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The stunning scope of the world’s refugee crisis

One out of every 122 people alive today is someone who, at some point, was forced to leave his or her home. If you totaled up all these people, they would have a greater population than all of South Africa — nearly as many people who live in all of the United Kingdom.

This is the stunning scope of the world’s refugee crisis, which the United Nations expects will leave at least 60 million people displaced by the end of 2015. This is the highest level of displacement that the international body has ever recorded.

The global refugee total at this time last year was 19.5 million. By mid-2015, it passed 20 million.

The world doesn’t just have a refugee crisis. It also has a displacement crisis.

The refugee crisis has commandeered headlines, especially in the United States, with dozens of governors declaring in November they would not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states.

But the refugee crisis doesn’t tell the entire story of displacement. There are even more internally displaced people living in the world right now: those forced out of their homes, but still in their home countries. The ranks of the internally displaced grew by 2 million in 2015, to hit 34 million in the middle of the year. Asylum applications also went up 78 percent.

There is no one common backstory to explain why displacement has surged in 2015. Instead, there are numerous, international conflicts that, collectively, began to fuel an epidemic. Vox’s Max Fisher and Amanda Taub recently captured the issue well:

There’s no single reason, because a number of the crises driving people from their homes are not connected. There’s no real link, for example, between the war in Afghanistan and the persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, or between violence in Nigeria and violence in Honduras and El Salvador.

But there is one thing that jump-started the crisis, and that has helped to make it so especially bad: the Arab Spring. It began in 2011 as a series of peaceful, pro-democracy movements across the Middle East, but it led to terrible wars in Libya and Syria. Those wars are now helping to fuel the refugee crisis.

It’s not hard to understand why Syrians are fleeing. Bashar al-Assad’s regime has targeted civilians ruthlessly, including with chemical weapons and barrel bombs; ISIS has subjected Syrians to murder, torture, crucifixion, sexual slavery, and other appalling atrocities; and other groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra have tortured and killed civilians as well. The civil war has killed a shocking 250,000 people, displaced half of the population, and caused one in five Syrians (4 million people) to flee the country.

There is another reason that this crisis is so severe: Politics within Europe are unusually hostile to refugees and migrants at the moment. That isn’t causing the numbers of refugees to actually increase, of course, but it’s part of why the refugees are in crisis, stuck in camps or dying in the Mediterranean rather than resettling safely in Europe. There are a few reasons anti-refugee and anti-migrant politics are rising in Europe, but it’s making it harder for Europe to deal with the crisis, and many refugee families are suffering as a result.

In addition to those refugees that Fisher and Taub mention, there are also an additional 7.6 million internally displaced Syrians who remain within the country’s borders. Other places in the Middle East (particularly Afghanistan and Iraq) as well as sub-Saharan African countries also still struggle with large, displaced populations.

There are more displaced people than residents of Italy

Were these 60 million to be counted as the population of a single country, it would be the 24th largest in the world. They’d have nearly the population of the United Kingdom — and handily more residents than Spain, Colombia, or South Korea.

Imagine the Herculean task of resettling everyone in the United Kingdom — attempting to find new homes, new communities, and new lives for those 60 million people. That’s the size of the challenge that the world faces today with displacement — and with no clear solution in sight.


18 Comments on "The stunning scope of the world’s refugee crisis"

  1. onlooker on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 12:51 pm 

    Another symptom of a world in overshoot.

  2. Apneaman on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 12:54 pm 

    Professor warns students: Planet on verge of global apocalypse due to human activity

    “An assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst concluded his comparative politics course earlier this month by telling students the planet is dying because of human activity – and there is little hope of reversing course.

    “We are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, one that we are responsible for as a species,” Professor Timothy Pachirat told students on the last day of class. “We humans are creating the conditions for our own extinction as a species.””

  3. Apneaman on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 12:55 pm 

    2015 was Texas’ wettest year on record

  4. ghung on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 1:13 pm 

    Thanks, Ap.

