Refugee numbers hit new unprecedented high – UNHCR

Refugee numbers hit new unprecedented high – UNHCR
An aerial photograph showing South Sudanese refugees at Bidi Bidi refugees resettlement camp near the border with South Sudan, in Yumbe district, northern Uganda December 7, 2016. Courtesy Photo/REUTERS/James Akena.

The number of people fleeing war, violence and persecution around the world hit a new high of 65.6 million in 2016, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said in a report released this morning.

The figure comprises refugee numbers, which at 22.5 million are the highest ever seen in history, internal displacement — standing at 40.3 million people and asylum seekers now standing at 2.8 million people.

UNHCR’s new Global Trends report, the organization’s major annual survey of the state of displacement indicates that at least 10.3 million people became displaced in 2016 alone, about two-thirds of them (6.9 million) fleeing within their own countries.

This means that on average, one in every 113 people worldwide is someone who is displaced – a population bigger than that of the world’s 21st most populous country, the United Kingdom. It also equates to one person becoming displaced every 3 seconds – less than the time it takes to read this sentence.

84 percent of these are in low- or middle-income countries, with 4.9 million people being hosted by the least developed countries. Uganda ranks among the top refugee hosting countries in Africa and in the world. According to Minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Hilary Onek a mass exodus of refugees from South Sudan during the second half of 2016, roughly doubled the refugee population from 500,000 to over 1.2 million to date.

“By any measure this is an unacceptable number, and it speaks louder than ever to the need for solidarity and common purpose in preventing and resolving crises, and ensuring together that the world’s refugees, internally displaced and asylum seekers are properly protected and cared for while solutions are pursued,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.

Children, who make up half the world’s refugees, continue to bear a disproportionate burden of the suffering, mainly because of their greater vulnerability. Tragically, 75,000 asylum claims were received from children travelling alone or separated from their parents, according to the report. It adds that even this number is likely to underestimate the true figure.

UNHCR’s Spokesperson William Spindler observes that helping low and middle-income countries that shelter the majority of the vulnerable groups is a key priority.

The report is released with less than three days to the much anticipated Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees convened and jointly hosted by President Yoweri Museveni and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Kampala.

The conference due to run from June 22-23rd, 2017 aims to raise USD 2 billion to support and strengthen Uganda’s progressive and transformative approach to refugee protection. Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda says Uganda is mobilizing new funding to meet the ever-increasing cost of meeting the humanitarian and long term needs of the growing number of refugees; and supporting host communities.

In 2016, the Uganda government and the United Nations each spent USD 150 million responding to the needs of refugees and the communities hosting them in 12 districts. However, the funding is still greatly inadequate given the daily average influx of 2000 people. Dr Rugunda says the huge numbers are placing a strain on Uganda’s already stressed ability to cater for the food, water, sanitation, health and education needs of the refugees and their host communities.

The summit will be attended by over 30 Heads of State and Governments, Foundations and Private Sector corporations, regional and international organizations, humanitarian agencies, philanthropists, non – governmental organizations and citizens from countries around the World.

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