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UNHCR says more people subjected to forced displacement in 2023 globally

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, gestures during a new press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, June 10, 2024   -  
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Salvatore Di Nolfi/' KEYSTONE / SALVATORE DI NOLFI

UNHCR

The head of the U.N. refugee agency says he understands that the Biden administration enacted new restrictions on asylum-seekers entering the United States, but cautioned that some aspects of the executive order may violate refugee protection required in international law.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, spoke to The Associated Press as his agency issued its annual “Global Trends” report for 2023 on Thursday.

It found that the cumulative number of people who have been subjected to forced displacement rose to 120 million people in 2023 — six million more than in the year before.

The refugee agency noted that the total count was roughly equivalent to the entire population of Japan.

The UNHCR report found that three-fourths of those people forcibly displaced – including both refugees driven abroad and people displaced inside their own countries – lived in poor or middle-income countries.

Grandi insisted that that was a sign of how migrant and refugee flows were not just an issue for the rich world.

He lamented how crises in Africa had been largely overlooked, in particular in Sudan, where some 10.8 million were displaced at the end of last year, after conflict erupted between forces loyal to rival generals in April last year.

Grandi said the world’s focus on crises faced by refugees and internally displaced people has largely cantered on Gaza -- where a devastating and deadly conflict erupted in October last year -- and Ukraine, which has been saddled by Russia’s invasion since February 2022.

The United States, meanwhile, has faced the “most complex challenge” when it comes to refugees of any country in the developed world, Grandi said — alluding to an influx across the U.S.-Mexican border.

The U.N. refugee agency chief criticized Biden administration plans to enact new restrictions on migrants seeking asylum at the border — seen by some as a political maneuver ahead of national elections in November — as a possible violation of international humanitarian law.

But he acknowledged that Biden administration ambitions to resettle some 125,000 refugees in the United States amounted to “a very shining example of U.S. generosity.”

UNHCR also highlighted difficulties faced by refugees and internally displaced people amid conflict in countries like Congo and Myanmar, and noted that Syria remains the world's largest displacement crisis with nearly 14 million people forcibly displaced both inside the country and abroad.