    It’s important for students to learn that we can’t divorce politics (a human construct) from natural processes and expect to manage our affairs successfully going forward. Our disconnect from what really matters (environment, energy, resources) is what got us into this mess. We’ve trapped ourselves, and other planetary life, by indulging in industrial age ‘successes’. Ultimately, physics and nature rule over all, and our civilization is merely a tiny subset of those. Our hubris will go POOF in geologic time, along with our accomplishments. Too bad we’ll take so many higher lifeforms with us. Our fossil record should be quite interesting, if anyone/anything is left to care.

  5. peakyeast on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 1:31 pm 

    @thecollegefix: Temperature will rise 3 to 7 percent fahrenheit..

    mmmm… right…

  6. Pennsyguy on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 1:44 pm 

    Re Prof. Pachirat: I hope that he has tenure. Such foresight and honesty isn’t always present in academic people.–at least not the ones I knew.

  7. Anonymous on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 3:27 pm 

    The ‘shameful US response to the Syrian refugee crisis’. Really? The US created the crisis in the first place. The refugees are a bonus. Right now, they are being sent to the EU as a reward for not showing the proper level of enthusiasm for americas overt\covert war against Russia(Via Ukraine). Like most modern disasters, man-made or not, refugee movement can, in many case, not all, but many, be traced directly to resource wars and military aggression by the united states.

    The idea that all, or even most refugee movements, can be traced to environmental problems alone, simply doesn’t add up. To use Syria again as an example, prior to the uS sending in its ‘ISIS’ brigades, fresh from Libya, there was no ‘Syrian refugee’ problem, nor would there have been one in the making, if not for US subterfuge. For the US war-masters, creating masses of refugees is as much a weapon as its faulty jets, and the rest of their fragile overpriced weapons systems. Refugees help create new problems and burdens for govts that wont tow the US line.

    Lastly this article throws away any credibitly by towing the US line:

    It’s not hard to understand why Syrians are fleeing. Bashar al-Assad’s regime has targeted civilians ruthlessly, including with chemical weapons and barrel bombs.

    Neither is true.

    Or this howler

    the Arab Spring. It began in 2011 as a series of peaceful, pro-democracy movements across the Middle East, but it led to terrible wars in Libya and Syria. Those wars are now helping to fuel the refugee crisis.

    Really…the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, peace and all that, led to a war in Libya? Wasnt it NATO acting as a front for the US that started that war and left in a hurry to start another one in Syria as fast as they could?

    ” Vox’s Max Fisher and Amanda Taub recently captured the issue well:”

    Actually they didn’t capture the issue at all, kind of did the opposite. But nothing like congratulating yourself on bullshit well done right before spreading even more of it.

  8. Dooma on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 4:25 pm 

    When it comes to the rest of the world, it is amazing just how insular we are.

    I have travelled to some of the poorest countries in the world and it is only then that you realise just how unbalanced the wealth distribution is around the globe.

    If you are reading this then there is a good chance that you can eat every day. We complain about banks and bills but really we are lucky to live in countries with hot and cold running-potable water.

    As the year ticks over, spare a thought for the people who have nothing but the clothes on their back…

    It could happen to any one of us.

    Happy New Year.

  9. onlooker on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 4:29 pm 

    thank you Dooma for that emotive and introspective post.

  10. yellowcanoe on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 6:51 pm 

    We’re taking in 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada and to borrow a line from George W Bush, the message the media is sending is “Mission Accomplished”. People seem to be incapable of dealing with the full extent of the refugee crisis. If I point out that UNHCR is dealing with 60 million refugees world wide, people pause and then reiterate that we must bring Syrian refugees to Canada. The cost to bring and support an insignificant number of Syrian refugees far exceeds what we are providing to support the 60 million refugees who don’t have the option of moving to a western country,

  11. makati1 on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 7:32 pm 

    Dooma, that is a very good summary of the situation. Those who always had, cannot begin to understand how they got it. The West has ridden on the backs of the rest of the world for centuries and still do. It will make their fall all the greater when it happens.

