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UN: Number of world’s displaced highest since WWII

More than 50 million people have been forced from their homes worldwide

For the first time since the World War II era, the number of people forced from their homes worldwide has surged past 50 million, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.

The annual Global Trends Report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), released Friday in Beirut, said 51.2 million had been forcibly displaced by the end of 2013, 6 million more than at the end of the previous year. The data are compiled from government, nongovernment partner organizations and the UNHCR's own records.

Syrians fleeing the bloodshed at home and a fast-growing web of other crises across the world accounted for the spike in the displaced, the UNHCR said in its report.

Syria's civil war alone has forced 9 million people to flee their homes.

"The world has shown a limited capacity to prevent conflicts and to find a timely solution for them," said U.N. High Commissioner António Guterres.

"Today, we not only have an absence of a global governance system, but we have sort of an unclear sense of power in the world," Guterres told reporters in Beirut.

The daunting numbers — which are straining the resources of host countries and aid organizations alike — are also a stark reflection of the ongoing conflicts and persecutions from other countries, including the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

"These numbers represent a quantum leap in forced displacement around the world," Guterres added. "For the first time since the Second World War, we had in 2013 more than 50 million people displaced by conflict and persecution, either crossing borders or within the borders of their countries."

The number includes refugees and asylum seekers who fled abroad as well as people displaced within their own countries. 

Of the 51.2 million displaced worldwide last year, 16.7 million were refugees outside their countries' borders. Nearly 12 million of them are cared for by U.N. agencies. More than half of the refugees under the UNHCR's care — 6.3 million — had been in exile for more than five years, the agency said.

By country, the biggest populations of refugees were Afghans, Syrians and Somalis, the report said. The countries hosting the largest number of refugees were Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon; the latter's stability is threatened by the raging Syrian war, now in its fourth year.

More than 1 million Syrians have registered in Lebanon as refugees since the conflict in their country started in March 2011. The refugees now make up nearly one-fourth of Lebanon's population of 4.5 million.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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