UN: Syria, Mali crises push global refugee count to 18-year high
The number of refugees around the world rose to a 18-year record of 45.2 million last year, fueled by conflicts in Syria, Mali and other mostly African hot spots, the UN refugee agency reported Wednesday in Geneva, dpa reported.
Some 7.6 million people were forced to flee their homes last year, at a rate of one every 4 seconds, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in its annual report.
"These truly are alarming numbers," High Commissioner Antonio Guterres said. "They reflect individual suffering on a huge scale and they reflect the difficulties of the international community in preventing conflicts and promoting timely solutions for them."
Most of those who had to flee in 2011 stayed inside their own countries.
In Syria, the number of internally displaced people has climbed to 4.25 million, compared to 1.6 million who have fled the country. The UNHCR highlighted the fate of displaced children, who account for nearly half of the world's refugees.
Some 21,300 children fled their countries without their parents or relatives last year.
Many were Afghan children who traveled alone for thousands of kilometres to seek asylum in European countries like Sweden, Germany and Austria.
Afghans remained the biggest external refugee group worldwide last year at 2.6 million, followed by Somalis, Iraqis, Syrians and Sudanese.
The vast majority of refugees find shelter in developing countries.
Pakistan was the world's largest host country last year, with 1.6 million refugees, followed by Iran, Germany, Kenya and Syria, where many Iraqis live.
Besides Syria, crises in several African countries produced new waves of refugees.
An estimated 370,000 people in Mali fled within the country or across borders as Islamist rebel groups occupied the country's north, following a military coup in March 2012.
Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the border between Sudan and South Sudan added large numbers to the global refugee count.