World Refugee Day: 50m displaced for first time since Second World War

The number of people who have fled their homes because of war, conflict or persecution has hit 50million for the first time since the Second World War.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR revealed the figure today on World Refugee Day.

Its annual Global Trends report shows that 51.2million were forcibly displaced from their homes at the end of 2013 – six million more than the previous year.

UNHCR says almost half of the world’s forcibly displaced people are children and many spend their entire childhood far from home. They miss out on education and are at greater risk of violence, exploitation, trafficking and forced military recruitment.

The war in Syria was the major reason for the increased in displaced people – forcing 2.5million into becoming refugees and 6.5million internally displaced within the country. Africa also saw significant rises in displacement, mainly in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

The 51.2million total is made up of 16.7million refugees, 33.3million internally displaced people and 1.2million asylum-seekers – of which 25,000 were unaccompanied or separated children.

These figures include vast numbers of children who are not receiving a basic education or are being taught in makeshift schools.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said: “We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict.

“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.”

World Refugee Day events are being held today in more than 100 countries as people take time to recognise displaced people and refugees. The theme of this year’s World Refugee Day is “One family torn apart by war is too many.”

Mr Guterres added: “The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere.

Saafa, 12, in a class for Syrian refugees in Erbil, Iraq Picture: ©UNICEF/Noorani

“Non-traditional donors need to step up alongside traditional donors. As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of medium-to-Iarge countries such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or South Korea,” said Guterres.

One in four people living in Lebanon are Syrian refugees. Half of those are children, many of whom are missing out on an education and the chance of a bright future.

Tens of thousands more young people are pouring out of Iraqi cities with their families to escape the threat of the advancing ISIS militants.

Then add in the millions internally displaced in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Myanmar, Colombia. Another 260,000 internally displaced people in northern Nigeria who have fled the threat of Boko Haram. The list goes on.

The figures are almost too big to comprehend. And every one of those statistics is a human story. Children who have lost family members and friends and are missing their schools and their teachers.

In Syria, more than 4000 schools have been destroyed, damaged or turned into shelters for displaced people. Nearly three million Syrian children – inside and outside the country – are not at school. That’s over 40% of the school-age population.

Just under 90,000 Syrian refugee children are now at school in Lebanon – another 260,000 still need support getting there.

UNICEF has helped 290,000 children enrol in learning programmes in Syria and 66,000 in Lebanon. But much more needs to be done. 

Mohammed is a 12-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan. He wants to go to school but as the only son of two ill parents he works 12-hour shifts in a sweet shop to help his family.

He told the Children of Syria website: “I used to study in Syria – I went to school. I used to be able to write. Here, I forgot everything. I can’t even hold my pencil.

“I was hoping to go to school. But instead I’m working.”

Mohammed added: “Sometimes I want to cry. I show nothing.”

Click here to find out how you can donate to the children of Syria here.