More than 50 million people worldwide currently are refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced within their own countries, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday, in a new report released to mark World Refugee Day.
That figure is more than the entire population of Spain, South Africa or South Korea, or more than double the population of Australia.
The 51.2 million registered for 2013 is also 6 million more than the 45.2 million reported in 2012, according to the UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report — a big jump in the wrong direction.
The huge increase was driven mainly by the war in Syria. Major internal displacement was also seen last year in Africa, in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, where conflicts have taken on an increasingly ethnic nature.
“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.
Civil war in Syria has created the worst refugee crisis in 20 years, aid agencies have warned, with no end to the conflict in sight.
Since March 2011, more than 2.5 million Syrians have fled abroad and another 6.5 million have been internally displaced. That means a third of the country has now been forced to leave their homes.
With an average of 6,000 people fleeing every day in 2013, Antonio Guterres, the UN’s refugee chief, said refugee numbers had not risen “at such a frightening rate” since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Aid agencies are calling it the worst humanitarian disaster in recent history.
According to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency, Jordan is currently home to more than 584,000 Syrian refugees, including around 100,000 in the Zaatari refugee camp alone. Turkey hosts the second largest number, with 634,900.
Lebanon, which had a pre-Syrian war population of just over four million, is now sheltering nearly a million refugees. (The number hosted by Lebanon as a ratio of its population would be equivalent to nearly 15 million in France, 32 million in Russia or 71 million in the United States!)