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The Global Refugee Crisis Is Unprecedented and Getting Worse

Almost 60 million people — equivalent to one in every 122 people on the planet — are displaced by conflict or persecution, according to a new UN report, and things are only going to get worse.
Photo by STR/EPA

The number of people forced from their homes from violence, persecution or war has reached record levels, the United Nations warned on Thursday, with Syria overtaking Afghanistan to become the country more people flee from than any other.

The number of people forced from their homes by conflicts worldwide rose to 59.5 million last year, up from 51.2 million in 2013 — the equivalent to 42,500 per day, or one in every 122 people on the planet. If those 59.5 million people lived in one nation, noted the UN, that country would have the 24th largest population in the world.


More than half those displaced were children.

"We are witnessing a paradigm change," said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, "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."

Pointing to crises in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Burundi, and elsewhere, Guterres said he didn't expect any improvement in 2015.

"There is a multiplication of new crises," he said. "The Iraq-Syria crisis gained the dimension of a mega one… and at the same time the old crises have no solutions."

The report comes at a time when Europe is grappling with how to deal with a flood of new migrants crossing the Mediterranean to escape fighting in Syria, Libya, and elsewhere.

Watch the VICE News Documentary, Migrant Prisons of Libya: Europe or Die (Full Length).

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The 59.5 million figure worldwide incorporates 38.2 million people displaced within their own countries and 21.3 million who sought refuge abroad — a record since the UN began collecting numbers in the early 1950s. Syria alone accounted for 11.6 million of those people, the biggest single figure.

The agency counted nearly 3.9 million Syrian refugees in 107 countries last year, the fourth year of the country's civil war. That made the country the leading source of refugees — pushing Afghanistan, which had held that status for more than 30 years, down to second place with 2.6 million refugees.


Syria's northern neighbor, Turkey, became the world's biggest refugee host with 1.59 million refugees. Pakistan, which had held that position for more than a decade, was second with 1.51 million.

Over the course of last year, only 126,800 refugees returned to their home countries — the lowest number since 1983. The countries to which most people returned were Congo, Mali, and Afghanistan.

Guterres said he was alarmed by "a staggering acceleration" in the number of people being forced from their homes over recent years.

For many of those who have fled, home still beckons.

Maher Al Khedrawi, one of the many Syrians who have left for Turkey, said in a recent interview with the Associated Press that he looked forward to returning to his country, a sentiment he said was shared by millions of others. The 40-year-old warehouse supervisor rejects the label of "refugee."

"Hopefully, our home will be rebuilt and stabilized again," he said. "I'll be among the first people who go back. There is no place like home."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.