Richard North, 13/01/2015  

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Early reports of the Pegida rally in Dresden suggest a new record, with the crowd reaching well over 25,000 – although another report claims 40,0000 supporters took to the streets.

On the other hand, anti-Pegida rallies drew over 8,000 in Dresden, 30,000 in Leipzig, 20,000 in Munich, 17,000 in Hanover, 9,000 in Saarbrucken, 5,000 in Dusseldorf, 4,000 each in Berlin and Hamburg, 2,000 in Rostock, and smaller crowds in other cities.

Earlier, Chancellor Merkel stressed that "Islam belongs to Germany" and announced she would join a Muslim community rally in Berlin against extremism, along with most of her cabinet ministers.

Undeterred, Pegida demonstrators, on their 12th rally since the launch of the movement, waved the German national flag and held up placards that read "Fight Islamisation, stop the flood of foreigners now" and "Stop multiculturalism. My homeland will stay German".

This year, incidentally, is the 70th anniversary of the UN Charter yet, with the driving force behind the events which have had the Germans out marching, General Secretary Ban Ki Moon seems obsessed with climate change.

In an authored piece for the Guardian, he tells us that "ours is the first generation that can end poverty, and the last that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change".

There is in his piece, though, only one mention of refugees, and that in relation to Syria. You will not find a single reference to the report of his own refugee agency, the UNHCR, which tells us that an estimated 5.5 million people became newly uprooted during the first six months of 2014, signalling a further rise in the number of people forcibly displaced.

UNHCR's new Mid-Year Trends 2014 report shows that of the 5.5 million who were newly displaced, 1.4 million fled across international borders becoming refugees, while the rest were displaced within their own countries (IDPs).

Taking into account existing displaced populations, data revisions, voluntary returns and resettlement, the number of people being helped by UNHCR (referred to in the report as People of Concern) stood at 46.3 million as of mid-2014 – some 3.4 million more than at the end of 2013 and a new record high.

Among the report's main findings are that Syrians, for the first time, have become the largest refugee population under UNHCR's mandate (Palestinians in the Middle East fall under the care of our sister-organization UNRWA), overtaking Afghans, who had held that position for more than three decades. At more than three million as of June 2014, Syrian refugees now account for 23 percent of all refugees being helped by UNHCR worldwide.

Despite dropping to second place, the 2.7 million Afghan refugees worldwide remain the largest protracted refugee population under UNHCR care (the agency defines a "protracted refugee situation" as one that has existed for at least five years).

After Syria and Afghanistan, the leading countries of origin of refugees are Somalia (1.1 million), Sudan (670,000), South Sudan (509,000), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (493,000), Myanmar (480,000) and Iraq (426,000). 

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Pakistan, which hosts 1.6 million Afghan refugees, remains the biggest host country in absolute terms. Other countries with large refugee populations are Lebanon (1.1 million), Iran (982,000), Turkey (824,000), Jordan (737,000), Ethiopia (588,000), Kenya (537,000) and Chad (455,000).

By comparing the number of refugees to the size of a country's population or economy, UNHCR's report puts the contribution made by host nations into context. Relative to the sizes of their populations Lebanon and Jordan host the largest number of refugees, while relative to the sizes of their economies the burdens carried by Ethiopia and Pakistan are greatest.

Against this, Mr Ban Ki Moon's obsession with climate change is obscene. But then, for the same reasons, the immediate focus of the Pegida marchers and the counter marchers is misplaced. We are in the thrall of the greatest refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War and, as Booker reports, we have no policy worthy of the name to deal with it.

Would that they knew it, it is this that is giving rise to the situation to which Pegida supporters, and so many more, are objecting, yet none of them seem to have the wit – or the humanity – to discover why things are in such a mess and what, constructively, we need to do about this crisis.

And the point, of course, is that not only is the scale of this crisis huge, it is getting bigger by the month. We are not immune from its effects: marching in the streets or whining about multiculturalism isn't going to solve anything.

We need to recognise the scale of this problem. Today's refugees are tomorrow's asylum seekers. We either deal with the problem where it is found, or it comes to visit us on our doorstep  The nation needs an effective policy response – and we need it now. 

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