5 Key Takeaways From Startling Global Refugee Report

Number of refugees has passed 50 million for first time since World War II.

Ugandan refugees live in crowded tent cities. More than a million and a half people have become refugees in the country.


The number of people forced to flee their homes around the world has passed 50 million for the first time since the Second World War, the United Nations warns in a report timed for World Refugee Day on June 20.

"Imagine being the mother of a sick and hungry child and having to decide between risking your life staying in a conflict or leaving behind everything in search of safety," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says on it's website.

The international agency provides tents, shelter, supplies, and lifesaving services to 34 million refugees and internally displaced people.

Here are some key takeaways from the commissioner's latest global trends report:

1. Numbers of refugees have swelled.

"We are witnessing a quantum leap in forced displacement in the world," António Guterres, head of the UN's refugee commission, told the Guardian.

The agency's latest figures, from 2013, counted 51.2 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people. If all those people were citizens of a single country, it would be the 26th most populous.

Of that total, 16.7 million were international refugees, 33.3 million were internally displaced persons, and 1.2 million were asylum seekers.

The total is up from 45.2 million refugees in 2012, according to the UN's previous report.

The increase was largely driven by the war in Syria, where 2.5 million people have fled the country and 6.5 million were internally displaced, representing more than 40 percent of the country's population. (See "Syria: The Chaos of War" in National Geographic magazine and "Five Things I Learned in Syrian Refugee Camps.")

Conflicts in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Nigeria, and the ongoing turmoil in Somalia also played a role.

Other contributing factors include: climate change, population growth, urbanization, and food and water insecurity, which often influence each other.

2. More than half of the refugees are children.

About 80 percent of the world's refugees are women and children, according to the UN and, in 2013, about half were children, the highest figure in a decade.

Many of the young travel without adults, seeking help. But they frequently fall victim to human traffickers, the UN warns, where they are forced into labor or the sex trade.

In 2013, more than 25,000 unaccompanied children requested asylum in 77 countries, the highest number on record since such statistics began to be collected in 2006.

The highest number of those children came from Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Somalia.

A mother and daughter sit in a camp in Suola, Ethiopia, near the Eritrean border in the northeastern part of the country. They have fled food shortages and lingering drought at home.


3. Aid agencies are near the breaking point.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is providing care for 34 million refugees around the world, but the agency says it needs more resources.

In 2013, an average of 32,200 people a day fled their homes, up from 23,400 in 2012 and 14,200 in 2011. This influx has put "humanitarian organizations under tremendous stress," said Guterres in the Guardian interview.

Some agencies have had to reduce food rations in refugee camps as a result of a growing funding gap.

4. Developing countries host most of the refugees.

Developing countries in 2013 hosted 86 percent of the world's refugees, the highest in more than two decades, and up from 70 percent 10 years ago.

The biggest hosts were Pakistan (1.6 million), Iran (857,400), Lebanon (856,500), Jordan (641,900), and Turkey (609,900).

Lebanon hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its population, with 178 refugees per thousand inhabitants. That's the highest relative burden on a country since 1980. Next were Jordan (88) and Chad (34).

5. More than half of the refugees came from just three countries.

Some 53 percent of all refugees worldwide came from just three countries:

Afghanistan (2.56 million), Syria (2.47 million), and Somalia (1.12 million). These countries have continued to experience conflict and lack of security.

"One family torn apart by war is too many," the UN commissioner concludes.

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