As violence and war push the world’s forcibly displaced population to a record high of nearly 69 million, the number of asylum seekers rose dramatically in Canada last year, a United Nations report says.
Canada was the world’s ninth-largest recipient of asylum claims last year with 47,800 claims registered in the year, more than double the 23,600 claims in the previous year, according to the latest annual report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The new asylum seekers in Canada last year included 7,300 from Haiti, 5,500 from Nigeria and 2,200 from Turkey. There were also 2,100 claims from the United States, but these were mostly U.S.-born children of third-country nationals who were living in the United States before seeking protection in Canada.
Across the world, nearly one in every 100 people has been forcibly displaced by persecution, war or other violence, and the global total has reached a record high for the fifth year in a row, UNHCR said. More than half of the forcibly displaced are children, it also noted.
The report cited the crises in South Sudan, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as among the biggest sources of refugees. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh, and millions of refugees have fled from brutal conflicts in Congo and South Sudan. In total, more than 16 million people were newly displaced last year alone.
While the refugee flows have provoked huge publicity and fierce political battles in Europe and the United States, the reality is that 85 per cent of refugees are living in developing countries, and 80 per cent are in countries next door to their own, UNHCR said. Many of the host countries are “desperately poor and receive little support to care for these populations.”
As the global numbers increase, many countries have become increasingly hostile to refugees. The UNHCR reported “incidents of forced returns, politicization and scapegoating of refugees, refugees being jailed or denied the possibility to work, and several countries objecting even to the use of the word ‘refugee.’”
The report documented a sharp rise in asylum seekers in the United States, but it made clear that this increase is largely owing to a slowdown in the processing of asylum claims under the Trump administration.
At the end of last year, there were 642,700 asylum seekers in the United States, a rise of 44 per cent over the previous year. “The increase in the asylum-seeker population was mainly a consequence of the relatively low number of decisions made on cases during the year,” UNHCR said.
While the United States received the largest number of asylum applications last year, it made fewer substantive decisions on asylum cases than Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and Uganda.
There was also a sharp drop in refugee resettlements in the United States last year. While nearly 97,000 refugees were resettled there in 2016, the number fell to just 33,400 last year. This contributed to a 46-per-cent decline in the number of resettlements worldwide last year.
Canada, despite its much smaller population, resettled nearly 27,000 refugees last year, almost as many as the United States.
“International responsibility-sharing for displaced people has utterly collapsed,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, in a statement on Tuesday.
“Rich countries are building walls against families fleeing war, at the same time as less money is available for aid to people in conflict areas.”
He cited the recent Italian decision to deny entry to a rescue vessel with 629 refugees and migrants on board. “When people in need at sea become pieces in a political game, it is a grotesque symbol of the current lack of a proper system for international responsibility-sharing.”