Red Cross tallies 72.4 million forced migrants worldwide
GENEVA - Political upheaval, violence, natural disasters and development projects have forced some 72.4 million people to migrate from their homes worldwide, the Red Cross said Tuesday.
"This figure rises relentlessly every year, and most migrants are either in protracted displacement situations or permanently dispossessed," the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in its annual World Disasters Report.
The Geneva-based organisation said forced migration costs the international community around $8.0 billion (6.2 billion euros) a year.
While the world currently counts some 214 million cross-border migrants and 740 million migrants within the borders of their own countries, the IFRC said it had focused this year's report on the 72.4 million people, or one percent of the world population, who are forced to leave their homes by events beyond their control.
The IFRC report said conflicts in places such as Syria, Mali, the Horn of Africa and Libya had led to the displacement of around 26.4 million people within their own countries, in addition to the current 15 million refugees and one million asylum seekers tallied by the United Nations worldwide.
Some two million people fled their homes since the start of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2010, the report said, while the UN refugee agency recently put the number of Syrian refugees alone at over 300,000.
Natural disasters such as those in Haiti, Japan and Pakistan had meanwhile forced another 15 million people to flee, the report said, adding that at least another 15 million had been pushed from their homes by development projects.
Dam projects, major building projects and slum clearance caused development-related migration, according to the report, citing as an example the recent Manila metro upgrade, which alone shifted as many as 35,000 families.
China's Xiaolangdi dam resettlement programme, which by 2001 had resettled more than 185,000 people from 227 villages, was "a relative success story," the report said, noting that 70 percent of the affected people improved their living standards after the move.
But more often than not, major development projects plunge the dispossessed into poverty, the report said.
About 20 million of the world's 72.4 million forced migrants meanwhile live in "prolonged displacement" and as a result fail to integrate with local communities, the report lamented.
"These people really have no chance" of a better life, said Matthias Schmale, who heads the IFRC's National Society and Knowledge Development unit.
But "forced migrants are not just victims," he told reporters in Geneva ahead of the report launch, insisting that governments should aim to help these people help themselves by giving them the opportunity to work.
The report stressed that more and more people were fleeing to cities rather than to refugee camps, which it said were often "toxic from a health perspective."
It said humanitarian groups should factor this into their aid work, since unplanned settlements can be vulnerable to floods and other disasters.
The report also highlighted the "very high mortality rates of refugee and displaced populations," calling for better health care strategies from governments and for psychosocial support for traumatised refugees.
"Many arrive in a terrible state of distress," Sue Le Mesurier, IFRC head of migration, told reporters.
"I've seen the suffering in the faces of women and children, the disabled, the young, the elderly and everyone in between," she added.
Robert Tickner, the acting head of the IFRC's Humanitarian Values and Diplomacy unit, meanwhile lamented the "hardening of hearts" towards forced migration on the part of governments around the world.
"We appeal to their better nature to find a solution to this problem," he said.