GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — A record 110 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes, the United Nations said Wednesday, branding the huge upsurge an “indictment” of the world.
Russia’s war in Ukraine, refugees fleeing Afghanistan and the fighting in Sudan have pushed the total number of refugees forced to seek shelter abroad, and those displaced within their own countries, to an unprecedented level, said UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
At the end of last year, 108.4 million people were displaced, UNHCR said in its flagship annual report, Global Trends in Forced Displacement.
The number was up 19.1 million from the end of 2021 — the biggest-ever increase since the records began back in 1975.
Since then, the eruption of the conflict in Sudan has triggered further displacement, pushing the global total to an estimated 110 million by May.
“We have 110 million people that have fled because of conflict, persecution, discrimination and violence, often mixed with other motives — in particular the impact of climate change,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi told a press conference in Geneva.
“It’s quite an indictment on the state of our world,” he said.
Numbers likely to increase
Of the 2022 global total, 35.3 million were refugees who fled abroad, with 62.5 million being internally displaced.
There were 5.4 million asylum-seekers and a further 5.2 million other people — predominantly from Venezuela — needing international protection.
“My fear is that the figure is likely to increase more,” said Grandi.
He said the swelling displacement this year was being increasingly met with “a more hostile environment, especially when it comes to refugees, almost everywhere”.
“Leadership is about convincing your public opinion that there are people that deserve international protection,” he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees noted that around 76 per cent of refugees fled to low- and middle-income countries, while 70 per cent stayed in neighbouring countries.
Door must ‘remain open’
Grandi said Britain’s plans to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda for adjudication was “not a good idea”.
He said the US case was more complex, but added: “We are worried… about denial of access to asylum in the United States”.
Under tougher new US rules, asylum-seekers are supposed to set up an interview appointment through a smartphone application or processing centres Washington plans in Colombia, Guatemala and other countries.
Grandi welcomed the European Union’s steps towards a pact on asylum and migration, calling it a good attempt to balance tensions surrounding the issue, and “relatively fair” to people on the move.
Under pressure to reduce migrant arrivals, EU governments last week agreed on steps to fast-track migrant returns to their countries of origin or transit countries deemed “safe”.
Grandi said the way to address the flow of people coming to Europe was to start much further upstream on refugees’ long journeys.
However the door to asylum in the EU, the United States and Britain “needs to remain open… People need to be able to seek asylum where they feel safe.”
And he added: “Asylum seekers should not be put in jail. Seeking asylum is not a crime.”
Grandi pleaded for urgent global action to alleviate the causes and impact of displacement, saying UNHCR was “not in a good financial situation this year”.
UNHCR’s internal Sudan crisis appeal is only 16 per cent funded, and the appeal for the refugee-hosting countries is 13 per cent funded.
Some 467,000 people have fled Sudan since fighting between warring parties broke out in mid-April, while more than 1.4 million have become internally displaced.
Of the planning figure of a million refugees fleeing Sudan in six months, he said: “Now I’m thinking it’s too little.”
There were 6.5 million Syrian refugees at the end of 2022, of which 3.5 million are in neighbouring Turkey.
There were 5.7 million Ukrainian refugees, with the February 2022 Russian invasion triggering the fastest outflow of refugees since World War II.
Last year, over 339,000 refugees returned to 38 countries, while 5.7 million internally displaced people returned home.
The countries hosting the most refugees are Turkey (3.6 million), Iran (3.4 million), Colombia (2.5 million), Germany (2.1 million) and Pakistan (1.7 million).