World Refugee Day 2014: 51.2 Million Displaced, More Than Any Time Since World War II

Number swelled mainly by Syrian civil war; Israel least welcoming among advanced countries.

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Residents of the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus wait to leave the camp, February 4, 2014.
Residents of the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus wait to leave the camp, February 4, 2014.Credit: AP

The number of refugees in the world has topped 50 million for the first time since World War II – and half of them are children, The Guardian reported on Friday, World Refugee Day.

The number jumped by 6 million in 2013, mainly due to the Syrian civil war, according to the office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees. By the end of last year, 2.5 million Syrians had been driven into exile abroad, while another 6.5 million had found shelter in other parts of Syria.

Wars in the Central African Republic and South Sudan also created huge numbers of new refugees.

More and more, such people are falling victim to ruthless human trafficking rings. The crime networks' "behavior has become more and more vicious," said Antonio Guterres, head of the UN refugee agency, adding that they use rape, torture, sexual exploitation, organ harvesting, extortion and murder.

The UNHCR counts 16.7 million refugees worldwide, the largest group being the 5 million Palestinian refugees, followed by Afghans, Syrians and Somalis.

Another 1.2 million people are asylum-seekers, the main national sources being Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma.

Internally displaced people – those who were forced from their homes and relocated inside their home country – numbered 33.3 million.

'Solution is political, not humanitarian'

"There is no humanitarian solution," Guterres stressed. "The solution is political and the solution is to solve the conflicts that generate these dramatic levels of displacement."

Israel has one of the lowest rates of refugee recognition in the world. Between July 2009 and August 2013, Israel approved 26 asylum applications out of a total of 17,194, according to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. This is the lowest rate among the world's advanced countries, the organization says. According to a 2013 Knesset report, Israel recognized 202 people as refugees between its founding in 1948 and August of last year.

Today, 92 percent of Israel’s some 50,000 asylum seekers are from Sudan and Eritrea, according to government figures. Most came to Israel after 2007.

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