IN recent years, it’s become an annual ritual on World Refugee Day, June 20, for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, to declare that levels of forced displacement have reached an “unprecedented high”.
This year is no exception. As of the end of 2016, there were 65.6 million people worldwide forcibly displaced from their homes by war, violence, or persecution.
That figure encompasses 40.3 million people displaced within their countries’ borders (IDPs) and 2.8 million asylum seekers, as well as 22.5 million refugees.
While 2016 was another record year for forced displacement, the increase from 2015 was only 300,000.
That may not sound like cause for celebration, but when you consider that the figure in 2015 jumped by 5.8 million from the previous year, it is something of an improvement.
Just over half a million refugees returned home in 2016, more than double the number that did so in 2015. That also sounds like progress until you consider that most (384,000) returned to Afghanistan under severe pressure from reluctant host countries, Pakistan and Iran.
Refugee resettlement also rose slightly in 2016, progress that we know has been reversed in 2017 by US President Donald Trump’s executive order capping the US intake at its lowest level in 10 years.
In 2016, just as in 2015, more than half of refugees (55%) came from just three countries, but South Sudan has replaced Somalia as one of those countries. Syria and Afghanistan remain in the top two spots.
Contrary to public perceptions in the West, the vast majority of refugees (84%) are still being hosted in the developing world. The top three host countries at the end of 2016 were Turkey, Lebanon, and Pakistan (although Uganda is likely to enter the top three this year as it continues to absorb the majority of South Sudanese refugees).