Wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere, according to a new report from the UN refugee agency.
UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report: World at War, released on June 18, 2015, said that worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded. It said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.
The increase represents the biggest leap ever seen in a single year. Moreover, the report said the situation was likely to worsen still further.
Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.
“We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
Since early 2011, the main reason for the acceleration has been the war in Syria, now the world’s single-largest driver of displacement. Every day last year on average 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced, a four-fold increase in just four years.
“It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace,” Guterres added.
The UNHCR report detailed how in region after region, the number of refugees and internally displaced people is on the rise. In the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited: eight in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and this year in Burundi); three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); one in Europe (Ukraine) and three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan).
“Few of these crises have been resolved and most still generate new displacement,” the report noted, adding that in 2014 only 126,800 refugees were able to return to their home countries — the lowest number in 31 years.
Meanwhile, decades-old instability and conflict in Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere means that millions of people remain on the move or – as is increasingly common – stranded for years on the edge of society as long-term internally displaced or refugees.
One of the most recent and highly visible consequences of the world’s conflicts and the terrible suffering they cause has been the dramatic growth in the numbers of refugees seeking safety through dangerous sea journeys, including on the Mediterranean, in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, and in Southeast Asia.
Half of all refugees are children
The Global Trends report detailed that in 2014 alone 13.9 million people became newly displaced – four times the number of the previous year. Worldwide there were 19.5 million refugees (up from 16.7 million in 2013), 38.2 million were displaced inside their own countries (up from 33.3 million in 2013), and 1.8 million people were awaiting the outcome of claims for asylum (against 1.2 million in 2013).
Most alarmingly, however, it showed that over half the world’s refugees are children.
“With huge shortages of funding and wide gaps in the global regime for protecting victims of war, people in need of compassion, aid and refuge are being abandoned,” warned Guterres. “For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.”
Syria is the world’s biggest producer of both internally displaced people (7.6 million) and refugees (3.88 million at the end of 2014). Afghanistan (2.59 million) and Somalia (1.1 million) are the next biggest refugee source countries.
Almost nine out of every 10 refugees (86 per cent) are in regions and countries considered economically less developed.
The full Global Trends report with this information and more, and including data on individual countries, demographics, numbers of people returning to their countries, and available estimates of stateless population is available at http://unhcr.org/556725e69.html.