Global displacement reaches a new record high, again

Front cover of UNHCR Global Trends 2016 reportNew global refugee statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s Global Trends report highlight the need for Australia to increase support for refugees, including those from eastern and central Africa.

Over the past two decades, the global population of forcibly displaced people has grown substantially from 33.9 million in 1997 to 65.6 million in 2016. There are now 22.5 million refugees worldwide, an increase in 1.2 million from 2015. This includes 17.2 million under UNHCR’s mandate and 5.3 million Palestinian refugees registered under UNWRA.

Altogether, more than half (55 per cent) of all refugees worldwide came from just three countries:

  • Syrian Arab Republic (5.5 million)
  • Afghanistan (2.5 million)
  • South Sudan (1.4 million)

The fastest-growing refugee population was spurred by the crisis in South Sudan. This group grew by 64% during the second half of 2016 from 854,100 to over 1.4 million, the majority of whom were children. Indeed, children made up an astonishing 51% of the world’s refugees in 2016.

During 2016, 10.3 million people were newly displaced by conflict or persecution. This included 6.9 million individuals displaced within the borders of their own countries and 3.4 million new refugees and new asylum-seekers.

Developing countries protecting the majority of refugees

The vast majority of refugees are residing in poorer countries neighbouring the conflict. Developing countries are doing the heaviest lifting, with 84% of refugees residing in in low- and middle-income countries and remaining close to situations of conflict.

Nations such as Uganda, hosting are doing an outstanding job in keeping borders open for those in great need, at a time when the world’s wealthiest nations, including Australia, do everything possible to reduce the likelihood of people seeking asylum within their borders.

Uganda received more refugees last year than any other country, with 532,725 people being given refugee protection. Seven of the 10 countries receiving the most refugees last year were in Africa, with Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Cameroon and Niger joining Uganda, Germany, Turkey and Sweden among the nations receiving the most refugees.

Australia urged to step up

Australia by comparison once again fails to do its fair share in protecting refugees. Of the 2.5 million refugees who had their status recognised or were resettled in 2016, just 1.43% were assisted by Australia (34,193 people).

Last year, 27,626 resettled refugees arrived in Australia, with the increase being due to the one-off commitment of 12,000 places for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and delays in the processing of refugee applications which saw a reduction in arrivals in 2015.

Australia recognised 6,567 only asylum seekers last year, protecting just 0.28% of the world’s asylum seekers. At the end of 2016, Australia had 29,590 asylum applications pending.

Global resettlement places at risk as US reduces intake

189,300 refugees were offered to chance to be resettled last year – representing just 1.1% of the 17.2 million refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate.

In other words, at the current rate, it would take almost 100 years for all refugees under UNHCR’s mandate to be resettled. This paltry resettlement number highlights the myth of any so called resettlement “queue”.

The United States of America resettled the highest number of refugees at 96,900. However with President Donald Trump’s plan to cut his country’s refugee resettlement quota, there is an increasing need for Australia to act.

Australia’s refugee resettlement program is significant in international terms because of the very limited number of resettlement places available. However, the UNHCR statistics show that Australia’s politicians mislead the Australian public when they suggest this makes our nation one of the world’s most generous.

Instead of congratulating themselves, Australia’s leaders should be reaching out to nations such as Uganda with offers of increased resettlement and aid support, thanking the nations in the frontline of refugee movements for not closing their minds and hearts to persecuted people.

Read the statistics from 2015