People Fleeing Global Economic Oppression Reaching A Staggering 71 Million (#GotBitcoin?)
According to a new U.N. report, nearly 1% of the world’s population was displaced at the end of 2018. People Fleeing Global Economic Oppression Reaching A Staggering 71 Million (#GotBitcoin?)
The number of forcibly displaced people in the world reached almost 71 million at the end of last year, the most since just after World War II and double the number of 20 years ago, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday.
The number of people fleeing persecution, conflict, violence or human-rights violations, including refugees, asylum seekers and those displaced within their own country, rose by 2.3 million last year, according to the report from the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR. The figure is conservative as it doesn’t fully capture the rapidly evolving situation in Venezuela, the UNHCR said.
Nearly 1% of the world’s population was displaced at the end of 2018, the report said, compared with 0.6% in 2011.
The new Global Trends report comes as migration and refugees have become a central political issue in many countries, including the U.S. and much of Europe. President Trump has kept the issue central in the U.S. political debate and it has crept into the rhetoric of Democratic presidential contenders as they prepare for their first debate later this month.
In Europe, the issue partly fueled the rise of right-wing populists across the region, including in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, in the run-up to the recent elections for the European Parliament. Closing borders and clamping down on asylum seekers has become one of the few issues uniting European nationalists as they struggle to band together and influence EU policy decisions.
Dealing with the refugee situation is “one of the great challenges of our times,” said Filippo Grandi, head of the UNHCR.
The U.S. received the most asylum applications last year, at about 254,300, down from 331,700 in 2017. Almost all came from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela. The next largest recipients were Peru with 192,500 and Germany with 161,900. At the end of 2018, the U.S. had more than 700,000 asylum applications to process, more than any other country.
Almost 350,000 Venezuelans escaping political unrest and the collapse of the country’s economy sought asylum in other countries in 2018, accounting for 20% of world-wide asylum requests and making them the single-biggest group by nationality. About 3.4 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years and with another 5,000 a day departing, the total could hit 5 million this year, according to the report. That would be almost one in every six Venezuelans.
Most of the world’s 26 million refugees, defined as those forced to leave their country, about half of whom are younger than 18, are from Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan, the UNHCR said. Syria alone accounts for 6.7 million of the total, with most of those having left their country between 2012 and 2015. Another 6.2 million Syrians have been displaced within the country.
For a fifth successive year, Turkey hosted the most refugees in 2018 at 3.7 million, followed by Pakistan. About one in six people living in Lebanon is a refugee, the largest proportion in the world. The U.S. hosted 313,200 refugees at the end of last year, about the same as China.
Last year’s largest new displacement was the 1.6 million Ethiopians who fled their homes due to ethnic violence, with the vast majority staying inside the country. Ethiopia last year became the largest host of Somali refugees, complicating the country’s challenge further.
Global Wave of Protests Rattles Governments
From Latin America to the Middle East to Hong Kong, messaging apps are giving wing to massive demonstrations against the status quo.
In June, hundreds of thousands of young protesters connected by messaging apps took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest the encroachment of China’s central authorities on life in their city.
Four months on, antigovernment demonstrations have swept more than a dozen countries. From Chile and Bolivia to Lebanon and Spain, millions have taken to the streets—sometimes peacefully, often not.
Thousands have been injured and scores killed. Protesters have blocked roads, closed airports and attacked institutions that have become objects of their ire.
Iran shut down the internet Saturday and resorted to lethal force to crush antigovernment protests across the authoritarian state. Recently, Colombia became the fifth country facing mass demonstrations that have spread through South America.
It is impossible to draw neat lines connecting the unrest that is spanning the globe. But the fact that people have poured into the streets in so many places—often sharing tactics and even slogans—has given the turmoil the contours of a new social movement, echoing past upheavals such as the Arab Spring and the student protests of 1968.
The immediate sparks vary from country to country. But underlying the unrest are an often similar mix of social and economic discord helping fuel demands for sweeping changes to the existing political order.
In Barcelona, protesters angered by jail sentences for secessionist activists want independence for their Catalan-speaking region. Many in the wealthy region have grown increasingly resentful about subsidizing Spain’s poorer regions with their taxes.
Income gaps are wide in many of the protest-hit cities. Young people driving the action in many regions often doubt they will attain their parents’ economic status. Their rage is directed at political elites who are seen as out of touch and serving only themselves and others with similar status.
Propelling the action on the streets to a kind of hyperspeed is a new generation of encrypted-messaging software such as WhatsApp and Telegram that enable large groups of protesters who have never met each other to communicate anonymously.
Whereas platforms like Twitter and Facebook were great for broadcasting ideas, the newer technology allows any would-be activist connected to the group to build consensus for large-scale actions in real time—without fear of being identified.
Meanwhile, the internet’s global reach has helped activists learn by watching and connecting with peers in other countries.
