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Refugee numbers highest since WWII: UN

GENEVA--The number of people driven from their homes by conflict and crisis has topped 50 million for the first time since World War II, with Syrians hardest hit, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said Friday.

The UNHCR said there were 51.2 million forcibly displaced people at the end of 2013, a full six million higher than the previous year.

“The numbers we are announcing today do not represent good news. On the contrary, they represent a quantum leap in forced displacement around the world,” said UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres.

“For the first time since the Second World War we had in 2013 more than 50 million people displaced by conflict or by persecution, either crossing borders or within the borders of their country,” he told reporters during a visit to Lebanon.

Lebanon and other countries neighboring Syria have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis sparked by that nation's civil war.

The civil war in Syria is largely to blame for the global increase, the UNHCR said in its annual report, released on World Refugee Day.

Since the conflict erupted in March 2011, a total of 2.5 million people have fled Syria, with 6.5 million more displaced inside the country.

The Central African Republic and South Sudan crises have also sparked new waves of displacement, while enduring violence in Afghanistan and Somalia has continued to feed the numbers.

“The world has shown a very limited capacity to prevent conflicts and to find a timely solution for them,” said Guterres.

“And so since conflicts erupt, impunity and unpredictability become the name of the game, and the consequences are dramatic for those millions and millions of people suffering so much,” he added.

The spiraling numbers have huge implications for aid budgets, and place massive strains on nations on the front-lines of refugee crises, the UNHCR said.

Its data covers three groups: refugees, asylum-seekers, and the internally displaced.

Refugee numbers reached 16.7 million people worldwide, the highest since 2001.

“The number of new refugees last year was 2.5 million, the highest number since the Rwanda genocide,” of 1994, Guterres noted.

A total of 6.3 million have been exiled for over five years, the agency said, not including five million Palestinians aided by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, a separate body.

Overall, the biggest refugee populations under UNHCR care came from Afghanistan, Syrian and Somalia, who together form over half the global total.

The world's top refugee hosts were Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon.

The regions with the largest refugee populations were Asia and the Pacific, with a total of 3.5 million.

Sub-Saharan Africa totaled 2.9 million and the Middle East and North Africa, 2.6 million.

Shirking Responsibility

With most refugees hosted by poorer countries, human rights campaign group Amnesty International said rich nations must do far more to shoulder the load.

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