Number of refugees worldwide highest in 70 years, says UNHCR


PETALING JAYA: Over 70 million people fled war, persecution and conflict in 2018, the highest level seen in almost 70 years, says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Data from the UN agency's annual Global Trends report, released on Wednesday (June 19) showed that almost 70.8 million people are now forcibly displaced.

"To put this in perspective, this is double the level of 20 years ago, 2.3 million more than a year ago, and corresponds to a population between that of Thailand and Turkey," it said.

Altogether, more than two thirds of all refugees came from five countries - Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

The report said that an estimated 13.6 million people were newly displaced due to conflict or persecution last year, including 10.8 million individuals displaced within the borders of their own country and 2.8 million new refugees and new asylum-seekers.

For the fifth consecutive year, Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees worldwide, with 3.7 million people.

Altogether, the global refugee population stood at 25.9 million at the end of 2018.

UNHCR said according to government statistics, 25 countries admitted 92,400 refugees for resettlement during the year, with or without UNHCR's assistance.

Malaysia itself has a sizeable population of refugees and asylum seekers.

As of April this year, there are some 170,460 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, and of the figure, 147,590 or 87%, are refugees from Myanmar.

Rohingya refugees from the Rakhine state in Myanmar alone number 90,200.

The other refugees in Malaysia are from Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Palestine, and others.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol. It lacks legal or administrative framework regulating the status and rights of refugees in Malaysia.

Refugees are considered undocumented migrants under the Malaysian Immigration Act, and are at risk of arrest, detention, and deportation.

While refugees are not allowed to work legally, many of them work informally.

In its election manifesto, Pakatan Harapan said that it would ratify the 1951 International Convention on refugees so that refugees who escape from war-torn countries and arrive in Malaysia are given proper assistance.