According to a new United Nations report, 2011 was the worst year for refugees since 2000: 4.3 million people were newly displaced; 800,000 of them fled their countries and became refugees (the remaining people were displaced but did not leave their countries, so they do not meet the definition of “refugee;” rather, they are considered IDPs – internally displaced persons).
At the end of 2011, there were 42.5 million displaced people worldwide. That is more than the entire population of Canada. The numbers break down as follows: 15.2 million refugees; 26.4 million IDPs; and 895,000 people in the process of seeking asylum. According to the UN:
“2011 saw suffering on an epic scale. For so many lives to have been thrown into turmoil over so short a space of time means enormous personal cost for all who were affected,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “We can be grateful only that the international system for protecting such people held firm for the most part and that borders stayed open. These are testing times.”
There are more displaced people in the world than the entire population of Canada, though the Canadians probably make more noise.
The UN reports that Afghanistan remains the biggest producer of refugees (2.7 million) followed by Iraq (1.4 million), Somalia (1.1 million), Sudan (500,000) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (491,000). This is particularly sad given that the top two countries producing refugees are places where we went to war. Obviously, our efforts have not made Iraq and Afghanistan safe, at least not in the minds of the millions of people who have decided that they cannot return home.
Viewed on a 10-year basis, the UN report shows several worrying trends: “One is that forced displacement is affecting larger numbers of people globally, with the annual level exceeding 42 million people for each of the last five years.” “Another is that a person who becomes a refugee is likely to remain as one for many years – often stuck in a camp or living precariously in an urban location.” “Of the 10.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, almost three quarters (7.1 million) have been in exile for at least five years awaiting a solution.”
The news was not all bad:
Despite the high number of new refugees, the overall figure was lower than the 2010 total of 43.7 million [displaced] people, due mainly to the offsetting effect of large numbers of IDPs returning home: 3.2 million, the highest rate of returns of IDPs in more than a decade.
However, among refugees, “2011 was the third lowest year for returns (532,000) in a decade.”
Despite the high number of refugees, the U.S. resettled less refugees in 2011 than in any year since 2007. In 2011, we resettled 56,419 refugees, which is far less than the proposed ceiling of 80,000 people. For the years before 2011, the figures are as follows: 2010 – 73,311; 2009 – 74,656; 2008 – 60,193; and 2007 – 48,281. According to the Obama Administration:
[The admissions total for FY 2011 were] lower, however, due largely to the introduction of additional security checks during the year, including pre-departure checks shortly before refugees travel to the U.S., instituted mid-year, that enhance the vetting of applicants against intelligence and law enforcement information.
The proposed ceiling for FY 2012 is 76,000 refugees. We will see how many people are actually resettled in the U.S. Given the high number of displaced people worldwide–and considering how many of them are displaced directly as a result of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq–it seems to me that this is the least we can do to assist such people.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Jason Dzubow's practice focuses on immigration law, asylum, and appellate litigation. Mr. Dzubow is admitted to practice law in the federal and state courts of Washington, DC and Maryland, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Eleventh, and DC Circuits, all Immigration Courts in the United States, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition. In June 2009, CAIR Coalition honored Mr. Dzubow for his Outstanding Commitment to Defending the Rights and Dignity of Detained Immigrants.