Over half of the world’s 68 million displaced are children
by UNHCR, Unicef, NRC, IDMC
19 June 2018
30 million children displaced by conflict need protection now and sustainable solutions over the long term - UN Children''s Fund
There are now more children forcibly displaced by conflict – an estimated 30 million – than at any other time since the Second World War, UNICEF said on the eve of World Refugee Day. The UN children’s agency warns that these vulnerable children need access to protection and essential services to keep them safe now, as well as sustainable solutions to ensure their wellbeing over the long term.
Amidst ongoing conversations over a global plan of action in support of refugees, UNICEF is urging world leaders to redouble efforts to secure the rights, safety and wellbeing of the world’s most vulnerable children – so many of whom remain displaced by conflict, violence and political instability.
“On World Refugee Day, it’s important to remember the threats and challenges that children on the move face daily,” said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Manuel Fontaine. “Uprooted children – whether refugee, asylum seeker or internally displaced – face grave risks to their health and safety, along with significant barriers that limit access to the services they need to thrive. These children need more than just a day – they need hope, opportunities and protection. We call upon member states to renew their commitments to fulfil those children’s rights and aspirations.”
As the number of forcibly displaced and refugee children has reached record highs, their access to essential support and services like healthcare and education remains deeply compromised. Only half of all refugee children, for example, are enrolled in primary school, while less than a quarter of refugee adolescents are in secondary school.
The global number of refugee and migrant children moving alone has also reached previously unseen levels, increasing nearly five-fold within the five-year period from 2010. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in 2015-2016, up from 66,000 in 2010-2011. The true figure of children moving alone, however, is likely to be significantly higher. Unaccompanied and separated children are at heightened risk of trafficking, exploitation, violence and abuse. Children account for approximately 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally.
UNICEF hopes the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), as well as the Global Compact for Migration (GCM), to be finalized this year, will serve as the framework for strong member state commitments to the rights of uprooted children around the world. The children’s agency has released a six-point agenda for action to protect refugee and migrant children, including best practice recommendations that can be incorporated into both compacts.
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Forced displacement above 68m in 2017, new global deal on refugees critical. (UNHCR)
Wars, other violence and persecution drove worldwide forced displacement to a new high in 2017 for the fifth year in a row, led by the crisis in Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan’s war, and the flight into Bangladesh from Myanmar of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. Overwhelmingly it is developing countries that are most affected.
In its annual Global Trends report, released today, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency said 68.5 million people were displaced as of the end of 2017. Among them were 16.2 million people who became displaced during 2017 itself, either for the first time or repeatedly – indicating a huge number of people on the move and equivalent to 44,500 people being displaced each day, or a person becoming displaced every two seconds.
Refugees who have fled their countries to escape conflict and persecution accounted for 25.4 million of the 68.5 million. This is 2.9 million more than in 2016, also the biggest increase UNHCR has seen in a single year. Asylum-seekers, who were still awaiting the outcome of their claims to refugee status as of 31 December 2017, meanwhile rose by around 300,000 to 3.1 million. People displaced inside their own country accounted for 40 million of the total. Across all countries, one in every 110 persons is someone displaced.
“We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
“But there is reason for some hope. Fourteen countries are already pioneering a new blueprint for responding to refugee situations and in a matter of months a new Global Compact on Refugees will be ready for adoption by the United Nations General Assembly. Today, on the eve of World Refugee Day, my message to member states is please support this. No one becomes a refugee by choice; but the rest of us can have a choice about how we help.”
UNHCR’s Global Trends report is released worldwide each year ahead of World Refugee Day (20th June) and tracks forced displacement based on data gathered by UNHCR, governments, and other partners. It does not examine the global asylum environment, which UNHCR reports on separately and which continued in 2017 to see incidents of forced returns, politicization and scapegoating of refugees, refugees being jailed or denied possibility to work, and several countries objecting even to use of the word “refugee”.
