GENEVA - The U.N. high commissioner for refugees is calling for urgent action to resolve the global forced displacement crisis as increasing numbers of people flee conflict, natural disasters and grinding poverty.
In recent years, nearly 71 million people have been uprooted from their homes. More than one-third are refugees; the rest are displaced within their own countries.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the issue of forced displacement is far more complex now than in 1951, when the United Nations adopted the Refugee Convention to protect and assist millions of refugees who survived the horrors of World War II.
Grandi, speaking at the UNHCR's annual weeklong refugee conference, said the world now is faced with what he calls mixed flows of refugees and migrants.
The commissioner also said that putting economic migrants and asylum-seekers into the same category is eroding protections for refugees, who are people fleeing war, persecution and violence.
In Mexico last week, he said he saw examples of refugee integration coupled with increasing migratory pressures from the region, but also from Africa.
"Saving lives and safeguarding the dignity and rights of all those on the move must remain central, together with access to international protection for those with valid claims," Grandi said. "There and elsewhere, legal migration pathways would help prevent the abuse of asylum systems as substitutes of migration channels."
Grandi says climate change is creating a new form of forcible displacement, an issue that did not exist when the Refugee Convention was conceived.
He said climate-related causes are a growing driver of new internal displacement.
"Climate is often also a pervasive factor in cross-border displacement...Forced displacement across borders can stem from the interaction between climate change and disasters with conflict and violence," Grandi said. "Or, it can arise from natural or man-made disasters alone. Either situation can trigger international protection needs."
Grandi plans to convene the first Global Refugee Forum in just over two months. The aim of the forum, he said, is to address and seek to resolve forced displacement, one of the great global challenges of this century.