U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi says he looks forward to boosting global refugee resettlements after sharp declines caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and drastic cuts to resettlements in the United States under the former Trump administration.
"The whole pace will pick up in a few months," Grandi told VOA's Celia Mendoza Sunday in an interview coinciding with World Refugee Day. "In the whole of 2020, we only resettled 34,000 people (globally). The year before was more than 100,000. The drop was enormous."
Grandi hailed the Biden administration's lifting of the U.S. refugee cap from 15,000 in 2020 to 62,500 for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. But the U.N. refugee chief added that boosting the flow of refugees to receiving nations like the United States takes time.
"I don't know if we'll be able to get there (62,500 resettlements) that quickly. What is important is that there is an intention to get there," Grandi said.
Grandi spoke as the global community observed World Refugee Day, designated by the United Nations to honor and celebrate the resiliency of those fleeing war, famine, ecological devastation and other life-threatening situations.
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U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement Sunday, "On this day, we reaffirm our sacred commitment to alleviate suffering through humanitarian relief and redouble our efforts to achieve lasting solutions for refugees-including through resettlement. We also recommit to engaging in diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the ongoing conflicts that compel refugees to seek safety elsewhere."
There are more refugees today than there have ever been, according to UNHCR. In a statement, the organization said, "the number of people fleeing wars, violence, persecution and human rights violations in 2020 rose to nearly 82.4 million," a 4% increase from 79.5 million at the end of 2019, which was then a record.
"And what is quite shocking," UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Gillian Triggs told VOA, "is that over the last 10 years the numbers of people who are refugees or forcibly displaced has more than doubled. Something like 48% are children or youths, so we really have generations of children who are separated from their countries of origin."
World Refugee Day was held globally for the first time on June 20, 2001, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It was originally known as Africa Refugee Day, before the U.N. General Assembly officially designated it as an international day in December 2000.