The World’s ‘Unprecedented’ Refugee Crisis by the Numbers

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Refugees and migrants, packed aboard a fishing boat in the hope of reaching Europe, are pictured moments before being rescued by the Italian Navy as part of their Mare Nostrum operation in June 2014. The Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini

The number of refugees and internally displaced people in the world reached "unprecedented" levels in 2014, the United Nations said Thursday. In its annual report on global trends and forcibly displaced people, the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, outlined a slew of stark numbers, including the fact that 50 percent of the world’s refugees are children and only 126,800 people could return to their home countries in 2014, the lowest number since 1983.

Related: One in 122 People on Earth Forced From Their Homes by Global Conflict, U.N. Says

The ongoing conflict in Syria, which has now entered its fifth year, is the primary driver behind the numbers: The war has created 4 million refugees, with 95 percent of them living in the host countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt. About 7.6 million are internally displaced and at risk of death from violence between the government of President Bashar Assad, opposition fighters and the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group.

“We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before,” António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in the report.

“It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace.”

ENG_01_Refugees_10Years UNHCR

Here's a breakdown of some of the numbers in UNHCR's report.

59.5 million people were forcibly displaced in 2014, compared to 51.2 million at the end of 2013 and 37.5 million at the end of 2004. The increase in forcibly displaced people since 2013 is the highest ever seen in a single year, according to UNHCR. The world’s displaced population includes 19.5 million refugees, 38.2 million people displaced within their home countries and 1.8 million waiting on the outcome of an asylum application.

13.9 million people became newly displaced in 2014, four times the number in 2010. 

50 percent of the world’s refugees are children; 34,300 applications for asylum were filed by unaccompanied or separated children, mainly those from Eritrea, Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan.  

15 countries have seen conflicts begin or reignite in the past five years: Eight in Africa (Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and this year in Burundi); three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan) and one in Europe (Ukraine).

7.6 million internally displaced people and more than 4 million refugees are from Syria, the world’s largest producer of internally displaced persons and refugees. Afghanistan, with 2.59 million and Somalia, with 1.1 million, are the second and third biggest refugee source countries. More than half of the world’s refugees came from those three countries.

1.59 million refugees have fled Turkey, which is now the largest refugee-hosting country in the world. Pakistan (1.51 million) Lebanon (1.15 million), Iran (982,000), Ethiopia (659,500) and Jordan (654,100) are among the other top host countries.  

126,800 forcibly displaced people were able to return home in 2014, the lowest number in 31 years.

219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2014, three times the previous high of 70,000 people in 2011. More than 100,000 have crossed the sea. 3,500 went missing or died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2014.

There are 232 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants in Lebanon, which has the largest number of refugees per 1,000 residents. Jordan has 87 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants and Nauru has 39 per 1,000 people.

21 Syrian refugee Karim, 28, rests with his 9-month-old daughter Sherire in the abandoned building where they live in Istanbul. UNHCR/S. Baldwin

The Displaced Persons Crisis by Continent

Europe: up 51 percent

Europe, the region with the biggest increase in forcibly displaced people, saw gains in the number of people fleeing to their homes due to fighting in Ukraine and the more than 219,000 people who crossed the Mediterranean in 2014. Turkey became the world’s largest refugee host country in 2014, where 11 percent of the world’s refugees now live. The 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey and Ukrainians in Russia were the largest number of displaced people in the region, which increased from 4.4 million at the end of 2013 to 6.7 million at the end of 2014. Germany and Sweden saw the most asylum applications.

Asia: up 31 percent

Around 9 million people were forcibly displace in Asia at the end of 2014. Included in this number are the Rohingya Muslim minority who face persecution and discrimination in Myanmar. Iran and Pakistan remain are two of the top refugee hosting countries.

Middle East and North Africa: up 19 percent

The Middle East has become the world’s largest producer and host of refugees and internally displaced people. In addition to Syria’s 7.6 million internally displaced people and more than 4 million refugees, 3.6 million people were internally displaced in Iraq and 309,000 people were newly displaced in Libya at the end of 2014. Syria overtook Afghanistan as the largest refugee source country in 2014.

Sub-Saharan Africa: up 17 percent

The region has 3.7 million refugees and 11.4 million internally displaced people due to numerous conflicts including those in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ethiopia is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa.

Americas: up 12 percent

The U.S., home to 267,222 refugees and 187,826 cases of pending asylum seekers, saw a 44 percent in asylum claims in 2014, which UNHCR says is down to more people escaping gang violence and persecution in Central America. At 6 million, Colombia had one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced people.