Record number of refugees driven from their homes in 2015

by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 6/20/15, 08:30 am

Political, racial, and religious persecution are driving a record number of people from their native countries.

In 2015, the number of displaced people rose to an all-time high of 59.5 million, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The announcement came ahead of World Refugee Day today.

The displaced include refugees who fled their homelands out of fear of persecution, asylum-seekers who claim refugee status, and internally displaced persons who fled to some other part of their home country.

The single largest reason for rising displacement in 2015 and recent years is Syria’s ongoing, four-year civil war.

Todd Daniels, Middle East regional manager for International Christian Concern, said it is difficult to determine how many people were displaced globally because of religious persecution. But he said a “vast majority” of displaced people worldwide are “fleeing conflicts in which religion and religious identity plays a major role.” In Syria alone, an estimated half million Christians have left. As many or more likely are internally displaced.

“The [Syrian] conflict is not really between pro-democracy rebels and an authoritarian dictator, but between Sunni and Shiia influence,” Daniels said. “Christian minorities have been explicitly targeted as ISIS and other jihadist groups attempt to establish a purely Islamic state.” He noted similar religious motivations drove conflicts in Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, and Iraq.

Many countries, including Ethiopia, Iran, and Pakistan, host increasing numbers of refugees, but Turkey became the largest host country in 2014 with 1.59 million Syrians, according to UNHCR. Burgeoning refugee groups can strain a host country’s education system and economy, frustrating citizens.

According to the UN, about 1 percent of refugees who cannot or will not return to their home countries because of fear of persecution are permanently resettled in new countries. The United States is one of several countries that work with UNHCR to resettle refugees, and it takes in the most.

The U.S. State Department allows up to 70,000 resettlements a year, according to Nan Ross, church mobilizer and volunteer coordinator for World Relief (WR). In the Baltimore area, Ross said most refugees the organization resettles are Burmese, but on June 15, it got its first Syrian refugee.

Mostafa Hassoun is a 21-year-old from Idlib, Syria. Four years ago, he and his parents and siblings fled to Turkey out of fear of the Assad regime. He was just about to graduate from high school. Hassoun said the government killed many of his friends and bombed his school.

In Turkey, Hassoun had to adapt to a different culture and deal with hostility from some of his new neighbors. Being in the United States is a “dream come true” for him. His family remains in Turkey because they don’t have papers to come here yet.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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