United Nations statistics show Syrians as the single largest number of refugees worldwide for the first half of last year with four African countries accounting for another 2.6 million of the more than 5.5 million people forcibly displaced by war across large parts of the Middle East and Africa.
Somalia is the leading African country of origin of refugees at 1.1 million, followed by Sudan (670 000), South Sudan (509 000) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (493 000).
Three African countries – Ethiopia, Kenya and Chad – are included in the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) top eight refugee host countries. Between them they provided refuge to just over 1.5 million displaced people in the first six months of 2014.
War and conflict across large swathes of the Middle East and Africa forcibly displaced over 5.5 million people, signalling yet another record, according to the UNHCR.
Its new Mid-Year Trends 2014 Report reveals that of the 5.5 million who were newly displaced, 1.4 million fled across international borders to become refugees, while the rest were displaced within their own countries (becoming IDPs or internally displaced persons).
The new data brings the number of people being helped by the 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,” António Guterres, head of UNHCR, said.
“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.”
Guterres said enhanced international solidarity is a must to avoid the risk of more and more vulnerable people being left without proper support.
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.
As of June 2014, the three million 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 refugee population under UNHCR care. Following that, the leading countries of origin of 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 (580 000), Kenya (537 000) and Chad (455 000).
Relative to the sizes of their populations, Lebanon and Jordan host the largest number of refugees, while relative to the sizes of their economies the burdens carried by Ethiopia and Pakistan are greatest.
Another major finding in the report is the shift in the regional distribution of refugee populations from Asia and the Pacific and now as a result of the crisis in Syria, the Middle East and North Africa.
UNHCR’s report is based on data from governments and the organisation’s worldwide offices. It does not show total forced displacement globally. Those figures are presented in June each year in UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report, which as of end 2013 showed that 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide.