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United Nations: Mid-Year Report on Global Forced Displacement

(Dec. 22, 2015) On December 18, 2015, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published the UNHCR Mid-Year Trends 2015 report, an analysis of “displacement trends during the first half of 2015, based on statistics collected by UNHCR, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).”  (UNHCR MID-YEAR TRENDS 2015, at 3, UNHCR website (Dec. 2015); Jacqueline Jones, Forced Displacement Around the World Breaks All Previous Records, PAPER CHASE (Dec. 20, 2015).)

According to the report, some 59.5 million persons worldwide had been forcibly displaced by the end of 2014, “as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations,” and while a current total figure on global forced displacement was not available at the time the report was written, UNHCR offices had reported that during the first half of 2015 “at least five million individuals were newly displaced,” with 4.2 million newly displaced within their own country and 839,000 displaced beyond their country’s borders. (UNHCR MID-YEAR TRENDS 2015, supra.)  As a result, it is estimated that the total figure of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world (the three major categories of the displaced) is already far above 60 million.  (Id.)

The number of refugees alone had reached over 20 million persons as of mid-2015; the 20 million threshold had not been reached since 1992; applications for asylum, which reached nearly a million, were up 78% (993,600) compared to the same period in 2014; and the number of IDPs was an estimated 34 million, an increase of 2 million. (2015 Likely to Break Records for Forced Displacement – Study, UNHCR website (Dec. 18, 2015),.

The report indicates worsening indicators in a number of key areas: rates of voluntary return, “a measure of how many refugees can safely go back home and a barometer of the global state of conflict – are at their lowest levels” in over 30 years; the numbers of new refugees “are also up sharply,” with the war in Syria remaining “the single biggest generator worldwide of both new refugees and continuing mass internal and external displacement;” and pressures on host countries are growing due to “more refugees being stuck in exile.” (Id.)  In terms of absolute numbers and figures for refugees who are considered to fall under the UNHCR mandate, Turkey is the largest host country, with the number of registered Syrian refugees estimated to have reached about 2.2 million as of December 2015, followed by Pakistan and Lebanon, although Lebanon “hosts more refugees compared to its population size than any other country, with 209 refugees per 1000 inhabitants.” (Id.; UNHCR MID-YEAR TRENDS, supra at 4-5.)

The figures on the influx of migrants in Europe are not fully reflected in the report because the number of arrivals escalated in the second half of 2015 and are therefore outside the report’s scope. The report takes note, however, that in the first half of 2015, Germany received the largest number of new asylum claims, with 159,000, “close to the entire total for all of 2014.”  (2015 Likely to Break Records for Forced Displacement – Study, supra.)  The Russian Federation, with 100,000 claims, was the second largest recipient, mainly of individuals fleeing Ukraine; the United States was third; and Hungary was fourth (although a large number of its applicants move on to other European Union countries).  (UNHCR MID-YEAR TRENDS, supra at 10, 12.)