Nonetheless, the Global Trends report offers several insights, including in some instances into perceived versus actual realities of forced displacement and how these can sometimes be at odds.
Among these is the notion that the world’s displaced are mainly in countries of the Global North. The data shows the opposite to be true – with fully 85 per cent of refugees in developing countries, many of which are desperately poor and receive little support to care for these populations. Four out of five refugees remain in countries next door to their own.
Large-scale displacement across borders is also less common than the 68 million global displacement figure suggests. Almost two thirds of those forced to flee are internally displaced people who have not left their own countries. Of the 25.4 million refugees, just over a fifth are Palestinians under the care of UNRWA. Of the remainder, for whom UNHCR is responsible, two thirds come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. An end to conflict in any one of these has potential to significantly influence the wider global displacement picture.
Two other insights from Global Trends are that most refugees live in urban areas (58 per cent) not in camps or rural areas; and that the global displaced population is young – 53 per cent are children, including many who are unaccompanied or separated from their families.
As with the number of countries producing large-scale displacement, the number of countries hosting large numbers was also comparatively few: Turkey remained the world’s leading refugee hosting country in terms of absolute numbers with a population of 3.5 million refugees, mainly Syrians. Lebanon meanwhile hosted the largest number of refugees relative to its national population. In all, 63 per cent of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility were in just 10 countries.
Sadly, solutions for all this remained in short supply. Wars and conflict continued to be the major drivers with little visible progress towards peace. Around five million people were able to return to their homes in 2017 with the vast majority returning from internal displacement, but among these were people returning under duress or to fragile contexts. Due to a drop in the number of resettlement places on offer, the number of resettled refugees was down by over 40 per cent at around 100,000 people.
Reporting Forced Displacement – Key Definitions
UNHCR does not use the term ‘migrant’ to describe people who are forced to flee.
Refugee: A person who has fled their country and needs ‘international protection’ because of a risk of violence or persecution were they to return home. This includes people fleeing wars. The term has its roots in international legal instruments, notably the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and the 1969 OAU Convention. You can acquire refugee status by applying for it individually, or in cases of large influx by being given it on a “prima facie” basis. Refugees cannot be returned to their home country unless it is on a strictly voluntary basis.
Asylum Seeker: A person who has applied on an individual basis for refugee status and is awaiting the result. Asylum seekers are given ‘international protection’ while their claims are being assessed, and like refugees may not be returned home unless it is on a voluntary basis.
Internally displaced person: Internally displaced people, often known by the abbreviation IDPs, are those who are forced to flee their homes to elsewhere in their own country.
Stateless person: Someone who is without a nationality of any country, and consequently lacks the human rights and access to services of those who have citizenship. It is possible to be stateless and a refugee simultaneously.
30.6 million people displaced inside their country in 2017
Conflict and disasters displaced 30.6 million people within their own countries last year, according to a new report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
“This is the equivalent of 80,000 people displaced each day,” said Alexandra Bilak, Director of IDMC. “The scale of this displacement is dishearteningly familiar. This report shows why we need a new approach to address the huge costs of internal displacement, not only to individuals, but also to the economy, stability and security of affected countries.”
Key findings from the Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID 2018) show that new displacement due to conflict and violence reached 11.8 million in 2017, almost double the figure of 6.9 million in 2016. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 5.5 million of these displacements, followed by the Middle East and North Africa with 4.5 million. This brings the total number of people living in internal displacement due to conflict close to 40 million worldwide.
“The staggering number of people forced to flee from their homes due to conflict and violence must serve as an eye opener to us all,” said Jan Egeland, NRC’s Secretary General. “We are getting better at providing emergency aid, but we need to put a lot more effort into preventing displacement, protecting people, and finding long-term solutions.”
The report also shows that in 2017, disasters displaced 18.8 million people in 135 countries. Of these, 8.6 million displacements were triggered by floods, and 7.5 million by storms, especially tropical cyclones. The worst affected countries were China with 4.5 million, the Philippines with 2.5 million, Cuba and the US each with 1.7 million, and India with 1.3 million displacements.
