‘War’s Human Cost’: World's population of displaced tops 50 million, UN refugee agency reports

Photos: UNHCR/S. Sisosmack (background), UNHCR/O.Pain (1st), UNHCR/J. Tanner (2nd), UNHCR/S. Rich (3rd), UNHCR/F. Noy (4th)
UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report shows that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people. Photos: UNHCR/S. Sisosmack (background), UNHCR/O.Pain (1st), UNHCR/J. Tanner (2nd), UNHCR/S. Rich (3rd), UNHCR/F. Noy (4th)

20 June 2014 – World Refugee Day is being marked by yet another sombre milestone in a year that has seen crisis after crisis force desperate people to flee their homes ahead of bullets and bombs: a new UN report reveals that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.

The annual global trends report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), states that even as the war in Syria continued to grind on – driving 9 million people fr om their homes by the end of last year – millions of individuals were forcibly displaced in other parts of the world, notably in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Mali, and the border area between South Sudan and Sudan.

By the end of 2013, an estimated 51.2 million people worldwide were considered to be forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations

By the end of 2013, an estimated 51.2 million people worldwide were considered to be forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. These included 16.7 million refugees, 33.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), and close to 1.2 million individuals whose asylum applications had not yet been adjudicated by the end of the reporting period.

“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.”

The global total of 51.2 million forcibly displaced represents a huge number of people in need of help, with implications both for foreign aid budgets in donor nations and the absorption and hosting capacities of countries on the front lines of refugee crises, says UNHCR.

Global forced displacement 1993-2013 (end-year) © UNCHR

“The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere. Non-traditional donors need to step up alongside traditional donors. As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of medium-to-large countries such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or South Korea,” said Mr. Guterres.

Major source of refugees, end 2013 © UNHCR

The annual report – this year subtitled War’s Human Cost is based on data compiled by governments, non-governmental partner organizations, and from the agency’s own records – notes that the Syrian crisis, entering into its third year in 2013, was the primary cause of these outflows, as highlighted by two dramatic milestones.

In August, the one millionth Syrian refugee child was registered; only a few weeks later, UNHCR announced that the number of Syrian refugees had passed two million. “The Syrian Arab Republic had moved from being the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country to being its second largest refugee-producing country – within a span of just five years,” states the report.

The annual survey also notes that 3.5 million refugees, or one-third of the global total, were residing in countries covered by UNHCR’s Asia and Pacific region. Of these, more than 2.4 million were Afghans (69 per cent) in Pakistan and Iran. Sub-Saharan Africa was host to more than 2.9 million, or one-quarter of all refugees, primarily from Somalia (778,400), Sudan (605,400), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (470,300), the Central African Republic (251,900), and Eritrea (198,700).

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