Refugee numbers exceed 50 million for first time since WWII

More than 51 million people forcibly displaced by end of 2013 , according to UNHCR

Afghan refugees pose for a photograph as they wait to leave for Afghanistan, at UNHCR registration centre  in Chamkani, on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan. Photograph: Arshad Arbab/EPA

Afghan refugees pose for a photograph as they wait to leave for Afghanistan, at UNHCR registration centre in Chamkani, on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan. Photograph: Arshad Arbab/EPA

Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 11:32

The number of people forced to flee their homes worldwide has exceeded 50 million for the first time since World War II.

A report released today by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows that 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2013, six million more than the 42.2 million in 2012.

The “massive increase” in numbers is mainly due to the ongoing conflict in Syria, the UNHCR’s Sophie Magennis told RTÉ this morning.

“What’s at the root of this is that conflicts that have been raging for some time worldwide are not ending and new conflicts are starting,” she said. “Political solutions are not being found and people are being forced to flee in the greatest scale since the post-World War II period.”

By the end of 2013, 2.5 million Syrians had been forced to leave the country while 6.5 million had been internally displaced. The UNHCR also reported major displacement in the Central African Republic and South Sudan towards the end of 2013.

Syria has gone from being the second largest refugee hosting county in the world, providing sanctuary for immigrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, to the second largest refugee producing country in the world, according to the UNHCR’s external relations officer Jody Clarke,

“The vast majority of Syrians are going to neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, with many going to Iraq” Mr Clarke told The Irish Times. “With the recent conflict many of those in Iraq have now become displaced again.”

The number of refugees returning home has decreased significantly and in 2013 only 400,000 people managed to return home, the fourth lowest number in 25 years. “The problem is the rate at which the number of people are being displaced is outweighing solutions,” said Mr Clarke.

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, says the international community must “overcome its differences” to find solutions to conflict in Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic and elsewhere.

“As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of medium- to-large countries such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or South Korea, ” he added.

According to UNHCR data, 1.1 million people worldwide submitted applications for asylum in 2013, including a record 25,300 applications from children who had been separated from or were unaccompanied by their parents. The largest number of asylum claims came from Syrians.

“This year we asked for 30,000 places worldwide for Syrian refugees,” said Mr Clarke. “Now, because of the scale of the crisis, we’re asking for 100,000 in 2015 and 2016.”

Earlier this month the German government committed to providing 20,000 places for Syrian refugees under the country’s humanitarian admission programme. Ireland, who traditionally resettles 200 refugees a year, will take in 90 Syrian refugees this year.

“The Irish Government will assist them in settling into new homes around Ireland where they get language training, their kids go to school and they’re given a leg up in terms of getting up on their own two feet,” said Mr Clarke.