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A record number of people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

At least 110 million people are now displaced by crises and disasters around the globe. That's according to the United Nations. The U.N. refugee agency says that's the greatest number of refugees the world has seen since World War II. So what's driving this increase? For more, we're joined by David Miliband. He's a former foreign secretary in the U.K. and also the current president of the International Rescue Committee. So what is happening with those numbers? Why are they as high as they are?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, good morning to you. The fundamental reason that we've got these record numbers of people displaced by conflict and violence is that there are 54 civil wars going on around the world at the moment. And there's a major conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has produced about 8 million internally displaced on its own, another 6 million refugees into Europe. And so you've got a failure of diplomacy which is driving conflict. You've also got the impact, slowly increasing year by year, of the climate crisis, which is driving conflict itself but also driving people from their homes. These should be distinguished from economic migrants. These are people who are fleeing for their lives. And the fact that it's 1 in 74 of the global population - it should be chilling to all of us.

MARTÍNEZ: And so for the refugees who are not fleeing conflict, what are they trying to escape? It's - you're talking about now the economic part.

MILIBAND: Yeah. I mean, all of this is - the definition of a refugee is someone who has left their home in fear of their life and for whom it's not safe to go home. And so there's conflict, but also, we know from Latin America there is a large number of people fleeing from gang violence in the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. And we know that climate disasters are driving from - people from their homes, as well. But we're clear in our analysis at the International Rescue Committee - we're a global humanitarian agency in about 40 countries where people have their lives shattered by conflict and disaster - we're clear that 70 to 75% of these refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced are fleeing conflict. And when you look at the countries that are mainly driving people - Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan - Sudan you've covered as a recent conflict - you can see that conflict is the big driver, but you can also see that the routes can be quite complex.

MARTÍNEZ: And Turkey and Iran - they lead the world in housing refugees. Why is that?

MILIBAND: Because they're next door to major sources of conflict. So Turkey has 3 1/2, 3.7 million refugees from Syria. They've been there for about 10 years. Iran has about a million refugees from Afghanistan. Pakistan, on the other side of the border, has about - the other side of the Afghan border - has about 2 1/2 million refugees. One of the myths is that it's rich countries that host refugees and asylum seekers. Wrong. The vast majority, 70 to 80% of those internally displaced and of those who've crossed borders as refugees and asylum seekers are in poor or low- or middle-income countries, not rich countries like those in Europe or in the U.S.

MARTÍNEZ: Are rich countries doing enough? Or could they do more to take on their share of refugees?

MILIBAND: Well, no, they're not doing enough. We know that if 70 to 80% of refugees are in poor and low- or middle-income countries, that means the rich countries are not bearing their share. So, point one, refugees should be getting the chances like those that are being extended by the Biden administration. It's said that 125,000 refugees a year should come on the refugee resettlement route. Secondly, more needs to be done to support those poor, low- or middle-income countries that need help in hosting refugees. Even close allies like Jordan in the Middle East, close allies of the U.S. need much more support. And, thirdly, obviously, there's a vital job of diplomacy to get to the roots of the problem.

MARTÍNEZ: David Miliband is president of the International Rescue Committee. David, thanks.

MILIBAND: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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