Every minute in 2018, 25 people were forced to to flee their homes. They fled brutal sectarian war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, escaped ongoing horrors in Syria, left behind mass food shortages in Venezuela, ran from gender-based violence in El Salvador, fled famine-like drought in Guatemala, took flight from the bombed-out rubble in Yemen, slipped away from religious nationalism in India, broke out from anti-queer violence in Uganda, and escaped persecution in dozens of other countries. More than 13 million people fled in 2018, bringing the global population of the forcibly displaced to 70.8 million worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. It is the largest population of displaced people since World War II.
The vast number of people who have fled their homes globally lends poignancy to this year's World Refugee Day on Thursday. Other statistics stand out from the UNHCR's yearly report as well: Currently, children make up half of the world's refugee population. More than 3.5 million displaced people are asylum seekers, meaning the world has yet to recognize their refugee status. And the percentage of refugees who are annually able to return to their homes remains significantly lower than in past decades (in 2018, less than 5 percent of refugees managed to safely return to their country of origin).
Here's an essential reading list of Pacific Standard stories about refugee and asylum seeker issues in the United States and abroad.
- In February of 2018, Matt Alesevich spent time in Greece's largest refugee camp learning how the refugees, many of whom had already spent years in the camp, were building their lives. "The thing we talk about most is relocation," a teenager who fled ISIS in Iraq told Alesevich. "We talk about when we will go and what will happen there." Alesevich looked into how the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and the refugees themselves were working to create a sense of normalcy, establishing schools, clinics, and sport competitions.
- In March, Alissa Greenberg reported on how many refugees have trouble maintaining crucial connections with loved ones even if they have cell phones, because data is not free. Greenberg wrote about a Facebook-based charity network that buys phone credit for refugees. She told the stories of two refugees, one from Darfur and one from Afghanistan, and how their lives had changed once they discovered the "Phone Credit for Refugees and Displaced People" group on Facebook.
- Essentially all the international treaties protecting the rights of refugees were written half a century ago—at a time when diplomats could hardly imagine how climate change would affect the world. Today, there are no legal protections for refugees fleeing the effects of a warming climate, like sea-level rise, flood, drought, and extreme weather. In June of 2017, Brian Palmer wrote about how this legal gray area is "inexcusable," and explored what sort of solutions are possible (and politically feasible).
- Palestinian refugees, the people who were forced out of their ancestral homes during the 1948 Arab–Israeli war, make up about 20 percent of the world's current refugee population. Today, in the absence of a political solution, those people—and millions of their descendants—still exist as displaced populations in neighboring countries, relying largely on foreign aid for basic civil services like schools, hospitals, and even food. In April, I interviewed a high-ranking U.N. official about the U.S.'s decision to stop providing aid to the agency that assists these refugees. The official told me it was "deeply troubling" that the U.S. had chosen to "politicize humanitarian assistance."
- With different iterations of his proposed "Muslim Ban" and his now-implemented travel ban, President Donald Trump has affected the lives of tens of thousands of refugees from multiple Muslim-majority countries. In 2017, Francie Diep interviewed a Syrian refugee in North Carolina about how the travel and refugee ban had affected him. "It's affected us very hard," Zubair "Zack" Rushk told Diep, explaining how he and his wife were afraid to travel by plane, and how the Federal Bureau of Investigation had come to his house asking questions about his social media and cell phone use.