Middle East conflict stokes growth in world’s displaced

In total, there were 13 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate by mid-2014, the highest since 1996

The number of new people forced to flee violence around the globe rose to an estimated 5.5 million during the first half of 2014, as large areas of the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere suffered war and conflict, the UNHCR said Wednesday.

In total, there were 13 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate by mid-2014, the highest since 1996, while the overall number of internally displaced people protected or helped by the agency reached a new high of 26 million.

The Mid-Year Trends 2014 report indicated that out of the 5.5 million people newly displaced during the period, 1.4 million fled their countries and became refugees, with the remaining displaced within their own nations. At the end of the first half, UNHCR was providing assistance to 46.3 million people, a record high and around 3.4 million more than at the end of 2013.

“In 2014 we have seen the number of people under our care grow to unprecedented levels. As long as the international community continues to fail to find political solutions to existing conflicts and to prevent new ones from starting, we will continue to have to deal with the dramatic humanitarian consequences,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a statement. "The economic, social and human cost of caring for refugees and the internally displaced is being borne mostly by poor communities, those who are least able to afford it. Enhanced international solidarity is a must if we want to avoid the risk of more and more vulnerable people being left without proper support," he added.

The report also found Syrians became, for the first time, the biggest refugee community under the agency’s mandate, excluding Palestinians. The number of Syrian refugees exceeded Afghans, who have represented the largest displaced population for more than three decades.

As of mid-2014, there were more than three million Syrian refugees, representing 23 per cent of all refugees supported by UNHCR globally.

While Afghan refugees fell behind Syrian, they were still the largest protracted refugee population under UNHCR care.

Following Syrian and Afghanistan, the top countries of origin of refugees were Somalia with 1.1 million, Sudan with 670,000, South Sudan with 509,000, the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 493,000, Myanmar with 480,000 and Iraq with 426,000.

When it comes to host countries, Pakistan held its position as the biggest host country, providing refuge for 1.6 million Afghas. Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Chad were also countries with large refugee populations.

Among host countries, the UNHCR considers Lebanon and Jordan to be hosting the largest number of refugees relative to their size, while Pakistan and Ethiopia carry the biggest financial burdens based on the size of their economies.