"There Are Now More Displaced People Than Any Time Since WWII"
The U.N. Refugee Agency reported Friday that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people worldwide has exceeded 50 million for the first time since World War II. “We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Peace is today dangerously in deficit.”
According to the agency’s Global Trends report, 51.2 million people were displaced at the end of last year by conflicts ranging from Syria to South Sudan, adding 6 million to the previous year’s count. Here are three developments from the past week that are contributing to the recent surge in refugees:
CREDIT: CREDIT: UNHCR
In just over a week, refugees fleeing insurgents battling to create an Islamic state in Iraq have tripled from 500,000 to 1.5 million. The swift takeover of towns such as Mosul and Tikrit by the Iraq Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has displaced nearly 1 in 30 Iraqis. UNICEF, the United Nation’s children’s agency, recently upgraded the crisis to a level 3 humanitarian disaster— its most severe ranking.
“Many of these displaced civilians are currently under the hot sun in the open, and have extremely limited access to food, water and shelter,” stated UNHCR Senior Field Coordinator Andrei Kazakov. While a large outflow of displaced people from the country seems inevitable, surrounding nations are already overloaded by huge refugee populations from the Syrian Civil War. The future is grim for Iraq’s latest wave of displaced people, as only 31 percent of the United Nation’s funding requests have been met. With terrorists continuing to fight their way towards Baghdad, the number of refugees will likely continue to rise.
On Wednesday, Pakistan’s military eased a curfew in the main towns of North Waziristan, allowing thousands to escape the war torn region that shares a border with Afghanistan. The military recently stepped up its offensive against Taliban militants operating in the area, lifting the curfew in order to clear the area before more tanks and troops arrive. In two days, the number of refugees fleeing the area has doubled to 140,000, flooding surrounding cities and clogging roads. 10,000 refugees remain without housing and food shortages are common.
“Waziristan was our paradise but the Taliban and security forces turned it into a hell,” a farmer fleeing with his family told Reuters. Clashes between security forces and the Taliban have made the region increasingly unlivable. Drone strikes by the U.S. have also ramped up in the past several weeks after peace talks between the government and the Taliban faltered, ending a 6-month moratorium on the controversial strikes. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan have claimed up to 916 civilian lives, including as many as 200 children. Residents caught in the crossfire of the battle against the Taliban are faced with little option but to flee.
More than 200,000 Cambodians fled Thailand in the past two weeks, fearing a crackdown on migrant workers by the new military government. While the government, which came to power after a May 22 coup, denies the charges, many Cambodians claim mass deportations have already begun. “They have never come en mass like this before in our history,” stated the governor of neighboring Banteay Meanchey province. “They said they are scared of being arrested or shot if they run when Thai authorities check their houses.”
While the Thai government rarely enforced immigration law in the past, recent contractions in the economy have decreased demand for migrant laborers. Last week, the military government defied the international community by casting the only vote against a treaty that would take steps to end forced labor. The pressure on Cambodians to leave may be a result of the government’s desire to put an end to the problems of illegal immigration and human trafficking.
Cambodians fleeing Thailand face a chronic shortage of food, water and shelter in overcrowded refugee camps across the border. In a statement released by Human Rights Watch on Friday, Asia Director Brad Adams ”The junta needs to reverse this disaster by quickly putting into place genuine reforms that would protect migrant workers’ rights, not threaten them,” said Asia Director Brad Adams in a statement released by Human Rights Watch Friday.
In a statement that accompanied UNHCR’s report, António Guterres underscored the importance of finding political solutions to these conflicts, among others, that are driving the number of refugees towards record highs. “The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere.”
Will Freeman is an intern with Think Progress.