Today in the UN’s World Refugee Day, and it’s not one for celebrating:
The number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world has topped 65 million, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees said Monday.
As of December 2015, there were 65.3 million displaced people, according to a report from the refugee agency. It’s the first time in the organization’s history the number has surpassed 60 million — and represents a nearly 10 percent increase over last year’s total, of 59.5 million.
That number represents “immense human suffering,” a UNHCR press release says.
One in every 113 people on Earth has now been driven from their home by persecution, conflict and violence or human rights violations.
Two other ways to wrap your mind around that number: Each minute, 24 people around the world flee their home because of violence or persecution. And if the world’s displaced people were their own nation, it would be larger than the United Kingdom.
War and violence–in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, and many other places–is unsurprisingly driving these numbers higher and higher. Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia together account for more than half of the total number of refugees, while violence in Yemen, Nigeria, and Colombia is driving the increase in internally displaced persons.
And there are more people being displaced almost by the day, most acutely (right now) in Fallujah. The city, whose center has now largely been taken by Iraqi forces though fighting continues in pockets, has seen tens of thousands of people flee their homes over the past several days as government forces advanced on ISIS positions. They’re now stuck in refugee camps that are far too small for the number of refugees they’re receiving, and as you know there have been reports of male refugees being picked up and treated inhumanely by Iraqi forces because they’re suspected of being (and some of them indeed are) ISIS fighters trying to flee in the chaos.
It is inevitable that a military operation to dislodge ISIS from a large city like Fallujah will create a refugee crisis. The trick is not to avoid the crisis, which is probably impossible unless you cede the city to ISIS, and that’s obviously not the right answer. The trick, rather, is to rebuild the city as quickly as possible and get people back into their homes and into something resembling a normal life. That’s easier said than done, of course, particularly with an Iraqi government that is barely functional on its best day, and an international community (i.e., the West) that will always be more interested in bombing the Middle East than in helping to rebuild it after the bombs do their damage. But if we care about making sure that 2016 doesn’t break 2015’s refugee record, then good governance and major humanitarian aid are essential.