68.5 million refugees

On a day when newly released data showcased in tangible numbers the stark realities of the growing global refugee crisis, the United States — long considered a haven for the oppressed — doubled down on anti-migrant rhetoric while Canada struck a decidedly cautious tone.

The annual Global Trends report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was released Tuesday, showing the worldwide total number of displaced people reached a record 68.5 million last year, due to global wars, violence and persecution.

In 2017 alone, more than 16 million people were newly displaced.

The statistics also show Canada became the ninth-largest recipient of asylum seekers, more than doubling the number of claims in a single year at 47,800.

And for the first time in five years, the United States became the largest recipient of new asylum applications with more than 330,000 claims lodged in 2017 — a 27 per cent jump from the year before.

But U.S. President Donald Trump made it clear Tuesday that asylum seekers who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally are not welcome in America.

In a speech Tuesday, Trump accused many of these migrants of being child and human smugglers who try to "game the system," invoking references to the notorious international criminal gang MS-13 attacking children with knives, not guns, "because it's much more painful."

"And we're allowing these people into our country? Not with me. We're taking them out by the thousands," Trump said.

The Trump administration has come under fire for its so-called zero-tolerance policy, in which asylum seekers who cross illegally into the U.S. are charged with federal crimes and separated from their children. The children are being detained in guarded, fenced enclosures, prompting widespread condemnation and protest.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been called upon to lend his voice to the chorus of condemnation, but so far Trudeau has demurred.

On Monday he would only say he would not "play politics" on the issue, and he did not attend question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale largely repeated comments made Monday, in which they said they found the images of children being torn from the arms of their parents and kept in cage-like detention areas "troubling."

Transport Minister Marc Garneau went a step further, saying the situation involving child migrants in the U.S. is "simply unacceptable."

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