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Dublin: 18°C Tuesday 22 June 2021

For the first time since WWII, more than 50 million people have been forced to leave their homes

See the life of two 12-year-old children in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

Image: Goal

FOR THE FIRST time since World War II, there are more than 51.2 million people displaced from their homes across the world.

A report from the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today shows that the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally-displaced people has exceeded the 50 million mark for the first time since 1945.

The numbers show a remarkable jump from 2012 numbers, when there were six million fewer people registered through government, NGO and/or UNHCR data.

The jump was mainly driven by the conflict in Syria, as well as internal problems in Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Along with Syria, the biggest refugee populations come from Afghanistan and Somalia. On the other side, Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon host more refugees than any other countries.

“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

“Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.”

He urged “non-traditional donors”, as well as those who usually provide assistance, to “step up”.

“As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of medium-to-large countries such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or South Korea,” he added.


On top of refugees, last year saw 1.1 million people apply for asylum in developed countries.

Germany is the most popular State to seek asylum, while a huge number of the applicants came from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Myanmar.

A record 25,300 asylum applications were from children who were separated from or unaccompanied by parents.


Commenting on the situation today, Amnesty International criticised the UN Security Council for failing to maintain international peace and security.

“Apathy, political alliances and point-scoring must cease trumping human rights concerns when it comes to decision-making at the Security Council,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, deputy director for global issues at the charity.

While diplomats debate points of order, houses are being burned to the ground and families forced on the run. Long delays and vetoed resolutions are plaguing the supposed ‘strong arm’ of the UN.

He also pointed to China and Russia for failing to help with the refugee crisis. Neither country resettled even one refugee last year and their donations to the UN appeal for Syria were described as “equally pitiful”. China gave nothing.

The US resettled only 36 Syrian refugees over the 12 months. In contrast, Germany has taken 25,500 people from Syria in.

However, many asylum seekers are refused entry to Europe with just 136,000 applicants out of 435,000 being granted access.

Amnesty also wanted to highlight the rights abuses that are often seen in countries taking asylum seekers.

“Greece frequently metes out violence and intimidation to the refugees and migrants arriving at its borders in search of protection, safety and better futures in Europe,” it claims.

Amnesty International has documented several cases where people have been “stripped naked, had their possessions stolen, and held at gunpoint before being pushed back across the border to Turkey”.

“Australia, which has one of the lowest population densities anywhere in the world, is another offender, hiding serious human rights violations of refugees and asylum seekers at its offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea,” continues the statement.

“Detainees are held in cramped compounds where they endure stifling heat without adequate shade or shelter and are denied sufficient water and medical help. Many have risked their lives in their efforts to reach Australia.”

A day in the life

Irish charity, Goal, is currently working with people in South Sudan who have been displaced from their homes.

Since December last year, almost 370,000 residents have left their homes to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

More than 131,000 of these people have made their way to Ethiopia. Of these, approximately 70,000 are based at refugee camps in Gambella, a region in western Ethiopia.

Almost all (95%) are women and children.

Recently, in an effort to mark World Refugee Day, two staff members gave disposable cameras to two 12-year-old refugees – a boy and a girl – and asked them to take pictures of people or things that meant something to them. These are the images they produced and, in their own words, both children explain why they took each picture.

For the first time since WWII, more than 50 million people have been forced to leave their homes
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  • World Refugee Day

    This is Gatwich, a 12 year-old South Sudan refugee currently living at Kule refugee camp in Gambella, just inside the Ethiopian border. Gatwich came to Kule from South Sudan in April with his family. His father stayed behind to fight in the war. Gatwich hopes that he will arrive at the camp soon.
  • World Refugee Day

    "This is my sister Nyatiada. She is three and is the youngest of the family. She is always happy and smiling, even when we are all sad."
  • World Refugee Day

    "This is my brother and my sister playing skipping the rope. I used to play with my friends back home at school but none of them came to Ethiopia. I miss them."
  • World Refugee Day

    "This was the first day my mother went to the market in Itang to buy some onions and other vegetables. The market in Itang is eight kilometres from the refugee camp. We had not eaten vegetables since we had left home in South Sudan."
  • World Refugee Day

    "Some of these clothes hanging to dry are mine. I was able to bring two trousers, four t-shirts and a pair of shoes with me on the journey. The journey was one week by foot but we had to stop every 2 to 3 hours to rest. I took this picture because I like the smell of my clothes when they are clean and dry."
  • World Refugee Day

    "This bus had just arrived with new refugees from Pagak and I wanted to take a picture of it because I was very happy when they picked us up and brought us here by bus. I go to see the bus when new arrivals come. I want to see if my father is there. This day he was not there, he is still not here."
  • World Refugee Day

    This is Nyaruot, a 12 year-old South Sudan refugee currently living at Kule refugee camp in Gambella, just inside the Ethiopian border. She is from Malakal in South Sudan. Nyarout came to Kule from South Sudan in April.
  • World Refugee Day

    "This is our new home in the camp. All seven of us live here together - my two sisters, my two brothers, my mother, me and my 11 year-old cousin. My father could not come because he had to stay behind to fight. My uncle and aunt also stayed behind to fight and they told us to take their child (my cousin) with us to Ethiopia. We don’t know when my cousin will see her mother and father again. I don’t know when I will see my father again. This is our home now."
  • World Refugee Day

    "We used to have goats and cows at home in Malakal, that is why I took a picture of the goats. We used to drink a lot of milk, now not so much."
  • World Refugee Day

    "These are my brothers and my sisters outside our new home in Kule refugee camp. I have been in the camp for two months. I miss my friends and I miss going to school. Most of all, I miss my clothes; I used to have eight dresses, three pairs of shoes, six skirts and many t-shirts."
  • World Refugee Day

    "This is the picture of our church service at the refugee camp on Sunday. I like this day because it’s the only day when we are all together and it reminds me of home. At home in Malakal, we used to go to service and everyone from the village would be there and I would meet all of my friends."

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