The number of people forced to flee their homes across the world has exceeded 70 million for the first time since records began, the UN’s refugee agency has warned.
About 70.8 million – one in every 108 people worldwide – were displaced in 2018. This includes people who were forced to flee their homes last year, as well as people who have been unable to return home for years.
The figure is a conservative estimate, according to the study’s authors, because the impact of the crisis in Venezuela is still not known.
“Year on year the international community is proving unable to make peace. You’ve got a number of regional conflicts, some of which have drawn in international actors. If you look around the world it’s very hard to see resolution to conflicts,” said Matthew Saltmarsh, of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
The figure of 70.8 million displaced people includes 25.9 million refugees, 41.3 million people displaced within their own borders and 3.5 million asylum seekers.
Globally, children make up about half of the refugee population.
An estimated 13.6 million people were newly displaced in 2018, according to the report. Last year was marked by sharp increases in people fleeing the economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
More than 4 million Venezuelans have now fled their country, according to the UN, with many travelling towards Latin America and the Caribbean. This marks a huge rise on 2015, when the number stood at about 695,000. It is the biggest exodus in the region’s recent history, and has left asylum procedures completely overwhelmed.
Last year also saw increases in the number of people displaced in Ethiopia, where inter-communal violence in the south and west forced up to a million people to flee their homes.
The new figures follow a decade in which the number of people forcibly displaced has soared rapidly, from 43.3 million in 2009. According to the report, five countries account for more than two-thirds of all refugees (excluding those defined as long-term Palestinian refugees): Syria (6.7 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), South Sudan (2.3 million), Myanmar (1.1 million) and Somalia (0.9 million).
On Tuesday, the International Rescue Committee warned that despite the record numbers of displaced people, the number of resettlement slots offered worldwide has halved between 2017 and 2018.
“There are very few countries that have increased the number of resettlement slots,” said Nazanin Ash, vice president of global policy and advocacy for IRC. “Most countries have decreased or at least not met their [targets]. It’s having a devastating impact. Nothing has changed about these [displaced] populations – their need for safety has only grown, their vulnerability has only grown.”
This week, the UK announced it would welcome up to 6,000 refugees in 2020 and 2021. “You could argue that the number could be higher,” said Saltmarsh, but he added that the UK’s resettlement programme was well run.
For the fourth consecutive year, Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees worldwide, with 3.7 million people. The main countries of asylum for refugees were Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.2 million), Sudan (1.1 million) and Germany (1.1 million).
Lebanon continued to host the largest number of refugees relative to its national population: one in six people in the country is a refugee.
Ruth Tanner, Oxfam GB’s head of humanitarian campaigns, said that wealthier countries should be doing more. “One way the government can do this is by making fairer rules on family reunion so that refugees can live with their loved ones in the UK. Children should be with their parents and the government can help make that happen today,” she said.