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UN Says Refugee Levels Hit New Record In 2021, Trend To Continue

Afghan refugees at a makeshift shelter camp in Chaman, a Pakistani border town, after the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says the number of people forced to flee their homes in 2021 hit its highest level since records began as the speed and scale of forced displacement outpaces solutions for refugees.

The UNHCR said in its annual Global Trends Report, released on June 16, that 89.3 million individuals worldwide were forcibly displaced in 2021 as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or events seriously disturbing public order.

That figure is up 8 percent over the previous year, and well over double the figure a decade earlier, it added.

Adding to concerns over the mounting number of refugees, the UNHCR said, was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, which caused the fastest and one of the largest forced displacement crises since World War II, while “other emergencies” in Africa, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world have pushed the figure over the milestone of 100 million during 2022.

"Every year of the last decade, the numbers have climbed," United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.

"What comes next is in our hands. We either take action to address this human despair and find lasting solutions, or we keep sprinting toward terrible new landmarks,” he added.

According to the report, some 7.1 million Ukrainians have been displaced within their country since Russia launched its war, while more than 6 million refugees have left the country entirely.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR said food scarcity, inflation, and the climate crisis are adding to people’s hardship, stretching the humanitarian response just as the funding outlook in many situations appears “bleak.”

Last year also saw the 15th straight annual rise in people displaced within their countries by conflict, to 53.2 million, while the speed and volume of displacement is still outpacing the availability of solutions for those displaced -- like return, resettlement or local integration, it said.

“While we’re witnessing appalling new refugee situations, and existing ones reigniting or remaining unresolved, there are also examples of countries and communities working together to pursue solutions for the displaced,” Grandi added.

The report said Afghanistan saw a 4 percent year-on-year drop in refugees in 2021 even with the withdrawal of international forces from the country as Taliban militants took power. Still, with 2.71 million fleeing, it ranked third globally in refugees, behind only Syria (6.8 million), and Venezuela (4.6 million).

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