More than 70 million people were displaced from their homes as of the end of 2018 ― the highest number recorded by the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
In a report released Wednesday, the U.N. refugee agency put the number of those who have been uprooted by war, persecution and other factors at 70.8 million ― twice as many as 20 years ago and over 2 million more than in 2017.
The new figure included nearly 26 million refugees, about 41 million people “internally displaced” ― forced to leave their homes but still living within their country’s borders ― and 3.5 million asylum seekers or people awaiting decisions on their application for sanctuary in another country.
“What we are seeing in these figures is further confirmation of a longer-term rising trend in the number of people needing safety from war, conflict and persecution,” U.N. high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi said in a news release.
He noted that the “language around refugees and migrants” is “often divisive,” and urged the world’s nations to “redouble our solidarity with the many thousands of innocent people who are forced to flee their homes each day.”
As of April, the U.S. was on track to resettle a historically low number of refugees this year, following a 30,000-person cap on refugee admissions for the 2019 fiscal year imposed by President Donald Trump. That’s the lowest ceiling a president has set for such resettlements since the program was created in 1980.
More than 3 million Venezuelans also were displaced as of last year amid the country’s economic and political crisis ― the biggest exodus in the region’s recent history, per UNHCR.
As in previous years, the U.S. received the largest number of asylum applicants of any country in 2018, with more than 250,000 such claims ― about half of which were made by people from Central America and Mexico.
Under the Trump administration’s recent “remain in Mexico” policy, thousands of asylum seekers looking for safety in the U.S. have been forced to wait in Mexico as their claims are processed. Advocates have raisedconcerns about the dangerous conditions in border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, where more asylum seekers will now have to wait.
“Any human being that claims to be fleeing from war, conflict and persecution certainly has a right to have his or her story heard, and must be allowed to access safe territory and efficient asylum procedures that are fair,” UNHCR spokesperson Christopher Boian told HuffPost, speaking about the broader issue of record numbers of displaced people worldwide.
Boian noted that, according to the U.N. report, half of the world’s refugees are children.
“If you want to contemplate if this has major implications for the future of humanity, consider that fact,” he said. “This will have repercussions for a long time to come.”