Numbers of Refugees at New Highs

On World Refugee Day this year (June 20), refugees worldwide (asylum seekers abroad plus internally displaced persons) for the first time in the post-World War II period exceeded 50 million people.

The Global Trends report of António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), indicates that the increase was created mainly by the war in Syria, which by the end of 2014 had forced 2.5 million into fleeing abroad to seek asylum and caused another 6.5 million to be displaced within Syria.

If we can somehow imagine ourselves in the situations of displaced Syrian children and women, or the Christian or Yazidi women captured by ISIS, raped, beaten, and sold in markets as slaves, we can better understand their sufferings. Similar large victimization was also occurring in the Central African Republic and South Sudan in Africa.

We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict …
— António Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

Guterres adds about the post-2012 period of major crises for refugees, “We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict. … Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.”

Alarmingly, in major refugee-receiving regions, such as Europe, currently there is no functioning system of settlement. The EU countries adopted in 2003 a Common European Asylum System, by which the 28 countries were to divide up responsibility for receiving, assessing, and settling refugees according to their population size and economies, but it has never been implemented.

Germany settles fully half of the continent’s asylum seekers today; Greece and Italy are the first arrival points for thousands of desperate migrants by sea.

The largest refugee populations by source country under UNHCR care are Afghans, Syrians, and Somalis—together accounting for more than half of the global refugee total. People forced to flee to other regions of their own countries amounted to 33.3 million, accounting for the largest increase of any group in the report. For the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies, helping the internally displaced represents a special challenge since many are in conflict zones.

The assistance provided does not match the immense suffering of innocent displaced people. Countries, which are in a position to help have not done their share and have neglected their responsibilities to humanity. Other governments, which spend large sums to spread terror and hate, should be pressured to donate regularly to help refugees.

UNHCR’s main task is finding long-term solutions for 51.2 million people who have become forcibly displaced. The fourth lowest level of refugee returns in almost a quarter-century occurred in 2013—414,600 people. About 98,400 refugees were resettled in 21 countries. The U.S. target for resettlement of refugees this year is 70,000.

The worldwide total population of stateless people is not included in the figure of forcibly displaced people. For 2013, UNHCR’s offices worldwide reported a figure of almost 3.5 million stateless people—about a third of the 10 million people estimated to be stateless globally.

Burundian children, who fled their country, stand behind a fence as they wait to be registered as refugees at Nyarugusu camp, in northwest of Tanzania, on June 11, 2015. (Stephanie Aglietti/AFP/Getty Images)
Burundian children, who fled their country, stand behind a fence as they wait to be registered as refugees at Nyarugusu camp, in northwest of Tanzania, on June 11, 2015. (Stephanie Aglietti/AFP/Getty Images)

While UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, its ultimate goal is to help find durable solutions that will allow them to rebuild their lives. For several million asylum seekers and a greater number of internally displaced people, these solutions are nowhere in sight.

Canadians take pride in our refugee protection programs, such as the one, which brought about 37,000 Hungarian refugees in 1956–1957. Since signing the Convention on the Status of Refugees in 1969, Canada has become a world leader in protecting refugees. Since 2009, more than 21,000 Iraqis have been accepted; by 2017, 11,300 Syrians will have been resettled in Canada.

Canada also accepts high levels of immigration: about 250,000 permanent immigrants each year. By 2031, almost half of our population over the age of 15 is expected to be either foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent.

A study for the independent Institute for Research on Public Policy last year found that majority support nationally in Canada for high levels of immigration continues, undergirded by pride in multiculturalism and a conviction that newcomers benefit the economy. There is, however, a negative reaction among Canadians to illegal immigrants and great concern about youths and adults brainwashed by ISIS and other fanatics who seek to perpetrate terrorist activities globally.

Overall, the differences among Canada, the United States, and Europe (except for Germany) about refugees and immigration remain substantial.

Epoch Times Photo
David Kilgour

David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.