Children make up more than half of the refugee population, U.N. - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Children make up more than half of the refugee population, U.N. says

Posted: Updated: Jun 19, 2018 12:53 PM
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, visits a refugee camp providing temporary shelter to Libyans who were displaced from the town of Tawergha, near the Libyan capital Tripoli on June 18, 2018. Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, visits a refugee camp providing temporary shelter to Libyans who were displaced from the town of Tawergha, near the Libyan capital Tripoli on June 18, 2018.

Children made up 52 percent of the refugee population in 2017, up from 41 percent in 2009, according to a study from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released Tuesday.

In South Sudan, 64% of the refugee population were kids. The population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was composed of 54% children.

In Africa, 59% of the total refugee population were children. By the end of 2017, Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo, the DRC, South Sudan and Uganda hosted refugee populations with more than 60 percent children.

There were 173,800 unaccompanied and separated child refugees in 2017. The largest number of unaccompanied child refugees were in Ethiopia, which hosted 43,300 of them. Kenya reported 18,300 of these children within their borders last year. And 45,500 of the 138,700 unaccompanied child refugees worldwide applied for refugee status.

Children face unique risks when displaced and traveling unaccompanied, according to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Gary Seidman.

"Whenever children are traveling alone they are vulnerable, far more vulnerable than adults. They are at greater risk of being exploited, or being hurt, of falling into the hands of traffickers," Seidman said. "Children traveling alone are at a much higher risk for sexual violence and abuse."

Seidman added that children especially do not have the needed emotional capacity to deal with these situations.

"These are children, often very little children, who are alone and scared and don't have the same coping skills as adults. It's terrifying for child. They don't know who to trust or what questions to ask when they meet with authorities."

Worldwide totals

The total number of refugees and internally displaced people reached a record high last year of 68.5 million people, up by 65.6 million from 2016. Of the 68.5 million people forcibly displaced, 25.4 million were refugees, 40 million were IDPs and 3.1 million were asylum-seekers, or displaced people waiting to receive refugee status.

Globally, the population of refugees and internally displaced people in 2017 was 42.7 million.

According to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filppo Grandi, though the increase in displaced persons is persistent, there is hope for progress if the global community works together to offer assistance.

"We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren't left dealing with this alone,' Grandi said in a statement.

Syria, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had the greatest number of displaced people in 2017, both internally and around the world. These countries had 12.6 million, 7.9 million and 5.1 million displaced people, respectively.

In total, 68 percent of all refugees came from five countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia, according to the United Nations. These nations saw 6.3 million, 2.6 million, 2.4 million, 1.2 million and 986,400 refugees this year, respectively.

There was a 14% increase in the number of Syrian refugees in 2017. Afghanistan's refugee population grew 5% from 2016.

South Sudan saw the largest increase of refugees fleeing from the country during the year, rising from 1.4 million at the beginning of 2017 to 2.4 million at the end.

Of the 65.8 million displaced this year, 16.2 million people were newly displaced in 2017 - 11.8 million were displaced internally, and 4.4 million were refugees and asylum seekers.

Seven of the eight countries that accepted the most displaced people are developing economies. Turkey accepted the largest number in 2017 for the fourth consecutive year. Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon, Iran, Germany, Bangladesh and Sudan accepted 3.5 million, 1.4 million, 1.4 million, 998,900, 979,400, 970,400, 932,200 and 906,600, respectively.

Why are refugees, asylum seekers and IDPs leaving?

The increase of displaced people from 2016 can be attributed to conflict in Syria and South Sudan, as well as the nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh after facing violence and persecution in Myanmar, according to Grandi.

"So a few hot spots that are becoming hotter, they are becoming more serious, and existing ones do not seem to be moving toward a diminishing of violence, a resolution of conflict, and therefore, people do not go back," Grandi said at a news conference Wednesday. "And that result is an increase in displacement."

More: Syria conflict explained: How did we end up here?

More: In South Sudan, every male child is a soldier in devastating civil war

More: 15 U.N. peacekeepers killed, more than 50 hurt in Congo attack

Civil conflict in Syria has raged since 2011 after an uprising against Syrian leader Bashar Assad's regime resulted in state forces killing and imprisoning thousands. As the civil war continues, extremist groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State have flocked to the country.

In South Sudan, government and opposition forces have been in conflict since 2013. Tens of thousands have died, and the country is gripped by food shortages.

The DRC has faced civil conflict for two decades as more than 20 groups fight for or against the government. According to the United Nations, both sides have utilized child soldiers and perpetrated sexual violence against tens of thousands of people.

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