UN refugee agency warns of ‘dangerous new era’

‘Dangerous era’ in in worldwide displacement as report shows almost 60 million people forced to flee their homes

Refugees at the Atmeh refugee camp, in the northern Syrian province of Idlib
Refugees at the Atmeh refugee camp, in the northern Syrian province of Idlib

A UNHCR report, released today, shows that worldwide displacement from wars, conflict, and persecution is at the highest levels we have recorded, and accelerating fast.

UNHCR’s new annual Global Trends report shows a sharp escalation in the number of people forced to flee their homes, with 59.5 million people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago. The increase since 2013 was the highest ever seen in a single year. 

READ the UNHCR report here

The main acceleration has been since early 2011 when war erupted in Syria, propelling it into becoming the world’s single largest driver of displacement.

In 2014, an average of 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced every day, representing a four-fold increase in just four years. Worldwide, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. Were this 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.

“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.”

Half are Children

UNHCR’s Global Trends report shows that in 2014 alone 13.9 million became newly displaced – four times the number in 2010. 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). Alarmingly, 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,” said 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.

Even amid such sharp growth in numbers, the global distribution of refugees remains heavily skewed away from wealthier nations and towards the less wealthy. Almost nine out of every 10 refugees (86 per cent) were in regions and countries considered economically less developed. A full quarter of all refugees were in countries ranking among the UN’s list of Least Developed nations.

Conflict in Ukraine, a record 219,000 Mediterranean crossings, and the large number of Syrian refugees in Turkey – which in 2014 became the world’s top refugee-hosting nation with 1.59 million Syrian refugees at year’s end – brought increased public attention, both positive and negative, to questions to do with refugees. In the EU, the biggest volume of asylum applications was in Germany and Sweden. Overall, forced displacement numbers in Europe totalled 6.7 million at the end of the year, compared to 4.4 million at the end of 2013, and with the largest proportion of this being Syrians in Turkey and Ukrainians in the Russian Federation.

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