Sharp increase in numbers of people forced out of homes due to conflict, persecution
More than half of the nearly 60 million people worldwide who are forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflicts and persecutions are children, according to a United Nations report.
The 2014 figure, reported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is up significantly from 51 million in 2013.
UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report: World at War, released on Thursday, said that worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded. It said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.
In 2014, a daily average of 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced persons.
The report said the situation was likely to worsen still further.
"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," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
Since early 2011, the main reason for the acceleration has been the war in Syria, now the world’s single-largest driver of displacement.
The UNHCR report detailed how in region after region, the number of refugees and internally displaced people is on the rise. In the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited: eight in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and this year in Burundi); three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); one in Europe (Ukraine) and three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan).
Decades-old instability and conflict in Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere means that millions of people remain on the move or—as is increasingly common—stranded for years on the edge of society as long-term internally displaced or refugees, the report said.
One of the most recent and highly visible consequences of the world’s conflicts and the terrible suffering they cause has been the dramatic growth in the numbers of refugees seeking safety through dangerous sea journeys, including on the Mediterranean, in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, and in Southeast Asia.
With a record 219,000 Mediterranean crossings from North Africa to Europe, and many of those fleeing meeting a watery death, the problem has gotten the attention of Pope Francis, who traveled to the Italian island of Lampedusa, a destination for many of the migrants, to try to raise awareness.
A day before the report’s release, Pope Francis noted that Saturday is World Refugee Day.
"We pray for the many brothers and sisters who seek refuge far from their native lands, who seek a home where they can live without fear: that they might always be respected in their dignity," the Pope said during his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square. "I encourage the work of those who bring help to those in need, and it is my hope that the international community should act in a fitting and effective way to prevent the causes of forced migration."