GENEVA — The number of people displaced by violent conflict hit the highest level since World War II at the end of 2013, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, António Guterres, said in a report released today, warning that “peace is dangerously in deficit.”
Pushed up dramatically by the war in Syria, the total number of people displaced by violence reached more than 51 million at the end of 2013, according to the agency’s “Global Trends” report for the year. This included 33.3 million people who fled violence but remained in their own country and 16.7 million refugees who fled to neighboring countries, it said.
“We are not facing an increasing trend; we are really facing a quantum leap,” Guterres told reporters in Geneva, noting that close to 11 million people were newly displaced in 2013.
Half the world’s population of displaced people are children, he added, the highest level in a decade.
“There is no humanitarian response able to solve the problems of so many people,” he warned. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to find the capacity and resources to deal with so many people in such tragic circumstances.”
Moreover, the impact of conflicts raging this year in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ukraine and now Iraq threatens to push levels of displacement even higher by the end of 2014, he said.
“What this demonstrates is that the international community today has very limited capacity to prevent conflicts and to find timely solutions,” Guterres said, spotlighting the failure of global powers to work effectively together. “We see the Security Council paralyzed in many crucial crises.”
To make matters worse, the consequences of past conflicts “never seem to die,” Guterres said. Iran and Pakistan still host more than 2.5 million Afghan refugees, and more than 6 million people have been in exile for five years or more.
The number of refugees returning to their countries in 2013 was one of the lowest levels of recent years at 414,000, the refugee agency reported, while the number of people taken in for resettlement by other countries totaled just 98,400.
In addition to refugees, more than 1.1 million people had applied for asylum in 2013, the highest number in a decade, Guterres reported. A particularly worrying trend was the growing number of children traveling unaccompanied. Those applying for asylum were just a small minority of the total number of children trying to make their way along migration routes.