World Refugee Day is being marked by yet another sombre milestone in a year that has seen crisis after crisis force desperate people to flee their homes ahead of bullets and bombs: a new UN report reveals that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.
The annual Global Trends report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), states that even as the war in Syria continued to grind on — driving 9 million people from their homes by the end of last year — millions of individuals were forcibly displaced in other parts of the world, notably in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Mali, and the border area between South Sudan and Sudan.
“By the end of 2013, an estimated 51.2 million people worldwide were considered to be forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations.”
By the end of 2013, an estimated 51.2 million people worldwide were considered to be forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. These included 16.7 million refugees, 33.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), and close to 1.2 million individuals whose asylum applications had not yet been adjudicated by the end of the reporting period.
“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “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.”
The global total of 51.2 million forcibly displaced represents a huge number of people in need of help, with implications both for foreign aid budgets in donor nations and the absorption and hosting capacities of countries on the front lines of refugee crises, says UNHCR.
“The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African 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 South Korea,” said Mr. Guterres.
The annual report — this year subtitled War’s Human Cost is based on data compiled by governments, non-governmental partner organizations, and from the agency’s own records — notes that the Syrian crisis, entering into its third year in 2013, was the primary cause of these outflows, as highlighted by two dramatic milestones.
In August, the one millionth Syrian refugee child was registered; only a few weeks later, UNHCR announced that the number of Syrian refugees had passed two million. “The Syrian Arab Republic had moved from being the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country to being its second largest refugee-producing country — within a span of just five years,” states the report.
The annual survey also notes that 3.5 million refugees, or one-third of the global total, were residing in countries covered by UNHCR’s Asia and Pacific region. Of these, more than 2.4 million were Afghans (69 per cent) in Pakistan and Iran. Sub-Saharan Africa was host to more than 2.9 million, or one-quarter of all refugees, primarily from Somalia (778,400), Sudan (605,400), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (470,300), the Central African Republic (251,900), and Eritrea (198,700).
“On World Refugee Day…we honour the strength and resilience of the more than 50 million people around the world who have fled war, persecution and human rights abuses,” declared UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message, in which he noted that last year alone, more than 10 million people were newly displaced; every 15 minutes, a family was forced into flight.
“Let us renew our commitment to end armed conflict, and to help the people who have been forced to flee their homes. Even one family torn apart by war is too many,” he said.
Echoing that call were the UN chief’s five Special Representatives in Central Africa, who issued a joint appeal to end violence in the region and encouraged the governments to tackle the root causes of conflict and displacement.
Noting the report’s finding that in 2013, major new displacement was seen in Africa, especially in the Central African Republic and in South Sudan, they stressed: “In order to allow displaced people to return home, we need to join forces today, across the region.”
Together with UNHCR and the whole UN family, its partners in government and civil society can create durable peace and stability, with a safe home for everyone, for “one family torn apart by war is too many”.
“We call on all governments and parties in conflict in the region to cease all fighting and enable all refugees and displaced to return to their homes in safety and dignity,” they said.
The joint statement was issued on behalf of Abdoulaye Bathily, Special Representative and Head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa; Babacar Gaye, Special Representative and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic; Martin Kobler, Special Representative and Head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Hilde Johnson, Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan and Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Special Representative and Head of the UN Office in Burundi.
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