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Record 68.5 million people displaced in 2017, UN reports

An average of more than 44,000 people per day were displaced from their home countries in 2017, setting a record high for the fifth year, according to the United Nations. Most of those have fled to poverty-stricken developing nations, not wealthy nations in the "Global North."

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A Syrian refugee receives aid from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Batroun, northern Lebanon, on January 13, 2015. Nearly 69 million people were forcibly displaced in 2017, according to the United Nations.

Omar Ibrahim/Reuters/File

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The United Nations refugee agency reported Tuesday that nearly 69 million people who have fled war, violence, and persecution were forcibly displaced last year, a record for the fifth straight year.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the continued crises in places such as South Sudan and Congo, as well as the exodus of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar that started last year, raised the overall figure of forced displacements in 2017 to 68.5 million.

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Of that total, 16.2 million were newly displaced last year – an average of more than 44,000 people per day. Most have been displaced for longer than that, some forced to flee multiple times.

"The global figure has gone up again by a couple of million," said High Commissioner Filippo Grandi. "This is because of protracted conflicts and lack of solutions for those conflicts that continue, continuous pressure on civilians in countries of conflict that pushed them to leave their homes and new or aggravating crises, like the Rohingya crisis."

For the fourth year running, Turkey was again the country with the largest number of refugees – mostly Syrians – at 3.5 million at the end of 2017. The United States received the most new individual applications for asylum last year, at nearly 332,000. Germany was second at more than 198,000.

But UNHCR, Mr. Grandi's agency, said the figures debunked the flawed perception among some that a refugee crisis has affected more developed countries in the "Global North." It said 85 percent of refugees are in developing countries, many of them "desperately poor."

"It should be an element dispelling the perception, the notion that is so prevailing in many countries: That the refugee crisis – singular – is a crisis of the rich world," Grandi said. "It is not. It continues to be a crisis mostly of the poor world."

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council who once headed the UN humanitarian aid agency, said cooperation between countries and diplomacy for peace were in "deep crisis."

"International responsibility-sharing for displaced people has utterly collapsed. Rich countries are building walls against families fleeing war, at the same time as less money is available for aid to people in conflict areas," Ms. Egeland said. He said leaders in many countries are invoking border closures in Europe to carry out their own exclusion policies.

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"We have to end this race to the bottom, and rather let us be inspired by generous recipient countries like Uganda, where vulnerable refugees are being protected," he said.

The data release comes ahead of World Refugee Day on Wednesday.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.