, UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres said Thursday in Geneva.

Another post-World-War-II record was set last year as 59.5 million people were counted as refugees or as internally displaced people, with Syrians, Afghans and Somalians making up the biggest groups, High Commissioner Guterres said in his annual report. This means that one in every 122 humans has fled abroad, has sought refuge within his or her country, or is seeking asylum.

"We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before," Guterres said. Guterres said it was terrifying that "there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace."

Migrants in Ventimiglia - © Luca Zennaro, EPA

Conflicts and natural disasters did not only harm those who have to flee, but also communities that take them in, the head of the UN World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin, said. "Needs increasingly outpace resources and this poses a moral and financial challenge to the international community," she said in Rome.

Despite the record 219,000 people who crossed the Mediterranean to Europe last year and the ensuing migration debate in the European Union, the UNHCR stressed that developing regions host 86 per cent of the world's refugees. Because of the conflict in neighbouring Syria, Turkey is the biggest refugee host country, followed by the developing countries of Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran and Ethiopia.

Syrian refugees at Turkey-Syria border - © Str, EPA

Europe's response to the migration crisis on its borders is disappointing, Amnesty International chief Salil Shetty said in Brussels. "I think it erodes Europe's legitimacy and credibility to talk about human rights to anybody else in the world," Shetty told journalists. He said that European Commission proposals to accept 20,000 refugees from outside the bloc was a good starting point, but "too small."

The proposals - which also include relocating 40,000 migrants who have already reached the European Union - have not yet been approved by member states, amid disagreements about how migrants should be redistributed across the bloc. An overall 185,000 people applied for asylum in EU member states in the first three months of 2015, according to data published Thursday by the bloc's statistics office, Eurostat. The figure was broadly level with the previous three months, but marks an 86-per-cent increase on the same period last year, Eurostat said.

UN says 60 million forced to flee in "era of displacement" - © Dai Kurokawa, EPA

The number of Kosovars seeking asylum rose to almost 50,000, placing them ahead of Syrians and Afghans. Germany received 40 per cent of first-time claims, while Hungary overtook Sweden as the EU state with the highest number of asylum requests relative to population size. On Wednesday, the Hungarian government announced plans to erect a 4-metre-high fence along its border to Serbia, to prevent migrants from illegally entering.

EU leaders are due to discuss migration at a summit in Brussels next week.

Globally, some 13.9 million people - equivalent to the London metropolitan area population - became newly displaced as they fled wars, persecution or oppression during 2014. This figure was four times higher than in 2010, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said, noting that 15 conflicts had broken out or restarted in the past few years, including in the Central African Republic, Iraq, Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. Including people who fled in previous years and haven't returned home, there were 38 million internally displaced people, nearly 20 million refugees and 1.8 million asylum seekers last year.

Migrants at the border between France and Italy - © Sebastien Nogier, EPA

More than half of the refugees were children. Families from South Sudan, Syria and Yemen have been taking especially dangerous journeys to bring their children to safety, WFP chief Cousin said. "We run the risk of losing a generation to conflict and hunger," she said.

Source: dpa.