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U.N. Refugee Agency Says Nearly 71 Million People Were Displaced In 2018


The United Nations says every minute of last year, 25 people were forced to flee their homes somewhere in the world. That adds up to a total of nearly 71 million people now forcibly displaced. It's the highest number since the second World War. Two countries in particular have seen a huge number of newly displaced people. They are Venezuela and Ethiopia.

To tell us more, we're joined by NPR's Eyder Peralta. He is just south of Ethiopia in Nairobi, Kenya. Hi, Eyder.


KELLY: Hey. So who are these people who make up this really staggering statistic - 71 million people?

PERALTA: So the number refers to the people who are displaced, so that means refugees, but also people who have been forced to leave their homes but are living inside their own country. The UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, says that in 2018, almost 14 million people were displaced. And, as you said, that is the largest number of displaced people since World War II.

I was talking to UNHCR's Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, and she says she started working at the refugee agency 20 years ago. And she says since she started, that number has doubled. And that is, in part, because of the nature of displacement. It's changed. Let's listen to a bit of what she told me.

JOUNG-AH GHEDINI-WILLIAMS: At least when I started, like with the Bosnian War, the majority of people went back. Same thing was for Rwanda. Like, we had millions of people going back home. But now what we see is the Syrias, the South Sudans - they're all staying for decades.

PERALTA: Essentially, what Ghedini-Williams is saying is that the world is failing to find solutions to displacement crises, so the total number just keeps going up.

KELLY: Yeah. Let's talk about the countries they are coming from. I mentioned Venezuela, which while sad I guess is not so surprising given the political and economic chaos there of late. But what about Ethiopia? What is the story there?

PERALTA: I mean, it's actually the opposite of Venezuela because last year, Ethiopia emerged from a prolonged political crisis. And Ethiopians - they now have a prime minister they like and a prime minister who has declared peace with Eritrea, which is their historic rival.

But what's also happened is that the popular rebellion that brought Abiy Ahmed to power also left the federal and regional governments weakened. And all of these ethnic conflicts that had been simmering for decades - all of them are coming to a head. So there's just been a lot of intercommunal fighting in Ethiopia, and it's been spread across a huge part of this massive, populous country.

KELLY: What does this report have to say about where these people are going to - what countries they're going to, how those countries are coping?

PERALTA: I mean, I think stateside, you guys hear a lot about the record number of people crossing the southern border, your southern border, and seeking asylum, but the fact is that developed countries are not bearing the brunt of this displacement crisis. And that's because the vast majority of people, four out of five, who flee their country go to a neighboring one.

So in my patch, for example, it's Uganda, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, who has taken in more than a million South Sudanese refugees. Turkey is hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees. And the only big Western country among the top 10 is Germany, which has taken about a million refugees.

KELLY: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta. He is in Nairobi. Thanks, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.