Immigration

Number of displaced people in the world reaches record level of 70 million

0:00

The United Nations' refugee agency is calling on greater global cooperation as the number of people displaced by war, persecution and conflict rises to a new high.

Video above: Syrian refugees in Lebanon told their homes must be demolished

The number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict has risen to a 70-year high with 70.8 million people displaced from their homes in 2018. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' annual Global Trends report shows that's 2.8 million more people than in 2017, meaning roughly 37,000 people were forced to leave their homes every day last year because of war.

The report looks at three main groups of people: refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people (IDPS). 

In 2018, there were about 25.9 million refugees worldwide, half of whom were children under the age of 18.

Ecuador. Venezuelan families begin new lives in exile
Csar and Yoheglith arrived from Venezuela to Ecuador with their three kids on October 25th. This is where they all sleep in Ibarra.
UNHCR

UNHCR Regional representation spokeswoman Catherine Stubberfield said the number jump was concerning.

"Around half the world's refugees today are children and of those almost 140,000 were unaccompanied or separated last year, which means that they were either travelling alone or without a parent or adult family member and that makes them highly vulnerable," she said.

"That's an alarming finding and the fact that so many displaced people are children has significant implications for the future.

"It's critical that displaced children are particularly supported and that they don't become a lost generation." 

Where are the refugees coming from?

Two-thirds of all refugees came from five countries - Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

The UNHCR estimates 1.4 million refugees needed resettlement last year but only 81,300 new places were provided.

Only 92,400 refugees were resettled in 2018, so the gap between needs and places is now more than 90 per cent.

"What we've seen since 2012 is that the number of refugees under the UNHCR's mandate has actually doubled and the reasons for that are multiple," Ms Stubberfield said.

Nigeria. Thousands of Cameroonians seek safety across the border
An elderly Cameroonian refugee takes refuge in south-east Nigeria. Thousands have crossed into Nigeria fleeing violence in Anglophone parts of Cameroon.
UNHCR

"On the one hand we've seen a major new crisis in places like Venezuela, but at the same time, we've also seen older crises, like the conflict in Syria, still ongoing and not resolved.

"So, fundamentally more people have been displaced, fewer people have been able to go home and that does create an increased need for resettlement places."

Australia took 12,200 refugees.

Refugee Council of Australia CEO Paul Power told SBS News Australia has the capacity to accept more. 

"More than 880,000 refugees have come to Australia over 75 years and many Australians have either been refugees or have a parent, grandparent or great-grandparent who was a refugee," Mr Power said.

"So it is very much a part of the Australian experience and yet so much of the political rhetoric that we hear about refugees suggests that refugees are some outside threat to the Australian nation."

Bangladesh. Four generations of Rohingya family living as refugees
Mohammad Ayub, 31, and Kismat Ara, 3, pose for a photo in his shelter. They are part of a family representing four generations of Rohingya refugees.
UNHCR

What about asylum seekers?

At the end of 2018, there were also 3.5 million asylum-seekers; an increase of 1.7 million from the year prior.

Asylum seekers are people outside their country of origin and receiving international protection while they await the outcome of their claim to refugee status.

Of the 2.1 million individual asylum requests made in 2018, one in five was someone from Venezuela.

Over three million Venezuelans fled their homes because of the civil unrest last year, with 341,800 making asylum requests.

Refugee Leyda Murillo said in order to survive she had to flee Venezuela.

"There is no food, there is nothing there.  In the hospitals, the people are dying.  That is why we decided to leave my country," she said. 

There were 41.3 million internally displaced people in 2018

Colombia continues to have the highest rate of I-D-Ps, with Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo following.

The eight-year war in Syria is greatly contributing to the ever-rising number of people displaced.

Iraq. Syrian families displaced by war show remarkable resilience in Domiz camp
Ronia Metwali pictured with her five children at their home in Domiz refugee camp, northern Iraq.
UNHCR

Abu Muhammed Rizouq is one of the thousands of displaced Syrians living in tents along the northern Syrian Turkish border.

He said although they had escaped the fighting between the government and rebels, living conditions were almost unbearable.

"We escaped from the bombing, the air raids and the helicopters," he said.

"For two months we have been living here. We've had the worst, nobody thinks of us, we do not get any help, cover, blankets, or food."

What's being done?

While the UNHCR is working to find a solution, the proportion of humanity who are refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced has risen to one in every 108.

0:00
Australia's citizenship backlog is taking a toll on the country's refugees
Australia's citizenship backlog is taking a toll on the country's refugees

Its regional spokeswoman Catherine Stubberfield called on the global community to work together to try and end the conflict.

But in the meantime, Ms Stubberfield told SBS News nations must work on being more accepting of displaced people.

"Until those root causes of conflict and human rights violations and persecution have been addressed and permanent solutions have been found, we really do need to work together to support refugees, to make sure they have the kind of assistance and pathways for the future that we would all need if we were forced to flee our homes," she said. 

It's a sentiment shared by the Refugee Council of Australia's Paul Power.

"When you look at the figure for refugees and asylum seekers in the context of the global population, we're still looking at less than 0.4 per cent of the world's population being forcibly displaced outside the borders of their own country," he said.

"Now if there were international leaders with some commitment and imagination, it could be possible over a number of years for countries to work together to resolve the situation."

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch