The number of the world’s forcibly displaced people reached a record 68.5 million at the end of 2017, according to a recent UNHCR report. That’s more than the total population of the United Kingdom.
The rise is greater than global population growth, meaning that the persecution, war and violence that most often causes people to flee are getting worse. Of the 68.5 million, 40 million are internally displaced, 3.1 million are seeking asylum, and 25.4 million are recognised by UNHCR as refugees. Over half are children.
A quarter were newly displaced in 2017 – an average of two people every second – making it the highest annual increase since the UN started keeping records in the mid-1900s. 2017 is also the sixth consecutive year that the total number of displaced people has exceeded the number displaced during World War Two.
More than half of 2017’s UN-mandated refugees – not including 5.4 million Palestinian refugees – are from three war-ravaged countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.
Rohingya are the fastest growing refugee population, victims of what the United Nations refers to as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the Myanmar government. Nearly 700,000 have fled since August last year, almost 70 percent of the total Rohingya population.
A decline in resettlement quotas has meant that only 102,755 refugees worldwide were admitted for resettlement in 2017, a decrease of 54 percent from the previous year. Of that, most (85 percent) were hosted in developing countries. Australia ranked 20th as a host country, offering to settle just 15,115 refugees in 2017 (fewer than 0.076 percent of the total number of people needing protection). When factoring in GDP, Australia ranked 45th.
The global situation is predicted to get worse as a result of Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach to border control and the strengthening of right populism in Europe.
The last days of June were the year’s deadliest for refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean. An estimated 220 people drowned off the coast of Libya, pushing the annual death toll to 1,000.
One boat sank on the same day as the EU summit in Brussels moved to condemn the provision of humanitarian assistance to refugees at sea as part of a migration deal. “Saving lives at sea is not a crime”, said Médecins Sans Frontières’ head of emergencies, Karline Kleijer. “EU member states are … deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya or die at sea.”
Meanwhile, both major parties in Australia continue to promote “stopping the boats” as a priority, a policy that has served as a model for similar harsh border policies overseas. A spokesperson for immigration minister Peter Dutton recently told News Corp, “A number of European nations and the European Union have sought advice from the Australian Government on Operation Sovereign Borders”.
Early this year Trump said of his and Turnbull’s approach to national security and border protection, “We are very much of the same mind”.