Canada admitted the largest number of refugees who were resettled last year and had the second highest rate of refugees who gained citizenship, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency’s global report. 

The UNHCR’s annual global trends report shows Canada took in 28,100 of the 92,400 refugees who were resettled in 25 countries during 2018. The United States was second with 22,900.

The report shows over 18,000 refugees became Canadian citizens. Canada placed ninth in the world for asylum seekers with 55,400 claims filed in 2018.

Michael Casasola, UNHCR Canada’s senior resettlement officer, said Canada has been a leader on welcoming refugees, but worries asylum seekers may become a punching bag issue during this fall’s federal election.

Overall, the number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict worldwide ballooned to over 70 million — the highest level since the Second World War and an increase of more than two million from a year earlier — an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.

The annual Global Trends report, released on Wednesday to coincide with World Refugee Day on Thursday, counts the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people.

The National examines the growing number of refugees worldwide:

The planet is on the move in ways we have never seen before. The number of refugees has hit a new record. And in places like Lebanon, where more than 1 million Syrians have fled, their welcome could be running out. 4:51

The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the United States, against immigrants and refugees.

Launching the report, UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi had a message for U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders, saying it’s “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, Grandi said.

The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.

“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”

Venezuelans now file 1 in 5 of new asylum claims

Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum seekers in 2018, totalling more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.

UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.

Some four million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have travelled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.

Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.

“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees. We are in a very dangerous situation.”