Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
UNHCR warned today in a report that 2013 was on track for some of the highest levels of forced displacement ever seen by the agency, due to unusually large numbers of new refugees and internally displaced people. The report said 5.9 million people were forced to flee their homes in the first six months of the year, compared with 7.6 million for all of 2012. The biggest producer of new displacement was Syria.
UNHCR's Mid-Year Trends 2013 report is mainly based on data provided by the organization's more than 120 country offices, and shows sharp rises in several important indicators. Among these is the number of new refugees: 1.5 million during the first six months of 2013 compared to 1.1 million for all of 2012. Another is people newly displaced within their own countries - four million people compared with 6.5 million for all of 2012. There were also more than 450,000 asylum applications, although this was approximately on par with levels from the same period a year earlier. The report describes the first half of 2013 as "one of the worst periods for forced displacement in decades".
"It is hard to see such numbers and not ask why so many people are today becoming refugees or internally displaced", said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "Humanitarian organizations deliver life-saving assistance, but we can't prevent or stop wars - that requires political effort and political will and this is where much more concerted international focus needs to be placed."
Globally, forced displacement - at 45.2 million as of end 2012 - is already at its highest level since the early 1990s due overwhelmingly to an escalation of new conflicts. Mid-Year Trends 2013 does not update this figure (as complete data for doing so only becomes available in mid-2014) but it warns that the eventual tally for 2013 as a whole is likely to see the global forced displacement total go even higher than in 2012, mainly because of continuing large outflows from, and displacement within, Syria.
UNHCR works in all the world's major refugee situations, with the exception of Palestinian refugees under the care of our sister agency UNRWA, and situations of internal displacement where people are looked after directly by their own national governments. Mid-Year Trends 2013 notes increases in several areas involving these so-called 'populations of concern' to UNHCR. This includes a 600,000 person increase in the number of refugees from end 2012 to 11.1 million, and a sharp rise in numbers of internally displaced under UNHCR's care to 20.8 million from 17.7 million at end 2012.
Elsewhere, 189,300 refugees returned to their countries of origin during the first six months of 2013, while 33,700 were resettled in third countries. Some 688,000 internally displaced people returned home in countries where UNHCR works in IDP situations. Afghanistan remained the world's leading source country of refugees overall (2.6 million), and Pakistan the largest refugee-hosting country (1.6 million).
UNHCR publishes yearly worldwide data on forced displacement each June in its Global Trends reports. The Mid-Year 2013 report released today is available at http://unhcr.org/52af08d26.html