World Refugee Day: 50 million forced from their homes worldwide

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.

[CNN

Syria the worst refugee crisis in recent history

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!)

[The Telegraph]

Refugees starving to death in Syrian camp

A man lies dead; his severely emaciated body makes the rib cage protruding from his midsection look violent and sharp. A child sits in the dirt, the closed storefront behind him spray-painted with the words “I swear to God I am hungry.” The lifeless body of a baby lies discolored and wrapped in a white sheet.

These are a few of the pictures activists have posted on social media pages from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, just 6 miles from central Damascus. The camp has been cut off from aid since November 2013 and engulfed in fighting between the government and rebel forces since December 2012.

At least 44 people have died from a lack of food and medical supplies at the camp — 28 from starvation, said the Palestine Association for Human Rights in Syria, which has gathered and posted the names of the dead.

People are now surviving on water boiled with herbs, or families sharing a cup of rice with their neighbors. “We are dying, slowly,” resident Abu Mohammed said. “Just today, three people tried to go to an empty field to eat grass from the ground, and they were shot by snipers,” he said, his voice rising in frustration. “If you can imagine — people are dying just to eat grass.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, has tried to give food and other aid to camp residents “amid reports of widespread malnutrition in Yarmouk, amid reports of women dying during childbirth because of shortages of medical care, amid reports of children eating animal feed to survive,” said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the agency.

Their attempts have been unsuccessful. On Monday, aid trucks had to retreat after the Syrian government told the convoy to enter from the camp’s southern entrance, where heavy gunfire prevented it from proceeding.

Yarmouk has seen widespread cases of “malnutrition and the absence of medical care, including for those who have severe conflict-related injuries, and including for women in childbirth, with fatal consequences for some women. Residents including infants and children are subsisting for long periods on diets of stale vegetables, herbs, powdered tomato paste, animal feed and cooking spices dissolved in water,” Gunness said.

“The scale of the crisis in Syria, with millions of civilians affected, is staggering and the humanitarian response insufficient,” Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Monday, at the end of a three-day visit to the country.

 [Read full CNN article]

Pitiful response to receiving Syrian refugees outside Middle East

Europe’s leaders “should hang their heads in shame” over their failure to take in more than a tiny proportion of refugees who have fled Syria’s desperate civil war, rights group Amnesty International said Friday.

European Union nations have offered to open their doors to a little more than 12,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria, Amnesty International said, describing the number as “pitifully low.”

The figure represents 0.5% of the more than 2.3 million people who have fled the country since the conflict began in March 2011.

More than half  the 2.3 million refugees registered by the United Nations are children.

At least 4.25 million have been forced from their homes within Syria, Amnesty International said, making the total number displaced above 6.5 million — nearly a third of the country’s population.

In this dire situation, the countries neighboring Syria — Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt — have taken in 97% of the refugees, according to U.N. figures.

Within Europe, 10 EU member nations have promised to resettle 12,340 refugees. Of these, 10,000 places have been offered by Germany.

Outside Europe, Australia and Canada have promised to take in about 1,800 refugees between them.

In light of its report, Amnesty International has called for “an urgent and significant increase” in the number of resettlement places offered to refugees from Syria.

As winter closes in, the situation of refugees packed into temporary camps will only worsen. A huge storm that dropped snow and rain whipped by high winds onto Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon this week has added to the suffering. The Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, where thousands of Syrian refugees are living in tents, has been badly affected.

[CNN]