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Record Number of Refugees Uprooted from Their Homes in 2016

Syrian refugee women and children aided by the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund outside the entrance to their tents in the refugee camp in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, close to the Syrian border on Dec. 6, 2016. (Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

A record 65.6 million people were displaced from their homes last year, the United Nations said today on World Refugee Day, including 22.5 million people who remained uprooted by the end of 2016.

The UN Refugee Agency said 2.8 million refugees have been seeking formal asylum in another country, while an average of 20 people continue to have to flee their homes every minute. The greatest number of asylum applications were received by Germany, the United States, Italy and Turkey. Developing nations carried the greatest burden of hosting refugees, with 84 percent; Europe is home to 6 percent of global refugees. The greatest refugee host in proportion to their country’s population is Lebanon, where one in six persons is a refugee.

Children account for 51 percent of the refugee population, including at least 75,000 unaccompanied children. Fifty-five percent of refugees came from Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan. Refugee returns also increased, with 552,200 able to return to their country of origin last year.

“They never lose their dreams for their children or their desire to better our world,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “They ask for little – only our support in their time of greatest need and our solidarity.”

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley noted today that “as a wife and mother, it is hard to imagine the kind of terror that leads to families leaving their homes for the unknown.”

“The Syrian refugee parents we met on our trip to Jordan and Turkey all wanted the same things for their children that we want for our children: a safe place to sleep, a good education, and the opportunity for a brighter future. They asked that we tell their story of survival, resilience, and hope for returning home,” Haley said.

“The United States gives more humanitarian aid than any other country, but money alone is not enough—we must also work to end the conflicts that drive these people from their homes, while tearing apart their countries,” she added. “We have lots of work to do at the UN, but the world’s refugees and the countries that host them should know they can continue to count on the United States to lead.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. recognizes “the pressing challenges posed by ongoing refugee crises.”

“The overwhelming majority of refugees want to go home to help rebuild their societies once the violence has stopped. As the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance the United States is a leader in supporting refugees and addressing causes of forced displacement,” Tillerson said in a statement. “The United States recognizes the extraordinary generosity of refugee-hosting countries and their local communities who support displaced persons. These countries offer an act of service to those suffering great hardship.”

“As we mark World Refugee Day, we will continue to aid those who have been forced from their homes, address the root causes of their displacement, and foster long-term solutions to humanitarian crises.”