Forty-four thousand four hundred and forty. According to a new report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, that’s the average number of people who were forcibly displaced from their homes every single day in 2017. That’s one person every two seconds, with a record 16.2 million newly displaced in 2017.
Displaced persons now total 68.5 million people worldwide. Over 25 million are refugees, with a 2.9 million new refugees in 2017. Another 40 million are considered “internally displaced” persons who had to leave their homes but not their country, and just over 3 million are asylum seekers.
Sixty-eight percent of the world’s refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. For the fourth consecutive year, Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide: 3.5 million. Next is Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon (where one in every six residents is a refugee), Iran, Germany and Bangladesh.
Refugee status is often long-term. By UNHCR definition, a “protracted refugee situation” is one where 25,000 of more refugees from the same nationality have been in exile for five consecutive years or more. Two-thirds of the world’s refugees are in protracted refugee situations and 3 million of those have been in exile for THIRTY-EIGHT years or more. For many people, that is the only life they have ever known.
One Rohingya woman who is a three-time refugee, 90-year-old Gal Zahar, said that “In all my life, I’ve not known even five minutes of peace.”
She and her family are stateless, not allowed to be citizens of Myanmar where they had lived for generations and now in a Bangladeshi refugee camp -- still stateless -- after fleeing the attacks on their village in Myanmar last August.
Refugee camps are difficult places to grow up. Sometimes, they are deadly. Sandra Uwingiyimana was a 10-year old girl forced out of her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo and into a refugee camp in Burundi. On the night of Aug. 13, 2014, militants attacked the refugees, massacring 166 people, including Sandra’s 6-year-old sister.
In her book “How Dare the Sun Rise,” she details the attack and then looking for other family members. “It was light out when we found them, the sun rising slowly in a pale blue sky, casting a warm glow over the fields of sorrow and grief. I remember thinking: How dare the sun rise, as if it were any other day, after such a gruesome night.”
Some might say that Sandra and her surviving family members were some of the lucky ones. Because of the massacre, and after many hurdles, they were resettled in the United States and, after a number of years, became citizens of the United States. Her comment about the process of refugee resettlement and then naturalization was “Anyone who thinks it’s easy to get to the States as a refugee has no idea.”
Last year, 73,400 refugees were naturalized by one of 28 countries. Turkey granted citizenship to 50,000 Syrian refugees, followed by Canada with 10,500, the Netherlands with 6,600, France with 3,800 and Belgium with 1,900.
The United States did top one list -- the number of pending claims from people seeking asylum here. There are now 642,700 people with pending claims in to the U.S government, a 44 percent increase from 2016. A large portion of increase can be attributed to the lack of action on those claims. Barely 10 percent of those cases had any substantive decisions. The other asylum-seekers remain in limbo, or, as we’ve seen from recent news stories, are deported without a chance to even make a claim.
One thing is certain. This problem is not going away. And by “problem” I don’t mean the refugees, of course, but the worldwide conditions forcing people from their homes under some of the most horrific circumstances imaginable. It is incumbent upon all of us to stop being driven by fear and be part of the solution.
Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to the Salt Lake Tribune, has seen first-hand some of the desperate conditions in refugee camps and knows that those conditions are still better from the situations the refugees were fleeing.