UN warns of worst refugee crisis in 20 years

The world is facing its worst refugee crisis for almost 20 years as conflicts in Syria, Mali and Sudan have forced thousands to flee their homes, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in its annual report.

By the end of 2012, some 45.2 million people worldwide had been displaced, the largest number since 1994, the year of the Rwandan genocide. The figure includes 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers and 28.8 million internally displaced people (IDPS) – those seeking refugee within the borders of their own country. “These truly are alarming numbers,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. “They reflect individual suffering on a huge scale and they reflect the difficulties of the internal community in preventing conflicts and promoting timely solutions for them.” An average of 3,000 people per day became refugees in 2012, five times more than in 2010, the UN said. The escalating crisis in Syria has contributed to these numbers, leading to 4.25 million Syrians being internally displaced and creating more than 1.6 million refugees. The UN this month launched the largest emergency appeal in its history - $5bn - as it warned that half the Syrian population will need humanitarian aid by the end of 2013. Aside from Syria, other hotspots include Afghanistan, the largest source of refugees, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. Worldwide, 1.1 million became refugees in 2012, and a further 6.5 million were internally displaced. A record 21,300 asylum applications in 2012 were from unaccompanied or separated children, the UN reported. Countries bearing the biggest burden of refugees were again in the developed world, with Pakistan and Iran playing host to 1.6 million and 868,200 people respectively. Developing countries host 8.5 million refugees, or 81 per cent of the world’s total. The report’s release coincided with World Refugee Day, a global event dedicated to raising awareness of forcibly displaced people.