UN pegs number of refugees displaced at two-decade high

Conflict in countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia created millions of new refugees in 2012.

Updated: Jun 20, 2013, 10:03 AM IST

United Nations: War and other crises drove one person from their home every 4.1 seconds last year, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, pushing the number of people forcibly displaced to a two-decade high of 45.2 million.

Conflict in countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia created millions of new refugees in 2012.

The UNCHR`s annual figures showed 1.1 million people fled across international borders last year, while 6.5 million were displaced within their homelands.

"This means one in each 4.1 seconds. So each time you blink, another person is forced to flee," Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters.

The largest number of refugees still come from Afghanistan, a situation unchanged for 32 years. Worldwide, one refugee in four is Afghan.
Guterres said 55 percent of the refugees were linked to conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria.

Last year did see 2.1 million internally displaced people and 526,000 refugees return home, as well as the resettlement of 88,6000 in rich nations.

However a raft of fresh crises in Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic pushed the total number of displaced to a level unseen since 1994, a year marked by the Rwandan genocide and bloodshed in former Yugoslavia.

"New refugees, new internally displaced, unfortunately represent much more than those able to find an answer to their plight," said Guterres.

"We witness a multiplication of new conflicts, and it seems that old conflicts never die."

Pope Francis on Wednesday called for more help, hospitality and understanding for refugees families.

These families "are fleeing violence, persecution, serious discrimination on the basis of their religion, their ethnicity, their political ideas," he told some 60,000 people gathered at the Vatican.

"On top of the dangers of the voyage, these families often risk disintegration and in the countries that host them, they face cultures and societies different to their own."

Guterres said the number of people who had fled the civil war in Syria had soared from 650,000 at the end of 2012 to around 1.6 million now, surpassing last year`s total from all conflicts.

The UNHCR has warned that Syrian refugee numbers could hit 3.5 million by the end of this year.

Syrian refugees have flooded into neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, stretching their ability to cope.

Guterres urged the international community to help shoulder the load, although he said UNHCR-brokered resettlement programmes for Syrians in rich countries were not yet on the cards.

With the economic crisis sharpening the asylum debate in developed nations, Guterres said it was important to keep some perspective.

"Who is supporting refugees in the world?" he asked. "Essentially, developing countries."

He said 87 percent of the world`s refugees were protected by developing countries, up from 70 percent a decade ago.

"So when we see discussion sometimes that exist about refugees in many developed countries, I think it`s good to remind public opinion in those countries that refugees are not people fleeing from poor countries into rich countries in search of a better life."

Pakistan remained the world`s top host nation in 2012, with 1.6 million refugees, mostly from Afghanistan. It was followed by Iran, with 868,200, and Germany with 589,700.

Some 46 percent of the globe`s refugees are under 18.

Guterres highlighted a "highly worrying" trend of rising numbers of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum: 21,300 in 2012. They were at particular risk from smuggling gangs, he said.