GENEVA: 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 Syrians hardest hit, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.
The UNHCR said there were 51.2 million forcibly displaced people at the end of 2013, a full 6 million higher than the previous year.
“The numbers we are announcing today do not represent good news. On the contrary, they represent a quantum leap in forced displacement around the world,” UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said.
“For the first time since the World War II we had in 2013 more than 50 million people displaced by conflict or by persecution, either crossing borders or within the borders of their country,” he said.
Lebanon and other countries neighboring Syria have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis sparked by that nation’s civil war.
The civil war in Syria is largely to blame for the global increase, the UNHCR said in its annual report, released on World Refugee Day.
Since the conflict erupted 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 have also sparked new waves of displacement, while enduring violence in Afghanistan and Somalia has continued to feed the numbers.
“The world has shown a very limited capacity to prevent conflicts and to find a timely solution for them,” Guterres said.
“And so since conflicts erupt, impunity and unpredictability become the name of the game, and the consequences are dramatic for those millions and millions of people suffering so much.”
Refugee numbers reached 16.7 million people worldwide, the highest since 2001.
“The number of new refugees last year was 2.5 million, the highest number since the Rwanda genocide,” of 1994, Guterres noted.
A total of 6.3 million have been exiled for over five years, the agency said, not including 5 million Palestinians aided by the U.N. 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 total.
The world’s top refugee hosts were Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon.
Amnesty said that just three countries – Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey – registered a total of almost 1,525,000 refugees from Syria alone last year.
In contrast, it said, the 28 countries of the European Union have pledged to resettle less than 30,500 Syrians – with Germany taking the vast majority at 25,500.
Amnesty slammed China and Russia for doing almost nothing for refugees, despite being the two powers it said had done the most to block U.N. efforts to end the Syrian war.
In addition to refugees, 1.1 million people submitted asylum applications. Syrians lodged 64,300 claims, more than any other nationality, while 60,400 came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.