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Refugees and migrants on a fishing boat pictured before making contact with the Italian navy. (Photo: Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini)

Refugees and migrants on a fishing boat pictured before making contact with the Italian navy. (Photo: Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini)

One in Every 122 Humans Forcibly Displaced by War and Persecution: UN

New report exposes 'unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.'

Sarah Lazare

As wars and persecution escalate worldwide, one out of every 122 people on the planet is a refugee, seeking asylum, or internally displaced, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported Thursday.

Taken together, this population of humans wrenched from their homes by violence would constitute the 24th largest country in the world.

The agency's new report, Global Trends: World at War, chronicles what UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres calls "an age of unprecedented mass displacement." Based on data gathered in 2014, the study documents the harrowing human toll of new wars, resurgent conflicts, and long-term violent displacement.

At least 59.5 million people were violently displaced during 2014, roughly half of them children. This is a dramatic jump from the 51.2 million people displaced in 2013. And these numbers do not include the many people who are displaced by poverty and global economic inequality—meaning that the actual number of people uprooted is far higher.

Displacement has increased four-fold over the past four years, with the conflict in Syria acting as the largest driver of this rise and surging conflicts from the Central African Republic to Yemen to Ukraine also fueling these grim numbers. The uprooted also include the long-term displaced, including people from Afghanistan and Palestine.

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Despite the role of rich nations in driving this crisis through increasing militarism, the UN report notes that "the global distribution of refugees remains heavily skewed away from wealthier nations and towards the less wealthy," with countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, and Lebanon taking in far more refugees than European nations and the United States.

"Far too many of the world’s richest and most peaceful countries are ignoring their global responsibility to provide assistance and protection," said secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland, in a press statement responding to the UN's findings. "They are hiding behind closed borders."

Western countries are not just closing their borders, however—they are also militarizing them.

As migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe face the rising danger of death at sea, the European Union is rolling back its humanitarian rescue response and replacing it with a militarized one by targeting and attacking alleged networks of smugglers.

In a letter released last month, over 300 slavery and migration scholars asked, "Where is the moral justification for some of the world’s richest nations employing their naval and technological might in a manner that leads to the death of men, women and children from some of the world’s poorest and most war torn regions?"

Speaking to this crisis, Guterres said in a press statement: "We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before."

"For an age of unprecedented mass displacement," Guterres continued, "we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution."


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