A major new report has revealed that the numbers of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has soared to 50 million for the first time since World War II.
The figure is contained in the latest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Global Trends report, which was published yesterday. The report shows that 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2013, an increase of six million people on 2012.
"We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. "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."
The report's headline figure includes 16.7 million refugees, 33.3 million people who are classed as internally displaced, as well as 1.1 million asylum seekers. Overall the Global Trends report showed that the biggest refugee populations under UNHCR care are Afghans, Syrians and Somalis, who together account for more than half of the global refugee total. However, it is based on data gathered before the renewed conflict in Iraq.
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. Non-traditional donors need to step up alongside traditional donors. As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of medium-to-large countries such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or South Korea."
The "massive" increase in refugee numbers was primarily put down to the conflict in Syria.
According to the UNHCR the Syrian conflict had made 2.5 million people refugees by the end of last year, in addition to major new displacements in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Earlier this year, the UNHCR's top Middle East trouble-shooter Amin Awad told the Independent that the international community would be "haunted by a generation of human suffering" if it failed to assist the millions of Syrian refugees in need.
A total of 11.7 million refugees are under UNHCR care and 86 per cent of all refugees worldwide are hosted by developing countries, compared with 70 per cent a decade ago.
"The world is in the grip of a refugee crisis of catastrophic proportions which we ignore at our peril," said Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren.
"We should not fool ourselves into believing this is someone else's problem; this is a global crisis which requires global solutions.
He added: "The UK and wider EU must stand in solidarity with developing countries who host the majority of the world's refugees by offering another path to safety through increasing the number of resettlement places we offer."