In Barcelona, pro-independence forces have handed out pamphlets titled “Hong Kong: the tactics of protesters.” They repeat Hong Kong’s mantra for conducting hit-and-run demonstrations: “Be Water,” a famous piece of fighting advice from the Asian city’s late martial-arts icon, Bruce Lee.
Hong Kong protesters used laser pointers to blind police and cameras. Protesters in Chile are now using them, too.
“These protests are not one-off anomalies,” said Richard Youngs, who studies protest movements at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They are becoming a mainstream phenomenon that I think is here to stay as a core feature of global politics.”
The reason, he says, is that people feel political systems aren’t responsive to their needs. Demonstrators are “stepping back from politics and choosing more direct action.”
Often at the forefront are the young and the very young. In Chile, the protests began with high-school students jumping subway turnstiles. In Hong Kong boys and girls—still in their school uniforms—can be seen at protests that occur on weeknights.
Their presence is upending views—widely held until recently—that a young generation of smartphone addicts is essentially apathetic and unlikely to ever translate their online disillusionment into actions in the real world.
“The crisis of legitimacy is global and the technology is global. Young people are taking advantage of these tools across the spectrum,” said Manuel Castells, a professor of communication and technology at the University of Southern California.
Perhaps the biggest factor driving these protest movements forward is that they are succeeding. In country after country, protesters have forced leaders to give in to initial demands, only to remain on the streets pushing for more.
“The longer we stay out, the more we may get from the politicians because they fear us now,” said Waleed Ibrahim, 32, an unemployed Iraqi man who has taken part in this month’s demonstrations in Baghdad, the biggest in decades—an outpouring propelled by anger with political elites for failing to deliver economic opportunity.
In Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad Hariri reversed the $6 tax on WhatsApp calls that started the protests in October. Beset by an economic downturn and allegations of incompetence, Mr. Hariri resigned in late October. Now demonstrators want to overhaul a governing system based on the country’s sectarian differences.
In Hong Kong, young demonstrators stayed on the streets even after achieving what once seemed the unthinkable: forcing mainland China to blink.
In August, the city’s Beijing-backed leadership formally withdrew a controversial plan to allow Hong Kong residents to be prosecuted in its opaque legal system—the initial spark for the protests. But protesters hardened their approach to push for additional demands, including universal suffrage and an investigation into police violence.
The decision to press on was sealed in the anonymous messaging groups, and the intensity of the protests grew.
Most of the countries hit by turmoil are democracies. Some of them, such as Haiti, Iraq, Ecuador and Bolivia, have histories of grinding poverty and instability.
Developed countries have suffered along with emerging ones, illustrating how angst can grow even when countries prosper if people’s rising expectations aren’t met.
In Chile, older generations see the young protesters as taking for granted hard-won gains like the right to vote. The country transitioned to democracy 30 years ago after a long and bloody dictatorship that young protesters on the streets today weren’t around to experience. Since then, the economy has grown steadily, and persistently high rates of inequality have actually declined in the last 20 years.
“We have a generation of young people who grew up during democracy who don’t have any memories of military dictatorship. But they don’t vote, they think voting is useless,” said Sebastián Valenzuela, a professor of communications at a Santiago university.
Voting rates have declined globally since the early 1990s, according to a recent report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an intergovernmental organization, suggesting declining confidence in government in general.
In Lebanon, where most people protesting grew up since the 1975-90 civil war, rising expectations are at play. Today, the young who benefited from the stability have less invested in the sectarian and party groups that defined their parents’ generation. They want to change the government system dividing power among these groups.
Many of the Hong Kong protesters who are pushing back against mainland China are also disillusioned by an economic system that isn’t working for them. With salaries stagnating and housing prices soaring, many are unlikely to ever earn enough to move out of the cramped public-apartment towers where they live with their parents.
It remains to be seen what long-term changes, if any, the protests of 2019 will yield. The impact of social movements is rarely clear in the moment they are unfolding—and can debated for generations after without resolution.
Local conditions will influence the outcomes. In Hong Kong the deciding factor may ultimately be up to one man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose options range from granting the city more autonomy to stamping out the protests with the Chinese military.
One legacy has already been set: the power of anonymous groups using technology to unleash civil disobedience in real time, making the marches and occupations of a decade ago appear to move in slow motion.
Take the experience of Yiu, a Hong Kong protester in her early 20s. She was among the hundreds of protesters who occupied the city’s main government building in July. She heard about the siege on Telegram just before it happened.
She had expected a peaceful march that day. But checking her various Telegram channels or chat groups, she watched the mood change. Soon she received messages seeking volunteers to occupy the building, a symbol of Hong Kong government.
Within minutes, a group of several hundred protesters who had gotten the same message were gathered outside the building and primed for action. Together, they surged inside, in one of the emblematic moments of the protests.
“A few months ago I didn’t want to be violent,” Yiu said. “Now I don’t care.”
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