• A refugee camp housing Syrians in Jordan. (File: AAP)
The number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people has surged to more than 50 million people, the first time since the post-World War II period.
By
Lin Taylor with AAP

20 Jun 2014 - 3:51 PM  UPDATED 20 Jun 2014 - 8:19 PM

 

The number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people has surged to more than 50 million people, the first time since the post-World War II.

In its annual report Global Trends, refugee agency UNHCR found there were 51.2 million people who were forcibly displaced by the end of 2013.

In more visual terms, that's enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground 512 times over.

This number has jumped by six million since 2012, which saw around 45.2 million refugees worldwide.

The increase was largely driven by the civil war in Syria from which 2.5 million people fled to Neighbouring countries and another 6.5 million displaced inside its borders.

Unrest in Africa, especially in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, also contributed to the rise. Afghans, Syrians and Somalis together made up more than half the number of global refugees.

(Source: UNHCR)

“As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of countries such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or South Korea,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

"There is this idea that refugees are all fleeing north and that the objective is not exactly to find protection but to find a better life," he said.

"The truth is that 86 per cent of the world's refugees live in the developing world."

Major host countries of refugees at the end-2013 (UNHCR)

The UNHCR said the huge swell of refugees has major implications on foreign aid budgets of donor nations, and the hosting capacities of neighbouring countries.

“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

“Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.”

Decreases in global peacefulness over past seven years

The Global Peace Index found that the economic cost of global violence reached more than $10 trillion or more than $1,300 per person in 2013. 

Global peacefulness fell over the past seven years, overturning a trend, which saw global peacefulness rise over the last 60 years, since the end of World War Two.

Syria was ranked the least peaceful country in the world. Brasil fell 10 places on the index to 91 and South Sudan dropped the most, slinking 16 places to 160.

“The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere,” said Mr Guterres.

Thousands of refugee children travel alone

Humanitarian aid organisation Save the Children has also reported that over 9,000 child refugees and immigrants have arrived in Italy by boat so far this year, with over a third travelling alone.

Of the over 58,000 people who have made the perilous journey from the coast of North Africa across the Mediterranean, 3,160 were unaccompanied minors, the organisation said in a report.

The majority of the accompanied minors - many of whom were under five years old - were Syrian, and most were landing in Italy after long and dangerous journeys though Libya, where they are exposed to "persecution, theft, threats and violence."

Factbox: Global refugee trends

  • Total number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people topped more than 50 million in 2013 for the first time since World War II.
  • Six million increase on 2012.
  • Syrian civil war and unrest in Central African Republic and South Sudan major drivers of increase.
  • Afghans, Syrians and Somalis account for biggest refugee populations
  • Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon top three host countries for refugees.
  • UNHCR recorded 3.5 million stateless people.
  • Asia and the Pacific have the largest overall refugee population at 3.5 million.