Number of Asylum Seekers at Record High, US Has Most Pending Applications

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The global population of forcibly displaced people increased by 2.3 million, to 70.8 million, last year, according to the latest annual report on forced displacement from the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency.

The number of people who were forced to flee their homes due to persecution, conflict, or violence, hit another record high in 2018, according to the report released Thursday on the occasion of World Refugee Day 2019.

Cities play an important role in offering sanctuary to refugees or assisting families who have fled conflict in the countryside. Some 175 cities have signed on to #WithRefugees, a year-old UNHCR initiative to encourage cities around the world to offer assistance to refugees.

“Cities are at the forefront of pioneering new approaches in terms of receiving, including and offering opportunities to refugees,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement announcing the annual report.

This focus on cities is important. The UNHCR estimates that about six out of 10 refugees wind up in urban areas, while nearly eight out of 10 internally displaced people seek refuge in their countries’ larger cities.

And with what the UNHCR describes as “growing levels of xenophobia around the world,” urban policies on the treatment and acceptance of refugees have become critical in the push to help displaced people. The UNHCR estimates that about half of the global refugee population is comprised of children below the age of 18.

Of the 175 cities that have signed up to the #WithRefugees campaign, 46 are in Western Europe, 39 are in the United States, 15 are in Australia, 14 are in South America, representing about 65% of all of the signatory cities. (The full list of cities can be found here.)

Of the nearly 71 million forcibly displaced people in the world last year, 3.5 million became asylum seekers. The United States, Germany, Turkey, South Africa and Peru had the largest number of asylum seekers whose cases were still pending last year.

Syria, which has been roiling in civil war since March 2011, continues to be the single biggest source of refugees, with 6.7 million displaced people. Other leading causes of refugees include the ongoing war in Afghanistan, civil war between the government and opposition forces in South Sudan, sectarian violence in Myanmar that’s forced more than a million Rohingya Muslims to flee the country, and the civil war in Somalia.

Syria leads among newly registered refugees and asylum seekers in 2018, followed by Venezuela, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The countries of the Northern Triangle – El Salvador Guatemala and Honduras – and Mexico were the main sources of asylum seekers to the United States.

For the fifth consecutive year, Turkey has hosted the largest number of refugees, most of them from neighboring Syria, followed by Pakistan (which borders Afghanistan), Uganda, Sudan, and Germany, which took in large numbers of refugees from Syria and Iraq last year. Both places are on the list of countries the U.S. government doesn’t want you to go.