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UN: 71M Displaced by War, Violence     06/19 06:12

   GENEVA (AP) -- A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide by 
war, persecution and other violence, the U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday, an 
increase of more than 2 million from a year earlier --- and an overall total 
that would amount to the world's 20th most populous country.

   The annual "Global Trends" report released by the U.N. High Commissioner for 
Refugees counts the number of the world's refugees, asylum-seekers and 
internally displaced people at the end of 2018.

   The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound 
to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights 
and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the 
U.S., against immigrants and refugees.

   Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message 
for U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it "damaging" 
to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host 
countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.

   The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual 
stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, 
fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government 
oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such 
violence at home.

   UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last 
year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 --- and nearly a 65% increase from a 
decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people --- or more than 41 million 
--- are displaced within their home countries.

   "The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the 
wrong direction," Grandi told reporters in Geneva. "There are new conflicts, 
new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old 
ones never get resolved."

   The phenomenon is growing in both size and duration. Some four-fifths of the 
"displacement situations" have lasted more than five years. After eight years 
of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest 
population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.

   Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the 
first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, 
totaling more than 340,000 --- or more than one in five worldwide last year. 
Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or 
rejection of their requests for refugee status.

   UNHCR said that its figures are "conservative" and that Venezuela masks a 
potentially longer-term trend.

   Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in 
recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, 
but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the 
outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could 
worsen.

   Grandi predicted a continued "exodus" from Venezuela and appealed for donors 
to provide more development assistance to the region.

   "Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they 
have to resort to measures that will damage refugees," he said. "We are in a 
very dangerous situation."

   The United States, meanwhile, remains the "largest supporter of refugees" in 
the world, Grandi said in an interview. The U.S. is the biggest single donor to 
UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United 
States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.

   But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings 
that have given the United States the world's biggest backlog of asylum claims, 
at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.

   He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and 
refugees.

   "In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, 
what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees --- but not just 
refugees, migrants as well --- with people that take away jobs, that threaten 
our security, our values," Grandi said. "And I want to say to the U.S. 
administration --- to the president --- but also to the leaders around the 
world: This is damaging."

   He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through 
Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from "the inability of these 
governments to protect their own citizens."

   At more than 1.5 million, Ethiopians comprised the largest population of 
newly displaced people --- nearly all internally --- last year, prompting the 
head of the Norwegian Refugee Council to decry a "forgotten crisis" in the east 
African country.

   "We need a 180-degree shift in attitudes," said NRC Secretary-General Jan 
Egeland." Wealthier nations must share the heavy-lifting, dig deep and support 
generous countries like Ethiopia to ease the human suffering of millions 
fleeing from conflict worldwide."

   The UNHCR report noted that, by far, the most refugees are taken in the 
developing world, not wealthy countries.

   The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of 
forcibly displaced rose.

   "Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten," said Jon Cerezo 
of British charity Oxfam. "Behind these figures, people like you and me are 
making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to 
their safety and most basic rights."


(KA)

 
 
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