People should not be treated as pawns on the chessboard of humanity, said Pope Francis last year in a message published August 5 on the theme of refugees.
Unfortunately this is what so often happens, as the latest Global Trends report published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) pointed out.
The June 20 report said that there are currently more than 50 million people who have been forced to flee their homes, including around 9 million in Syria alone.
“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
Of the overall total of 51.2 million people affected, around 16.7 million persons have been obliged to leave their countries and are classified as refugees. Another 33.3 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs) and there are close to 1.2 million asylum-seekers.
“If these 51.2 million persons were a nation, they would make up the 26th largest in the world,” the report pointed out. It also observed that this is the first time in the post World War II period that the number has exceeded 50 million.
The report estimated that 10.7 million individuals were newly displaced due to conflict or
persecution in 2013.
More than half (53%) of all refugees worldwide came from just three countries: Afghanistan (2.56 million), the Syria (2.47 million), and Somalia (1.12 million).
Other countries with serious refugee problems are Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Mali, and the border area between South Sudan and Sudan.
Pakistan is the host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (1.6 million), followed by Iran (857,400), Lebanon (856,500), Jordan (641,900), and Turkey (609,900).
During 2013 the UNHCR submitted 93,200 refugees to States for resettlement, and some 71,600 departed with UNHCR’s assistance.
According to government statistics, 21 countries admitted 98,400 refugees for resettlement during 2013. The United States of America received the highest number (66,200).
Over the past 10 years, more than 879,800 refugees have arrived in industrialized countries through resettlement programmes, the report added.
Nevertheless, the supply of those searching for a new home far outstripped the places available with almost 1.1 million individual asylum applications being registered with governments or UNHCR in 2013, the highest number in more than a decade.
There was some progress in achieving the return of displaced people and refugees to their homes last year with 1.4 million IDPs able to return home, as well as 414,600 refugees going back to their country of origin.
People trafficking is another problem affecting a large number of people. June 20 also saw the publication of the Trafficking in Persons report for 2014 by the U.S. Department of State.
Trafficking covers a wide range of activities, the report explained. Many of them involve forcing adults and children to commit crimes, including theft, illicit drug production and transport, prostitution, terrorism, and murder.
Some examples given by the report included Mexico, where organized criminal groups have coerced children and migrants to work as assassins and in the production, transportation, and sale of drugs.
In France last year police arrested six adult Roma accused of forcing their children to commit burglaries in Paris and its suburbs. While in Afghanistan, insurgent groups force older Afghan children to serve as suicide bombers.
The report urged that governments identify trafficked victims who are caught breaking the law so as not to treat them as criminals for being forced to act illegally, but to help them by providing protection.
Sex trafficking victims who later testify against their exploiters also face the problem of trauma created by re-living their abuses during a trial.
“The need for resources for victims throughout, and even after, the investigation and prosecution is critical, especially because some human trafficking trials last several years,” the report explained.
The demand for organ transplants is another facet to human trafficking. More than 114,000 organ transplants are reportedly performed every year around the world according to the report.
These operations satisfy less than an estimated 10% of the global need for organs such as kidneys, livers, hearts, lungs, and pancreases.
Sometimes poor people are induced to sell organs, and in many cases they receive only a fraction of what they were promised. They also frequently have health problems following the operations and are not able to return to work.
The report contained several lists of countries, depending on their level of observance of laws to prevent human trafficking and the degree of the problem in each country.
The dignity of each human person should be upheld and observed, commented Pope Francis in his message. A plea made more urgent considering the many millions of people who are either refugees or victims of exploitation.