Number of Displaced People Hits Postwar Record

Venezuelan migrants arrive to get a refugee application at the Peruvian border post in Tumbes, Peru, on June 14. Photo: cris bouroncle/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The number of forcibly displaced people in the world reached almost 71 million at the end of last year, the most since just after World War II and double the number of 20 years ago, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday.

The number of people fleeing persecution, conflict, violence or human-rights violations, including refugees, asylum seekers and those displaced within their own country, rose by 2.3 million last year, according to the report from the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR. The figure is conservative as it doesn’t fully capture the rapidly evolving situation in Venezuela, the UNHCR said.

Nearly 1% of the world’s population was displaced at the end of 2018, the report said, compared with 0.6% in 2011.

The new Global Trends report comes as migration and refugees have become a central political issue in many countries, including the U.S. and much of Europe. President Trump has kept the issue central in the U.S. political debate and it has crept into the rhetoric of Democratic presidential contenders as they prepare for their first debate later this month.

In Europe, the issue partly fueled the rise of right-wing populists across the region, including in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, in the run-up to the recent elections for the European Parliament. Closing borders and clamping down on asylum seekers has become one of the few issues uniting European nationalists as they struggle to band together and influence EU policy decisions.

Dealing with the refugee situation is “one of the great challenges of our times,” said Filippo Grandi, head of the UNHCR.

The U.S. received the most asylum applications last year, at about 254,300, down from 331,700 in 2017. Almost all came from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela. The next largest recipients were Peru with 192,500 and Germany with 161,900. At the end of 2018, the U.S. had more than 700,000 asylum applications to process, more than any other country.

Almost 350,000 Venezuelans escaping political unrest and the collapse of the country’s economy sought asylum in other countries in 2018, accounting for 20% of world-wide asylum requests and making them the single-biggest group by nationality. About 3.4 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years and with another 5,000 a day departing, the total could hit 5 million this year, according to the report. That would be almost one in every six Venezuelans.

Most of the world’s 26 million refugees, defined as those forced to leave their country, about half of whom are younger than 18, are from Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan, the UNHCR said. Syria alone accounts for 6.7 million of the total, with most of those having left their country between 2012 and 2015. Another 6.2 million Syrians have been displaced within the country.

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For a fifth successive year, Turkey hosted the most refugees in 2018 at 3.7 million, followed by Pakistan. About one in six people living in Lebanon is a refugee, the largest proportion in the world. The U.S. hosted 313,200 refugees at the end of last year, about the same as China.

Last year’s largest new displacement was the 1.6 million Ethiopians who fled their homes due to ethnic violence, with the vast majority staying inside the country. Ethiopia last year became the largest host of Somali refugees, complicating the country’s challenge further.

Write to Eric Sylvers at [email protected]

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