June 20, 2019 World Refugee Day at International Institute of St Louis

Excerpts from remarks of Anna Crosslin- President & CEO of International Institute of St Louis & Director of Festival of Nations

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported horrific numbers as of November 2018.

68.5 million individuals have been forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution worldwide. This is an increase of more than 20 million in just 6 years!

85% of the world’s forcibly displaced people are sheltering in developing countries, countries which in many cases are struggling to provide survival services and support for their own residents.

The world now claims 25.4 million refugees, 3.1 million asylum seekers and more than 40 million people who had been forced to flee their homes but who still remain within the borders of their own countries.
This is now the largest and most ongoing displacement crisis since World War II.

And while the number of refugees today is mind-boggling, it only tells part of the story. The larger picture must take into consideration not just the current numbers. It must also address the potential for greater displacement in the coming year.

Hot beds for catastrophe may well boil over and add to the already horrific numbers. In many of the world’s most challenging places, armed conflict and man-made crisis mean that life will get worse and not better for potentially millions more in 2019.

Let’s take a look at the top 10 areas in the world which are most at risk of humanitarian catastrophe in the next year.

  1. Somalia
    Somalia has been plagued by ongoing conflict for decades. The nations has been precipitated by instability and insecurity. Combined with persistent natural disasters, the crisis has left more than 2.6 million Somalis internally displaced with 870,000 more registered as refugees.
  2. Ethiopia
    Ethiopia is experiencing increased internal conflict. 1.4 million people were displaced internally in the first half of 2018 — more than in any other country.

    The situation has been intensified by tensions between regional political and ethnic groups, since new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office and started to introduce reform.
  3. Nigeria
    During 2018, Nigeria experienced persistent attacks from armed groups as well as communal violence exacerbated by competition for water and land resources. As a result, more than 2 million Nigerians have been displaced internally. 230,000 have sought refuge as well in neighboring countries.
  4. Syria
    Syria has been plagued by armed conflict since protests against the government erupted in 2011.

    Since then, much of Syria has been shattered by the war, with health and education services collapsing. 6.2 million Syrians remain internally displaced and 5.6 million are registered as refugees throughout the region.
  5. The Central African Republic
    The CAR has experienced persistent instability since armed groups overthrew the government in 2013, exacerbating the situation in a country that was already under-developed.

Despite efforts to bring armed groups into dialogue, many civilians remain at their mercy. More than 550,000 people also face emergency levels of food insecurity.

  1. Venezuela
    Economic collapse in Venezuela has driven by recent estimates, nearly 4 million people from the country. Many can no longer afford to feed their families. The situation has also led to a rapid rise in criminality and violence and a collapse of the health system, contributing to the spread of diseases like measles and diphtheria.

While the US media has touched on the recent influx of more than 800,000 Venezuelans into Peru, Colombia has actually been the hardest hit with nearly 1.2 million Venezuelans having crossed its border.

  1. Afghanistan
    Afghanistan has seen persistent conflict since 2001. Once on the brink of defeat, the Taliban has been steadily advancing since 2014.

    This conflict, paired with chronic drought, has led to widespread displacement and food insecurity. Complicating matters, 2018 saw more than 500,000 Afghan refugees return from Iran, many of them forcibly.
  2. South Sudan
    South Sudan has been in the grip of civil war since it gained independence in 2012, which resulted in an estimated 380,000 casualties. While conflict has reduced due to a fragile peace agreement, violence persists throughout the country. Consequently, 1.96 million people are internally displaced, 2.47 million are refugees, and 6.1 million people are facing crisis levels of food insecurity or worse.
  3. Democratic Republic of Congo
    At least 20 years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo have led to extreme instability across large parts of the country. 13.1 million people are experiencing crisis or worse levels of food insecurity.

More than 300,000 people have been forced to flee resurgent inter-ethnic violence in northeast DRC just this month, said the UNHCR on Tuesday.

Recent displacement figures are contested, but the United Nations counted 4.5 million internally displaced in 2017. In addition, Congo has also been witnessing the second largest Ebola outbreak in history.