In 2017, cyclones displaced millions of people around the world, including Mora which struck Bangladesh in May and hurricane Irma that wreaked havoc in the Atlantic in August. Complex emergencies in places like Yemen and South Sudan, involving a breakdown in the rule of law, a weakened economy and limited humanitarian access, also led to significant displacement.
“Internal displacement often heralds the start of broader crises. While we have seen some useful policy progress since the adoption of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement 20 years ago, it is nowhere near enough to cope with, much less reduce, the scale of the problem,” said Bilak.
Bilak added, “without renewed action, we risk failing millions of internally displaced people worldwide, and holding back the development of the countries which host them. It’s time for an honest conversation on the most effective ways to turn the tide on this global crisis. This conversation must be led by affected countries and receive full support from the international community.”
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Attacks on children in conflict continue unabated
by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore
“From the Central African Republic to South Sudan, and from Syria to Afghanistan, attacks on children in conflict have continued unabated during the first four months of the year.
"With little remorse and even less accountability, parties to conflict continue to blatantly disregard one of the most basic rules in war: the protection of children.
"No method of warfare has been off-limits, no matter how deadly for children: Indiscriminate attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, abductions, child recruitment, besiegement, abuse in detention and denial of humanitarian assistance were all too commonplace.
"In Yemen, for example, more than 220 children were allegedly killed and over 330 were injured since the beginning of the year as a result of the conflict. Nearly 4.3 million children are now at risk of starvation, a 24 per cent increase over 2017 levels. An acute watery diarrhoea and cholera outbreak which killed more than 400 children under the age of five last year is threatening to claim even more young lives as the rainy season begins and hygiene conditions deteriorate further.
"In Syria, hopes for peace remain dim. More than 70 attacks on hospitals and health facilities were verified during the first three months of the year, denying children and families vital health services. Over 300 education facilities have been attacked since the beginning of the conflict. Some 5.3 million children have been internally displaced or became refugees, and nearly 850,000 children continue to live in besieged or hard-to-reach areas.
"In Gaza, we have seen children killed and injured in protests since early March, with reports on Monday of more child casualties in what is said to be the deadliest day of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.
“In Bangladesh, more than 400,000 Rohingya refugee children who survived recent atrocities in Myanmar need humanitarian assistance. As the monsoon season approaches, the risk of cholera and other waterborne diseases is higher than ever.
"In South Sudan, the first country I visited as UNICEF Executive Director, at least 2.6 million children have been forced to flee their homes. More than 1 million children are acutely malnourished including over 250,000 severely so and at increased risk of death. Although close to 600 children have been released from armed groups so far this year, around 19,000 continue to serve as fighters, messengers, porters, cooks and even sex slaves for the warring parties.
"In Afghanistan, more than 150 children were reported killed and over 400 injured during the first three months of the year because of the conflict.
"In the Central African Republic, renewed violence over the past few months has forced nearly 29,000 children to flee their homes, bringing the total number of internally displaced children close to 360,000. More than 2 in 5 children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition and one third of school-aged children are now out of school.
"In all these countries and many more, committed teams from UNICEF and partners are doing all they can to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable, those separated from their families, terrified and alone, those getting sick in densely populated refugee camps, those on the move in monsoon and unrelenting dry seasons, those who are starving.
“Despite funding shortfalls – we have only received 16 per cent of our funding needs for this year – we are resolutely committed to serving the most vulnerable. We are vaccinating children, treating them for malnutrition, sending them to school, providing them with protection services, and trying to meet their basic needs.
“Humanitarian aid alone is not enough. Children need peace and protection at all times. The rules of war prohibit the unlawful targeting of civilians, attacks on schools or hospitals, the use, recruitment and unlawful detention of children, and the denial of humanitarian assistance. When conflicts break out, these rules need to be respected and those who break them need to be held to account. Enough is enough. Stop attacks on children."
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