When Antonio Guterres became the U.N. refugee chief almost 10 years ago, the world counted 38 million people displaced by conflict and persecution and the number was declining. Today, it’s more than 60 million and rising.
The “interlinked mega-crises” in Iraq and Syria have uprooted 15 million people. And in the last 12 months, 500,000 people have fled their homes in South Sudan, 190,000 in Burundi, 1.1 million in Yemen and 300,000 in Libya. Tens of thousands are fleeing gang violence in Central America. And there has been little or no improvement in the crises in Central African Republic, Nigeria, Ukraine and Congo, he said.
The world is faced with 15 conflicts that have erupted and or reignited in the past five years. And more than two-thirds of refugees worldwide are Muslim, Guterres said, stressing the world must counter “the backward narrowness of xenophobia.”
The refugee chief said the spike of Syrian refugees coming to Europe this year is mainly due to three factors. Many Syrians have lost hope that a political solution to end the war is near and after years in exile their resources have run out and living conditions have deteriorated, he said. But “the trigger” is UNHCR’s funding shortfall and its struggle to provide cash and shelter to the growing number of vulnerable families ahead of winter, he said.
“As a result, more and more people have embarked on the desperate journey to Europe, despite the enormous risks and cost this entails,” Guterres said. “To be honest, in these circumstances, I would probably do the same with my own family.”