  1. Yemen
    Yemen has been embroiled in a bitter civil war since 2015 as the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition supports the government of President Hadi against the Houthi movement that controls the capital, Sanaa.

24 million people remain in need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations warned in late 2018 that the country risked facing a “massive famine.”

According to the most recent assessments, 63,500 Yemenis are experiencing catastrophic levels of food insecurity. Yemen is also home to the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, with more than one million affected.

In all, 57% of refugees worldwide came from one of three countries – South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria.

As I have moved through these country by country descriptions you may have noticed some trends. Most noticeable, at least to me, is that 6 of the 10 nations on the list are located in Africa.

These are, in fact, nations that in many cases are caring for citizens in crisis, in addition to refugees who have fled from nearby countries, also at war or in the crux of famine.

Three more countries, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan are Muslim dominant nations in the Near and Middle East.

Four of the countries, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia, are among 6 largely Muslim nations whose residents are banned from admission to the US.

Only one nation, Venezuela, is located in the western hemisphere.

Now let’s turn our attention to refugee resettlement in the US, especially in the current fiscal year. The numbers are low, horrifyingly low when comparing the actual to the potential need as I have just described.

And in the midst of this global humanitarian crisis, a total of 102,800 refugees were resettled in third countries, including the US, down from 190,000 in 2016.
And, where is the resettlement drop largely attributable? In the drop in US resettlement in the past couple of years.

In the current fiscal year, which is October 1, 2018, to June 14, 2019, the U.S. has admitted 19,318 refugees. Approximately 59% of the admissions were from Africa for a total of 11,328.

17% came from East Asia; another 13% from Europe; and 8% from the Near East/South Asia. Less than 2% hailed from Latin America and the Caribbean.

These numbers have been sharply cut since the last year of robust refugee resettlement, which was fiscal year 2015. In that year, the last full year of the Obama administration, 85,000 refugees were admitted to the US including 15,000 Syrian refugees.

In St. Louis, we experienced a similar decline in refugee arrivals, welcoming 1,158 newcomers in 2016, experiencing a sharp drop to 520 in 2017, and in 2018, welcoming a mere 177.

What a shame for the families in need and for our community which benefits greatly from refugee arrivals. For offering a lifeline to refugees benefits them, personally, and also our region-at-large. They become workers, entrepreneurs, neighbors, and friends. Their contributions, economically, socially, and culturally, build a stronger, more vibrant community for all.


But, let me hasten to point out that even if we were to return to our more robust resettlement in the US, our worldwide efforts to offer resettlement would result and offer for less than 1% of the refugees in need. So other opportunities must be pursued as well.

What is the UNHCR’s solution then for the many millions of refugees worldwide? Well, resettlement to a Third County like the US is not UNHCR’s first preference. UNHCR believes that voluntary repatriation to the home country is the primary “durable solution” to benefit the largest number of refugees.

Local integration is another durable solution, which can work when refugees are allowed to become part of the host country.

However, the rapidly increasing refugee numbers, especially in Africa, are threatening to overwhelm host countries many of which are developing countries themselves.

So, it is imperative that other nations, especially the wealthier nations including the US, support these host countries and their refugee populations. Food and housing, funding for staff, and other essentials must be available, so that minimal living conditions can be met for the refugee newcomers and populations seeking to assist them.

It is likely that these refugees will remain in such host countries for years, if not for decades.


Resettlement to a Third County is a key protection tool and a burden. It is also a responsibility-sharing mechanism to aid refugees who have no other resettlement alternatives and in some cases have a compelling need to move forward, for instance a medical need. But, as mentioned previously, less than 1% of the world’s refugees actually benefit from resettlement.

Today, we are here to honor the courage and resilience of the uprooted – those who still wait throughout the world for peace in their homelands or for a resettlement offer. We cannot imagine the horror of their daily lives.

But we can pause for a moment and to remember them and the inspiration they are for so many of us. And we can welcome those who have overcome nearly overwhelming odds to join us in St. Louis as our newest neighbors.

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