Record 65m people displaced in 2015, says UN

The UN refugee agency says persecution and conflict in places like Syria and Afghanistan raised the number of refugees and internally displaced people worldwide to a record 65.3 million at the end of last year.

UN relief workers distribute aid on the southern edge of the Syrian capital Damascus. Picutre: AP
UN relief workers distribute aid on the southern edge of the Syrian capital Damascus. Picutre: AP

The previous year had already seen the highest number of refugees worldwide since the Second World War, with 60 million displaced people, but last year - when Europe saw the arrival of large numbers of migrants - topped that record by nearly 10 per cent, the UNHCR said in unveiling its annual Global Trends Report.

The Geneva-based agency urged leaders from Europe and elsewhere to do more to end the wars that are driving the exodus of people from their homelands.

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“I hope that the message carried by those forcibly displaced reaches the leaderships: we need action, political action, to stop conflicts,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “The message that they have carried is, ‘If you don’t solve problems, problems will come to you’.”

With stark detail, UNHCR said that on average, 24 people were displaced every minute of every day last year - or 34,000 people a day - up from six a minute in 2005. Global displacement has roughly doubled since 1997, and risen by 50 per cent since 2011 when the Syria war began.

More than half of refugees came from three countries, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. Turkey was the “top host” country for the second year running, taking in 2.5 million people - nearly all from neighbouring Syria. Afghan neighbour Pakistan had 1.6 million, while Lebanon, next to Syria, hosted 1.1 million.

Mr Grandi said politicians and advocacy groups face daunting challenges helping the largest subset of displaced people - 40.8 million internally displaced in countries in conflict. Another 21.3 million were refugees and 3.2 million were seeking asylum.

More than a million people fled to Europe last year, causing a political crisis in the EU.

Mr Grandi called on countries to fight the xenophobia that has accompanied the rise in refugee populations, and criticised physical barriers - like fences erected by some European countries - as well as legislative ones that limit access to richer, more peaceful EU states.

“There is no plan B for Europe in the long run,” Mr Grandi said. “Europe will continue to receive people seeking asylum. Their numbers may vary ... but it is inevitable.”