War across large swaths of the Middle East and Africa in the first six months of 2014 forcibly displaced some 5.5 million people, signalling yet another record, the United Nations reported Jan. 7. The UN refugee refugee agency, UNHCR, in its new Mid-Year Trends 2014 Report finds that of the 5.5 million who were newly displaced, 1.4 million fled across international borders, officially becoming refugees. The rest were displaced within their own countries, and are known as internally displaced persons (IDPs). The new data brings the number of people being helped by UNHCR to 46.3 million as of mid-2014—some 3.4 million more than at the end of 2013 and a new record high.
"In 2014, we have seen the number of people under our care grow to unprecedented levels. As long as the international community continues to fail to find political solutions to existing conflicts and to prevent new ones from starting, we will continue to have to deal with the dramatic humanitarian consequences," UNHCR head António Guterres said in a statement. "The economic, social and human cost of caring for refugees and the internally displaced is being borne mostly by poor communities, those who are least able to afford it."
Among the report's main findings are that Syrians, for the first time, have become the largest refugee population under UNHCR's mandate, overtaking Afghans, who had held that position for more than three decades. (Palestinians fall under the care of the UN Relief and Works Agency.) At more than 3 million as of June 2014, Syrian refugees now account for 23% of all refugees being helped by UNHCR worldwide.
Despite dropping to second place, the 2.7 million Afghan refugees worldwide remain the largest protracted (at least five years) refugee population under UNHCR care. After Syria and Afghanistan, the leading countries of origin for refugees are Somalia (1.1 million), Sudan (670,000), South Sudan (509,000), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (493,000), Myanmar (480,000) and Iraq (426,000).
Pakistan, which hosts 1.6 million Afghan refugees, remains the biggest host country in absolute terms. Other countries with large refugee populations are Lebanon (1.1 million), Iran (982,000), Turkey (824,000), Jordan (737,000), Ethiopia (588,000), Kenya (537,000) and Chad (455,000). (UN News Centre, UNHCR, Jan. 7)