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

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Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria, near the town of Kobani. The war that erupted in Syria in 2011 has propelled it into becoming the world’s single largest driver of displacement. UNHCR/I/Prickett

Nearly 60 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes by the end of 2014, the largest number the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has recorded in its 65-year history. That translates into one person in every 122 worldwide who is either an asylum seeker, refugee or a person displaced within their own country.

In its annual report on global trends and forcibly displaced people published Thursday, UNHCR said war, conflict and persecution were the primary causes for creating 14.4 million refugees last year, 2.7 million more people than 2013 and an almost 25 percent increase.

There are now 19.5 million refugees worldwide, the highest number of refugees since 1995. Fifty percent of the world's refugees are children and more than half of the world's displaced people come from three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Related: The World's 'Unprecedented' Refugee Crisis by the Numbers

"Historical refugee data suggest that such a year-to-year net increase is almost unprecedented," the agency says in its report. "Only in 1980 and 1990 were net increases of more than two million refugees recorded during the year."

UNHCR classifies a refugee as someone who has left the country of his or her nationality over fears of persecution due to their religion, race, nationality, political standing or member of a particular social group, which includes sexual orientation. The term migrants, commonly used in the media, is often applied to groups of forcibly displaced people who can also include economic migrants. UNESCO defines a migrant as "any person who lives temporarily or permanently in a country where he or she was not born, and has acquired some significant social ties to this country."

The number of refugees cited in the report refers to refugees registered with UNHCR, leaving the possibility that the numbers may be higher.

Last year, UNHCR found the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people had topped 50 million for the first time in the post–World War II era.

War and conflict forced on average 42,500 men, women and children to flee their homes every day in 2014 and the problem is "accelerating fast," according to UNHCR. The main driver of the numbers is the ongoing war in Syria, which entered its fifth year in March and has created 4 million refugees, according to UNHCR. More than 7.6 million people were internally displaced in Syria, where they are at risk from ongoing barrel bomb and chemical weapons attacks and explosive weapons, nongovernmental organizations have said.

"In terms of overall numbers, which includes both refugees and internally displaced people, these are the highest numbers we've ever recorded," said Jana Mason, senior adviser for external affairs at UNHCR. "We've never witnessed anything like this."

The inability of the international community to solve wars and broker peace agreements, as well as an uptick in internal conflicts, are also to blame for forced displacement, said Mason.

"We have all these new crises. In the last five years, there have been 15 crises that have either erupted or gotten worse and at the same time the old ones don't go away, they don't get resolved," said Mason.

In December, the United Nations requested $16.4 billion for humanitarian assistance in 2015 for crises across the world, nearly half of which would be set aside to support the refugee and internally displaced persons crises caused by conflict in Syria.

The crises that caused large numbers to flee in 2014 haven't stopped this year. Earlier this week, more than 23,000 Syrians fled to Turkey after Syrian-Kurdish forces captured a Turkish border town from ISIS, Reuters reports. Seventy percent of those who fled were women and children. Earlier this month, the number of migrants who crossed the Mediterranean Sea to find safety in Europe surpassed 100,000, according to UNHCR. The Greek island of Lesvos is seeing "record numbers" of more than 600 migrants arrive every day, according to the agency.

This year, world's attention also turned to the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and Bangladesh, thousands of whom were stranded at sea after several countries refused to let the boats dock or turned them away. Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to take 7,000 Rohingya migrants, who are not recognized by Myanmar's government, but only if the international community agreed to help them.

António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in the report that the world is entering an era "in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before."

"Unfortunately there are enough situations that keep us not only very busy, but really stretched to the limits," Mason said.

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