At least 51.2 million people are now living under forced displacement, a U.N. agency says, announcing its tally of people who are seeking refuge or asylum, or who are internally displaced. It's the first time the number has topped 50 million since World War II.
The figures mean that worldwide, the number of displaced people is roughly equivalent to the entire population of nations such as Spain and South Korea. If all of them were put into one country, it would be the 26th largest in the world, the U.N. says.
The data come from the new Global Report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, reflecting a snapshot taken at the end of 2013. In that year, children made up half of the world's refugee population, the report found.
The tally reflects an annual rise of 6 million. As things stand now, the number may go up even further in 2014, as new violence in northern Iraq has led hundreds of thousands to flee.
"We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a news release Friday. "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."
The figures include 10.7 million people who were newly displaced by violence or persecution.
The U.N. says more than half of the world's refugees came from just three countries:
- Afghanistan: 2.56 million people
- Syria: 2.47 million
- Somalia: 1.12 million
Here's how the agency breaks down the 51.2 million total:
- 16.7 million are refugees
- 33.3 million are internally displaced
- 1.2 million are seeking asylum
Three countries took in the most displaced people, the U.N. says: Pakistan (1.6 million), Iran (857,400) and Lebanon (856,500).
The new report comes a year after the U.N. found "suffering on a huge scale," Guterres said in 2013.