Syria's annual exodus the largest since Kosovo war

An ambulance takes children away from clashes in Sidon, Lebanon, in the latest apparent outbreak of violence between Lebanese factions supporting opposing sides in the civil war in neighboring Syria. Photo / AP
An ambulance takes children away from clashes in Sidon, Lebanon, in the latest apparent outbreak of violence between Lebanese factions supporting opposing sides in the civil war in neighboring Syria. Photo / AP

Almost 650,000 refugees fled Syria's civil war in 2012 - the largest exodus of people in a year since the Kosovo war.

And without a resolution to the conflict soon, that number could double by the end of the year, UN High Commissioner for Refugees regional representative Richard Towle says.

New figures from the UNHCR show an extra 7.6 million people were displaced globally in 2012, including 1.1 million new refugees, mainly due to conflicts or persecution.

By the end of 2012, there were 45.2 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, of which 15.4 million were refugees.

Mr Towle says Syria's civil war forced 647,000 to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Jordan.

That's the highest number of new arrivals in a single year since 1999, at the height of Balkans crisis.

"Unless some serious peace resolution takes place in the next coming month, we could see a doubling of that figure by the end of the year,'' Mr Towle told AAP.

Of the 88,600 refugees resettled in 2012, Australia took 5,900 while the United States, which resettled the most refugees by far, accepted 66,300.

An average of 23,000 people were forced to leave their homes and seek protection every day in 2012.

But most of those people turned to developing countries, who hosted over 80 per cent of the world's refugees.

Pakistan was host to the largest number of refugees worldwide, with 1.6 million people, followed by Iran, who hosted more than 850,000 refugees.

"It's difficult for them to look after their own community let alone help out millions of people over their borders and yet they do it,'' Mr Towle said.

He said it was paradoxical that the issue of asylum seekers was so hotly debated in Australia, considering the relatively low number of boat arrivals.

- AAP

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