The United Nations refugee agency has said that at the end of last year more than 50 million people had been forced from their homes worldwide, the highest figure of displaced people since World War II.
In its annual Global Trends report, released on Friday, UNHCR said that out of the 51.2 million people displaced, half of them were children, many of whom were caught up in conflicts or persecutions that the agency said world powers were unable to prevent or end.
“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending war, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, adding that the UN Security Council was “paralysed in many crucial crises around the world”.
A record 25,300 unaccompanied children lodged asylum applications in 77 countries last year, according to UNHCR.
“We see a growing number of unaccompanied minors on all routes. We see them in the Mediterranean routes, we see them in the Caribbean route, through Mexico to the United States, we see them in the Afghan route into Iran, into Turkey, into Europe,” Guterres said. “We see them everywhere.”
The overall figure in the new report surged by six million from their tally at the end of 2012. It includes 16.7 million refugees and 33.3 million displaced within their homelands, and 1.2 million asylum seekers whose applications were pending.
Gutteres said that 86 percent of the world’s refugees live in the developing world. The data is compiled from government, non-government partner organisations and UNHCR’s own records.
According to the UNHCR, Syrians fleeing the escalating conflict accounted for most of the world’s 2.5 million new refugees last year.
In all, nearly three million Syrians have crossed into neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, while another 6.5 million remain displaced within Syria’s borders.
Conflicts that erupted this year in the Central African Republic, Ukraine and Iraq are driving more families from their homes, said Guterres.
Afghan, Syrian and Somali nationals accounted for 53 percent of the 11.7 million refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility, while five million Palestinians are looked after by the UNRWA.
And as Pakistan steps up its military offensive against the Taliban in the country, the local disaster management authority told Al Jazeera that it registered at least 76,623 people who were fleeing their homes in the tribal area of North Waziristan.
Desperate refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa have drowned after taking rickety boats from North Africa to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, mainly via Italy.
Italy’s rescue mission, called Mare Nostrum or “Our Sea”, has saved about 50,000 migrants already this year.
Italy will ask the European Union next week to take over responsibility for rescuing migrants, a task that is costing its navy $12.25m a month.