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2013 was Crisis Year for Refugees

A report released by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCR) detailed the global refugee situation for 2013. The news was bleak. 2013 was a crisis year for refugees, and saw more refugees than any year since the Rwandan genocide. The hardest hit areas are in the Middle East and Africa, but the United States is also experiencing its own refugee crisis along its Southwest border.

The Syrian Arab Republic contributed the most refugees for the year. In August of 2013, the 1 millionth Syrian refugee child was registered, while only a few weeks later the number of Syrian refugees passed the 2 million mark.

The crisis in Syria has prompted mass migrations, but the numbers still fall shy of the leading source country for refugees. Afghanistan, with its 2.56 million refugees spread across over 86 countries, remains the largest source country for the 33rd consecutive year. Afghanistan is the country of origin for one of every five refugees in the world. The brunt of the responsibility for Afghan refugees has fallen on neighboring Pakistan or Iran, who together hold 95 percent of Afghan refugees.

The UNHCR report makes it clear that most of the crisis is centered in the Middle East and Africa. The top three source countries — Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia — which account for 53 percent of the world’s refugees, as well as the top refugee hosting countries — Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon — are all located in the region. The U.S. comes in as the 10th largest host, with some 1 million less refugees than Pakistan — the largest host country.

However, the U.S. has recently been faced with its own refugee crisis. Abject poverty and violence in Central America has led to an unprecedented surge of unaccompanied child immigrants making their way across the U.S.-Mexico border. These children, some as young as 5 years old, make the dangerous journey across Mexico, where kidnappings and assaults of lone children are common.

Once they arrive in the U.S., conditions do not necessarily improve. Federal border housing facilities are established to take in children, but are not equipped to handle the recent surge. Built for around 7,000 children a year, the facilities have processed 47,000 in the last eight months. They are overcrowded, disease ridden and children lack beds and adequate meals.

President Obama has declared the trend of unaccompanied children crossing the border “an urgent humanitarian situation,” and it has caused lawmakers to think critically about U.S. immigration policy.

June 20 marked World Refugee Day, and, this year, provided a much needed time for reflection. As the refugee crisis around the world hits is lowest point in decades, leading officials and politicians recognize that something must be done. Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, stated in the UNHCR report: “we are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict. Peace today is dangerously in deficit…political solutions are vitally needed.”

— Julianne O’Connor

Sources: NPR, UNHCR, Borgen Project, CNN
Photo: Huffington Post