  12. makati1 on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 7:36 pm 

    The migrations today are, for the most part, caused by the Western meddling in the ME.

    Migrations in the future will be climate caused and will move whole countries.

    Even in the US, it has begun. Several hundred inhabitants of an island in the Chesapeake Bay had to be relocated to the mainland because of rising water.

  13. Go Speed Racer on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 10:59 pm 

    So, anchor baby was not enough.

    Now the newest right to automatic US Citizenship, is if you are a terorist, or if can’t feed yourself.

  14. Apneaman on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 11:19 pm 

    Nothing really changes

    Nativist and Racist Movements in the U.S. and their Aftermath

    “David H. Bennett, author of The Party Fear, suggests that nativist movements resulted at times when there were major social, economic, or political upheavals taking place in the U.S. It was at these times American nativists would blame recent arriving immigrants or ethnic/religious groups different from their own for the troubles that America was experiencing. As a result, it was not uncommon for racist attitudes to develop against these scapegoats. Bennett attributes, and I agree, the impetus for these nativist groups was their perception that their chosen scapegoat was un-American and harbored alien ideas which were a threat to the American way of life. Those threats had to be dealt with even if it meant violating the Constitution or an American�s basic civil rights. As a consequence, a major focus of my curriculum unit will address the history of two nativist movements in the U.S. Because of the enormous number of nativist groups in the United States it would be impossible to give an account of each group. The two groups I wish to focus on are the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan.”

    America’s dark and not-very-distant history of hating Catholics
    Progressives and conservatives are in a rare unity welcoming Pope Francis to the US, but anti-Catholicism was rampant before John F Kennedy was president

    1854: No Irish Need Apply

  15. Apneaman on Wed, 30th Dec 2015 11:28 pm 

    Asiatic Exclusion League

    When Italian immigrants were ‘the other’

    “There were a number of things that surprised me in my initial research. I knew something about our nation’s early antipathy toward Catholics and Italians, but I had not fully appreciated the depth of that antagonism. For example, the largest mass lynching in U.S. history took place in New Orleans in 1891 — and it wasn’t African-Americans who were lynched, as many of us might assume. It was Italian-Americans.”

    The Anti-German Crusade

  16. makati1 on Thu, 31st Dec 2015 12:08 am 

    Division is rampant in the US, and that is being encouraged by the elite. Divide and weaken or divide and conquer. Both are current Imperial goals all over the world including in the continental US.

  17. theedrich on Thu, 31st Dec 2015 5:19 am 

    Anonymous is on target.  After the U.S. has instigated numerous “spontaneous” pro-democracy movements in areas from eastern Europe to MENA, it next turns them into equally “spontaneous” civil wars, complete with false-flag events.  The MSM obediently parrots the regime’s line, then whines that we are not taking in enough of the resulting refugees, along with millions of other driftwood coming along with the ride.  After the new, undocumented Democrats have permanently installed a one-party Demonic state in what used to be America, the affluent plutocrats and their bribe-o-crat political puppets will rule supremely over the insects far beneath them in the global prison.

  18. Kenz300 on Mon, 4th Jan 2016 8:26 am 

    Too many people……….create too much pollution and demand too many resources….

    China made great progress in moving its people out of poverty…….one reason was slowing population growth…..

    If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child.

    CLIMATE CHANGE, declining fish stocks, droughts, floods, air water and land pollution, poverty, water and food shortages all stem from the worlds worst environmental problem……. OVER POPULATION.
    Yet the world adds 80 million more mouths to feed, clothe, house and provide energy and water for every year… this is unsustainable… and is a big part of the Climate Change problem

    Birth Control Permanent Methods: Learn About Effectiveness

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