The number of refugees and displaced people around the world has surpassed 50 million people for the first time since the Second World War, and half of them are children, according to figures released on Friday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
There was a staggering increase of 6.6 million refugees and displaced people in 2013 from the 2012 numbers, which can largely be attributed to the ongoing war in Syria. In Syria, 6.5 million people, or more than 40 percent of the population, is now displaced, and 2.5 million Syrians have escaped the crisis. As the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood reports, if the world’s 51.2 million forcibly displaced people were their own country, it would be the 24th most populous in the world, more than the populations of South Africa, Spain, or South Korea.
The UNHCR annual Global Trend report defines three different groups: refugees (16.7 million), asylum seekers (1.2 million), and internally displaced people (33.3 million, which is a record number.) Syria has the highest number of asylum seekers at 64,300, followed by those from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar, and Germany is the largest recipient of asylum seekers as a whole.
The international humanitarian aid community is feeling the strain of millions more fleeing crises, and those forced to leave their homes due to climate change, population growth, and food insecurity. The increased need for assistance means the U.N.’s world food program has had to reduce rations at some refugee camps, reports Sherwood.
Describing the rise in displaced people as a “quantum leap,” António Guterres, head of the U.N.'s refugee agency, said that the figures show a world where world peace is “dangerously in deficit.” Conflicts in South Sudan and the Central African Republic have also caused inflated numbers this year. The U.S. has been the recent focus of its own humanitarian crisis with an influx of child migrants from Central America reaching the southern border on their own. Often brought by trafficking gangs, recent reports have shown the deplorable conditions migrants face inside processing centers, and reports of alleged sexual and physical abuse by immigration officials.