On World Refugee Day, UN marks record year for displacement
A Syrian family from Aleppo takes shelter from the rain in Turkey's Istanbul, March 2014. According to the UN, Turkey hosted the world's highest number of refugees by the end of 2014, at 1.59 million people. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)
The number of people forced to flee war, violence and persecution has soared to a record 60 million, half of them children, the United Nations said Thursday, warning that the situation was raging out of control.
The huge tide of displaced people has grown by 8.3 million since 2013 -- the highest-ever increase in a single year, the UN refugee agency said in a report titled "World at War".
The situation is "getting out of control simply because the world seems to be at war," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told reporters ahead of the launch of the annual report.
"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," he warned in the report, saying the crisis needed an "unprecedented humanitarian response".
The number of displaced stood at 59.5 million worldwide at the end of 2014, "as a result of persecution, conflict, generalised violence, or human rights violations", the report said.
Last year alone, an estimated 13.9 million people were displaced -- or a startling 42,500 a day.
More than half of the world's refugees are children, up from 41 percent in 2009, while the total number of people who fled their homes has spiked by 40 percent in just three years.
If the world's displaced people were lumped together as a nation, it would be the 24th largest with a population similar to Italy.
Of the total, 19.5 million were refugees, 1.8 million were asylum seekers and 38.2 million had fled their homes but stayed in their country, the report said.
Can't 'pick up pieces'
Guterres said the conflicts in Syria and Iraq alone had sent 15 million people from their homes.
But they are far from the only wars forcing people to seek safe haven. In the last five years, at least 14 conflicts have erupted or resumed worldwide -- more than half of them in Africa.
"We do not have the capacity, the resources for all victims of conflicts. We are no longer able to pick up the pieces," the commissioner said.
The report said that in Europe, more than 219,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea during 2014. "That's almost three times the previously known high of about 70,000, which took place in 2011," it reported.
Despite fears expressed in European countries and other wealthy nations over the growing refugee and migrant influx, the report showed that developing countries were hosting 86 percent of all those who had fled war or persecution in their countries.
At the end of 2014, the world's top host for refugees was Turkey, sheltering 1.59 million people, followed by Pakistan (1.51 million) and Lebanon (1.15 million).
The number of Syrian refugees taking shelter in Turkey has further risen this year to more than 1.7 million, according to the latest UN data.
Speaking in Istanbul, Guterres urged the world, including Western states, to open up their borders and follow Turkey's "example" in hosting Syrian refugees.
He said Turkey's generosity has a special meaning in a world where "so many borders are closed or restricted and where new walls are being built or announced".
The report said continued turmoil in parts of North Africa following the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled several dictators saw huge numbers risking dangerous Mediterranean crossings to get to Europe.
UNHCR said it has received information of more than 3,500 women, men and children reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea during 2014.
But EU leaders have so far failed to agree on how to deal with the massive influx of vulnerable people from the Middle East and Africa.
The Ukraine conflict meanwhile displaced over 800,000 within the country and sent well over 200,000 to Russia.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of refugees increased for the fifth consecutive year, to 3.7 million in 2014.
Guterres appealed to the world to loosen its purse strings and provide shelter to the displaced.
"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," he said.
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