LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The number of refugees and people forcibly displaced within their countries is likely to hit an all time high in 2013, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.
Figures for the first half of the year already show it to be one of the worst periods in decades for people fleeing violence. The biggest cause of new displacement is the fighting in Syria, which shows no sign of abating.
More than 5.9 million people became newly uprooted within their countries or fled abroad in the first six months of the year, compared with 7.6 million for all of 2012, the refugee agency (UNHCR) said.
“It is hard to see such numbers and not ask why so many people are today becoming refugees or internally displaced,” said UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres.
“Humanitarian organisations 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.”
Syrians accounted for eight out of 10 new refugees – people who cross a border to seek safety. Tens of thousands of people also fled violence in Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
The number of refugees fleeing their countries in 2013 may turn out to be the highest since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the report says.
The UNHCR normally publishes global refugee and internal displacement trends once a year. It took the unprecedented step of publishing a mid-year report because of concern at rapidly escalating displacement crises in Syria and elsewhere.
The data shows that in the first half of the year there were:
- 1.5 million new refugees compared to 1.1 million for the whole of 2012
- 4 million people newly displaced within their own countries compared with 6.5 million for all of 2012
- At least 456,000 asylum applications – roughly comparable to the first half of 2012
Afghans remain the largest refugee population (2.6 million), but are expected to be overtaken by Syrians in months. Afghanistan's neighbours Pakistan and Iran are the largest refugee-hosting countries. They are now followed by Jordan and Lebanon, which have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis generated by Syria’s civil war.
Globally, forced displacement stood at 45.2 million at the end 2012. Complete data for 2013 will only become available in mid-2014, but the report warns that this year’s total displacement looks likely to hit record levels.
The UNHCR does not work with Palestinian refugees who fall under the auspices of a sister agency called UNRWA.