, GENEVA, Jun 20 – The number of people driven from their homes by conflict and crisis has topped 50 million for the first time since World War II, with Syria hardest hit, the UN refugee agency said Friday.
The UNHCR said there were 51.2 million forcibly displaced people at the end of 2013, a full six million higher than the previous year.
The protracted Syria conflict was largely to blame for the increase, it said in its annual report, released on World Refugee Day.
Since the war began in March 2011, a total of 2.5 million people have fled Syria, with 6.5 million more displaced inside the country.
The Central African Republic and South Sudan crises also sparked new waves of displacement.
“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres.
“Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue,” he warned.
The spiralling numbers have huge implications for aid budgets, and place massive strains on nations on the front-lines of refugee crises, the UNHCR said.
Its data covers three groups: refugees, asylum-seekers, and the internally displaced.
Refugee numbers reached 16.7 million people worldwide, the highest since 2001.
A total of 6.3 million have been exiled for over five years, the agency said — noting that that did not include five million Palestinians aided by the UN Relief and Works Agency, a separate body.
Overall, the biggest refugee populations under UNHCR care came from Afghanistan, Syrian and Somalia, who together form over half the global refugee total.
The world’s top refugee hosts were Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon.
The regions with the largest refugee populations were Asia and the Pacific, with a total of 3.5 million people.
Sub-Saharan Africa totalled 2.9 million, and the Middle East and North Africa, 2.6 million.
– Shirking responsibility –
With most refugees hosted by poorer countries, human rights campaigners Amnesty International said rich nations must do far more to shoulder the load.
“The globe’s self-styled leaders are lagging far behind the developing world when it comes to bearing the burden of the global refugee crisis,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, head of Amnesty’s refugees and migrants programme.
“Given the economic advantages rich countries have over poor, it’s doubly shocking to see them shirking their responsibility,” he said.
Amnesty noted that just three countries — Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey – registered a total of 1,524,979 refugees from Syria alone last year.