UNITED NATIONS: Afghans continue to make up the largest population of refugees worldwide, with the majority seeking refuge in Iran and Pakistan, maintaining a trend observed in previous years, according to a UNHCR report released on Thursday.

The UN refugee agency’s 2024 Global Trends Report includes estimates of internally displaced persons, pointing out that the years 2023 and 2024 saw historically high levels of forced displacement worldwide.

The report also features an assessment by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which estimates that about 75 per cent of the population in the Gaza Strip — approximately 1.7 million people — have been displaced.

Syria, however, holds the record for the highest number of people forcibly displaced, with 13.8 million displaced both within and outside its borders.

Pakistan among five top refugee-hosting countries

“Behind these stark and rising numbers lie countless human tragedies. That suffering must galvanise the international community to act urgently to tackle the root causes of forced displacement,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, while commenting on the report.

Afghans constitute one in six of all refugees under UNHCR’s mandate. Over the past year, more than 6.4 million Afghans were hosted in 108 countries, marking an increase of 741,400, or 13 per cent, from the previous year.

This surge is primarily due to the rise in the number of Afghans in refugee-like situations in Iran (+327,300) and Pakistan (+189,800).

Major host countries

Nearly three in four refugees (73 per cent) originate from just five countries, and 87 per cent come from only 10 countries, maintaining consistency with the previous year.

The largest refugee-hosting countries include Iran with 3.8 million, Turkiye with 3.3 million, Colombia with 2.9 million, Germany with 2.6 million, and Pakistan with 2 million.

Most refugees in Iran and Pakistan are Afghans, and nearly all refugees in Turkiye are Syrians.

Afghan refugees

Globally, nearly 10.9 million Afghans remained displaced, with most staying within their country or in neighbouring countries. In 2023, the number of Afghan refugees increased by 741,400, totalling 6.4 million, mainly due to new population estimates from Iran and Pakistan.

“Opportunities for sustainable return are limited, as almost half of Afghanistan’s population of over 40 million faces acute food insecurity, and millions remain displaced within the country,” the report adds.

Humanitarian crisis in Gaza

The report notes that the conflict in the Gaza Strip has had a devastating impact on the Palestinian civilian population. The humanitarian situation is extremely dire, with all 2.2 million inhabitants facing acute food insecurity and an imminent threat of famine.

UNRWA estimates that between October and December 2023, up to 1.7 million people (over 75 percent of the population) have been displaced within the Gaza Strip, with many forced to flee multiple times.

By the end of 2023, there were 6 million Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s mandate, with 1.6 million in the Gaza Strip. Two-thirds of these refugees have become internally displaced in 2023, compounding their existing vulnerabilities.

Displacement in Myanmar

Escalating violence following the military takeover in Myanmar in February 2021 has displaced more than 1.3 million people within the country in 2023, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to over 2.6 million by the end of the year. Most of them are Rohingya Muslims.

A major contributor to the alarming numbers in the report is the conflict between rival militaries in Sudan, which resulted in 10.8 million people being uprooted by the end of 2023.

Additionally, millions were internally displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Myanmar last year. The 2024 Global Trends Report by UNHCR paints a grim picture of the state of global displacement, highlighting significant challenges and the urgent need for international cooperation to address the root causes of forced displacement.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2024

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