refugees

Any way you look at it, the post-World War II era has never seen a refugee crisis on the scale of 2014

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency’s annual report, last year saw the total number of forcibly displaced persons rise to 59.5 million, an all-time high. That figure includes 38.2 million were displaced internally due to conflict, general violence, and human rights violations  also a record figure since such data began to be recorded in 1989. In 2014 alone, 13.9 million people were displaced due to conflict or persecution alone. More than half of refugees worldwide are children.

The primary driver of this nearly unprecedented level of human suffering was the civil war in Syria, now in its fifth year. For more than 30 years, Afghanistan had been the world’s largest source of refugees, but in 2014 Syria overtook it to claim the top spot. By year’s end, 7.6 million Syrians had been displaced within the country’s borders. In 2014 alone, 1.55 million Syrians fled the country, bringing the total number of Syrian refugees to 3.9 million. Today, one out of every four refugees is Syrian.

In this Jan. 31, 2014, file photo released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), residents of the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, queue to receive food supplies. Conditions in the camp have deteriorated since Islamic State militants muscled their way into it in early April 2015. The militants are trying to consolidate their hold on the camp. (AP Photo/UNRWA, File)

In this Jan. 31, 2014, file photo released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), residents of the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, queue to receive food supplies. Conditions in the camp have deteriorated since Islamic State militants muscled their way into it in early April 2015. The militants are trying to consolidate their hold on the camp. (AP Photo/UNRWA, File)

The Syrian crisis contributed to another milestone: Turkey is now home to the world’s single largest refugee population of 1.59 million. Pakistan had previously held that distinction but slipped to second place in 2014, with 1.51 refugees. The Syrian civil war has placed an enormous strain on surrounding countries, which have absorbed 95 percent of those who have fled. The war has also contributed to Europe’s foremost refugee crisis: Of the 219,000 who attempted to cross the Mediterranean, nearly half were Syrians.

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Moreover, as fighting in Syria has continued and the Islamic State militant group has established a foothold there and expanded east, Iraq has seen its own refugee numbers worsen. In 2014, another 2.6 million Iraqis were displaced, bringing the total to 3.6 million.

Elsewhere in the world, the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and government forces saw just short of 230,000 Ukrainians take refuge in Russia. Renewed fighting in South Sudan displaced 1.5 million within that country. Half a million South Sudanese fled the country in 2014. Fighting in Congo displaced another million people there. With the government of Pakistan carrying out an offensive in the tribal areas against Islamist militants, some 283,500 people fled into Afghanistan.

And even as the government in Colombia carried out peace talks with the FARC rebel group to end a half-century civil war, another 137,000 Colombians were displaced, bringing the country’s total of internally displaced persons to 6 million.

Resolving the persistent civil wars of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa would go a long way toward improving the global refugee crisis. Taken together, the top three sources of refugees — Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia — constitute 53 percent of refugees worldwide.

But 2014 saw another record broken that indicates the world’s refugee population is unlikely to soon markedly decrease. A mere 126,800 refugees were able to return home in 2014, the lowest number of returnees in 30 years.

Between the civil war in Syria, the spread of the Islamic State into Iraq, continued fighting in eastern Ukraine, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, 2014 was a year of dire warnings about the state of the world order….(read more)

Foreign Policy