More than 70 million people were counted last year as displaced from their homes, a record that underestimates the real number of refugees and asylum seekers, the UN said Wednesday.
In its annual global trends report, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) described the figure of 70.8 million at the end of 2018 as “conservative”, particularly because the number of people who fled Venezuela’s devastating crisis is undercounted. The UNHCR attributed the increase partly to surging displacement in Ethiopia caused by inter-ethnic conflict, and in Venezuela, where thousands are fleeing every day amid an economic collapse that has triggered shortages of basic food and medicine.
At the end of 2017, by comparison, 68.5 million people were counted as being forcibly displaced by violence or persecution. An estimated 3.3 million people have left Venezuela since the start of 2016, according to the UN.
Overall, the number of displaced people in the world has doubled over the last 20 years and now exceeds the population of Thailand. The report lists 41.3 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 25.9 million refugees, and 3.5 million asylum seekers — those awaiting a decision on their bid for official refugee protection.
The countries with the most internally displaced people — fleeing within their own countries — are Syria, wracked by conflict since 2011 and Colombia, plagued by decades of violence, said the UNHCR.