Feature Story

Number of people forced to flee their homes is the highest in recent history

20 June 2014

The number of the world’s refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people has risen dramatically, topping 50 million for the first time since the Second World War, says a report released by UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.  

According to UNHCR global trends 2013, published to coincide with World Refugee Day, marked annually on 20 June, 51.2 million people have been forcibly displaced, up 6 million from 2012.

The war in the Syrian Arab Republic is given as the main reason for this increase, as a growing number of individuals and families join 2.5 million Syrian refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced people. Conflicts in South Sudan and Central African Republic are also highlighted as the cause of widespread forced movement.

The plight of internally displaced people, a record 33.3 million, is highlighted as a special concern by UNHCR. It is hard to reach the many that remain in conflict zones and they lack the international protection received by refugees. Given this situation, the report describes 2013 as one of the most challenging years in UNHCR’s history.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said, “We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict. Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.” 

People who are forcibly displaced often become more vulnerable socially, economically and in terms of their health. For example, contracting HIV may be more likely if they engage in transactional sex to meet their basic needs. In addition, access to health and education services can be very limited and the use of rape as a weapon of war also heightens vulnerability.

The global trends report contends that UNHCR remains committed to safeguarding the rights and well-being of those forced to flee their homes and continues to work to find long-term solutions, such as voluntary return, local integration or resettlement in a third country. According to Mr Guterres, the countries of the world also have to redouble efforts to both end conflict and support people in need.

“The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and elsewhere. Non-traditional donors need to step up alongside traditional donors. As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of medium-to-large countries, such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or Republic of Korea,” he added.