War, violence and persecution left one in every 122 humans on the planet a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum at the end of last year, according to a stark UN report that warns the world is failing the victims of an “age of unprecedented mass displacement”.
The report also notes that the wealthy countries are relying overwhelmingly on poorer states to take in those who have been forced to abandon their homelands: in 2014, 86% of refugees were in regions or countries deemed economically less developed.
The annual global trends study by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, finds that the level of worldwide displacement is higher than ever before, with a record 59.5 million people living exiled from their homes at the end of 2014.
UNHCR estimates that an average of 42,500 men, women and children became refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced people every day last year – a four-fold increase in just four years.
By the end of 2014, there were 19.5 million refugees – more than half of them children – 38.2 million internally displaced people and 1.8 million asylum-seekers. Were the 59.5 million to be counted as the population of a single country, it would be the 24th largest in the world and one with about the same number of people as Italy.
UNHCR says the four-year war in Syria is the single largest driver of displacement: by the end of 2014, the conflict had forced 3.88 million Syrians to live as refugees in the Middle East and beyond, and left 7.6 million more internally displaced. In blunter terms, one in every five displaced persons worldwide last year was Syrian.
The UN high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, said that although the world was experiencing “an unchecked slide” into an era of massive forced global displacement, it seemed unwilling to tackle the causes.
“It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is [a] seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace,” he said.
Twenty years ago, developing regions hosted about 70% of the world’s refugees; last year, countries ranked least developed by the UN were home to 3.6 million refugees – or 25% of the global total.
Guterres called on the international community to show resolve, tolerance and a proper financial commitment to helping those most in need.