The global community has reached a devastating new milestone.
According to a report released by the United Nation’s refugee agency this morning, the number of people displaced by conflict at the end of 2015 was the highest ever — even greater than the refugee crisis that followed the Second World War.
By the end of 2015, some 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes globally. In that year alone, an estimated 12.4 million people were newly displaced, according to the report. This means that for every minute in 2015, an average of 24 people left their communities because of violence or persecution.
If all these individuals — refugees, asylum seekers, and those displaced within their own countries — were a nation, they would be the 21st most populous one in the world, larger than Canada, New Zealand, and Australia combined.
The UN’s report is long and technical, but these two graphs offer a great entry point into its conclusions
The UN’s report breaks the globally displaced population into three categories: refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons. All three of these groups form as a result of displacing factors like war and famine, but they differ in their classification because of the technicalities of international law. Asylum seekers are essentially individuals who are in the process of being reviewed for refugee status; internally displaced are those who flee their homes but don’t leave their original country’s borders.
As the graph below shows, the number of people in these three groups has risen dramatically in the past 20 years. By the end of 2015, nine out of 1,000 of the world’s population fell into one of the three categories, meaning that nearly 1 percent of the world’s population is currently displaced.
The second graph shows which countries produced the most of the refugees between 2014 and the end of 2015.
Unsurprisingly, most came from Syria as a result of the country’s ongoing conflict. The report estimates that by the end of 2015, there were 5 million Syrians scattered worldwide. The majority of these people, 3.6 million, ended up in the neighboring countries of Turkey and Lebanon.
A substantial number also came from Afghanistan, which has been a large producer of displaced people for 33 years. Somalia, another longstanding member of the list, also saw large numbers of displacement, mostly due to economic instability and violence.
Though recently Syria and, to a lesser degree, Afghanistan have been the faces of the media’s coverage of crisis displacement, the UNHCR report points out that increasing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras has forced "thousands" of men, women, and children to flee their homes, mainly to Mexico.
When they flee, the majority of refugees and asylum seekers tend not to go far. And since most of the refugee-producing countries in the world are located in developing regions, the report found that developing countries bear a disproportional burden of refugee accommodation relative to the rest of the world. In 2015, developing nations housed 86 percent of the world’s refugees — 13.9 million people.
The UN offers some explanations for why the numbers are so high
In the press release that accompanied the full report, the UN refugee agency pointed to three reasons for the historic problem:
- Conflicts that generate high numbers of refugees (such as those in Afghanistan and Somalia) are lasting longer than in the past.
- Conflicts are occurring more frequently. The article notes that in the past five years alone, six nations have seen new or reignited conflict.
- The rates at which aid agencies are finding "solutions" for displaced people have been on the decline since the Cold War, leaving a growing number of people in a state of persistent vulnerability.
The increasing number of displacing factors is troubling, but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, also warns that factors that endanger refugees while they are in the process of fleeing are also multiplying. "At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year," he wrote. "On land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem."