In its annual report to recognise World Refugee Day, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has revealed that the 12 months of 2015 once again saw a record increase in the number of displaced people worldwide, now standing at 65.3 million people – larger than the entire population of the UK. This is an increase of 5.8 million people on top of last year’s total figure of 59.5 million. That number is made up of 21.3 million global refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced people and 3.2 million asylum seekers. Staggeringly, the report states that ‘if these 65.3 million persons were a nation, they would make up the 21st largest in the world.’
The three highest individual contributors to the 21.3 million refugees are Afghanistan (2.7 million), Somalia (1.1 million) and, most significantly, Syria (4.9 million), whose contribution surged by over one million individuals through the course of 2015. ‘Most Syrian refugees sought protection in neighbouring countries, with nearly one million seeking refuge in Turkey under its temporary protection regime during 2015,’ states the report. ‘Only during the latter part of 2015 did increasing numbers of Syrian refugees move to other European countries.’ It also flags up less high-profile but still ongoing conflicts in Burundi, Iraq, Libya, Niger, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Yemen, all of which led to significant numbers of displaced individuals.
The number of displaced people worldwide has escalated since the events of the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011/12 when, with total numbers relatively stable at around 40 million, numbers began climbing by around five million people per year. There has now been an increase of more than 50 per cent over the past five years. There has also been an increase in people fleeing violence in Central America northwards to Mexico and the US, from 20,900 people in 2012 to 109,800 by the end of last year.
Despite the high profile influx of migrants into central and western Europe, the countries hosting the highest populations of refugees and other displaced people remain Turkey, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Iran, and small Middle Eastern states such as Jordan and Lebanon. The report includes a note to the wealthier nations of that world that ‘by the end of 2015, countries in developing regions hosted 13.9 million of the world’s total refugee population, compared with the 2.2 million hosted by countries in developed regions. In particular, the Least Developed Countries – those least able to meet the development needs of their own citizens, let alone the humanitarian needs often associated with refugee crises – provided asylum to over four million refugees.’