According to data gathered by Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) over the course of 2014, the number of people forcibly displaced during the reporting year swelled to a staggering 59.5 million people compared to the 51.2 million from the previous year. The figures, collected by the UN agency for its latest Global Trends: World at War, suggest that one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, says UNHCR, it would be the world’s 24th largest.
“We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres declared in a press release issued earlier today and marking the report's release.
“It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace,” he added.
In a detailed analysis exploring the range of conflicts that have given rise to the current mass diaspora of refugees, the UNHCR report notes that in the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited.
In Africa, the outbursts of hostilities, many of which are sectarian in nature, have consumed eight countries, including Côte d'Ivoire, the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and, more recently, Burundi. In the Middle East, Syria, Iraq and Yemen remain ablaze while, in Europe, Ukraine has spawned a displacement crisis subsuming more than more than 1.3 million people, mostly across the country's eastern provinces of Dinetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkivska. In Asia, meanwhile, the unresolved tensions in Kyrgyzstan and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan, continue to force people across the countries' borders.
The plethora of crises and conflicts, observes the UN study, has also provoked a dangerous and worsening trend in irregular migration as millions of refugees around the world are pushed into an uncomfortable and deadly dynamic with human traffickers and smugglers as they seek passage to safety.
Sea crossings from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe have surged with the most recent official figures showing that as of 8 June a total of 103,000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Europe: 54,000 in Italy, 48,000 in Greece, 91 on Malta and 920 in Spain. This includes record numbers of refugees landing daily in the Greek islands. Meanwhile, the overall forced displacement numbers in Europe for the 2014 reporting period totalled an overwhelming 6.7 million.
Half way around the world, the refugee situation in Asia is equally tragic. In its report, UNHCR explains that Asia has long been one of the world's major displacement producing regions and, in 2014, the numbers of internally displaced across the continent grew by 31 per cent to 9 million people. The ongoing plight of the Rohingya from Myanmar's Rakhine state and in the Kachin and Northern Shan regions has similarly produced a maritime refugee crisis.
Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria, near the town of Kobani. The war that erupted in Syria in 2011 has propelled it into becoming the world's single largest driver of displacement. © UNHCR/I.Prickett
Nyakong, 22, has been hiding in a village with her family and their cows near Nasir in war-torn South Sudan for months. The village is unsafe, but the floodwaters are too high to bring her three young children to Leitchuor refugee camp in Ethiopia. 'We've survived by just drinking cow's milk,' she says. In the past five years, eight conflicts have erupted or reignited in Africa alone. © UNHCR/C.Tijerina
A young Rohingya from Rakhine state in Myanmar cleans and packages the day's catch at a local 'fish house' in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh. Rohingya children learn to work in the fishing industry at a young age to help support the family, often at the expense of an education. © UNHCR/S.H.Omi
Zeinab*, 22, from Borno State in Nigeria, fled when insurgents attacked her home area in January 2014. Both her parents were shot when they attempted to escape, but she and her siblings managed to scramble in different directions. They are still separated. *Name changed for protection reasons © UNHCR/H.Caux
Hundreds of internally displaced people gather at Bangui's M'poko International Airport in the Central African Republic. In the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited around the world, eight of them in Africa – Côte d'Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and, most recently, Burundi. © UNHCR/A.Greco
Yurvi and Tatiana stand in the ruins of their home in Nikishino, eastern Ukraine. The couple's home was hit during fighting in the village and was completely destroyed. Outbreak of conflict in eastern Ukraine had a major impact on 2014 displacement figures, in view of the fact that 271,200 or close to 99 per cent of claims in the Russian Federation were lodged by Ukrainians. © UNHCR/A.McConnell
Mohammed, 22, was injured in March 2013 when his family home in Syria was destroyed by government shelling. His uncle was killed and many of his family were injured in the same incident. He now lives as a refugee with his wife and young child in Tripoli, Lebanon. Initially, he only lost one arm, but due to bad care in the beginning his second arm became infected and had to be amputated. He hopes to receive asylum in Denmark so that he can have prosthetic arms fitted. During 2014, one in every five displaced persons worldwide was Syrian. © UNHCR/I.Prickett
A mother nurses her sick son at Mahad camp for the internally displaced in Juba, South Sudan. Mahad camp is home to around 2,500 internally displaced, mostly made up of Murle people from Jonglei who arrived in February and March 2014. The conflict in South Sudan, which erupted in December 2013, has displaced more than 1.5 million individuals within the country. © UNHCR/A.McConnell
Gowre, from Sinjar, lives on the seventh floor of an unfinished apartment block in 'Daben City', Dohuk, a housing estate with five buildings filled with more than 7,000 internally displaced Yazidis. During winter, many people living in open-sided concrete shells have only plastic sheeting, foam mattresses and blankets to protect them from the freezing rain and bitter temperatures. © UNHCR/D.Nahr
Dominique*, who was raped by insurgents, sits in the small room where she is sheltering with a local host family in Kanteba village, Katanga Province, DRC. Often-overlooked, Africa's numerous conflicts together produced immense forced displacement totals in 2014, on a scale only marginally lower than in the Middle East. In all, sub-Saharan Africa had 3.7 million refugees and 11.4 million internally displaced people, 4.5 million of whom were newly displaced in 2014. *Name changed for protection reasons © UNHCR/B.Sokol
In Syria, two generations of Homs residents attempt to rebuild their lives among the ruins. Worldwide displacement from wars, conflict and persecution is at the highest levels ever recorded by UNHCR and accelerating fast. © UNHCR/B.Diab
An extended family of Afghan asylum-seekers, newly arrived on Greece's Lesvos Island, wait on the beach for police to register them. From here, they will continue onto Athens. Decades-old instability and conflict in places like Afghanistan means that millions of people remain either on the move or – and increasingly common – stranded for years on the edge of society facing the crippling uncertainty of being long-term internally displaced or refugees. The second largest source country for refugees is Afghanistan. © UNHCR/G.Moutafis
Somali refugee children learn English at a primary school in Kobe refugee camp near Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. Children below the age of 18 constituted 52 per cent of the refugee population in 2014, up from 41 per cent in 2009 and the highest figure in more than a decade. Somalia is the third largest source-country for refugees. © UNHCR/J.Ose
Angolan refugees, some of whom had been living in exile in the Democratic Republic of Congo for up to 40 years, journey back to their homeland by train from Kinshasa. Over the course of 2014, 126,800 refugees returned to their country of origin. This figure was the lowest level of refugee returns since 1983. © UNHCR/B.Sokol
Maritza, 49, is internally displaced in Buenaventura, Colombia. As one of 120 core volunteers working with the Nansen Award-winning ‘Butterflies with New Wings’ network, she works to empower women throughout the region. Colombia continues to have one of the world’s largest internally displaced populations, totaling six million people, with 137,000 Colombians being newly displaced during 2014. © UNHCR/J. Arredondo
Last year, the number of people leaving Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat is estimated to have climbed to around 53,000. Some 920 migrants are known to have perished in the Bay of Bengal between September 2014 and March this year.
Against that backdrop, the alarming figures detailing the global refugee situation and released today by UNHCR is ultimately compounded by the agency's grim confirmation that over half of the world's total refugees are children.
“With huge shortages of funding and wide gaps in the global regime for protecting victims of war, people in need of compassion, aid and refuge are being abandoned,” Mr. Guterres continued.
“For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.”