UN: World refugee population skyrockets in 2011, highest this century


A young refugee from northern Mali looks out from her tent inside the UNHCR Mangaize refugee camp, 100 miles north of Niamey, on June 2, 2012.

The United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said last year produced the highest number of new refugees this century, with 800,000 people having to flee their countries due to conflicts around the world, according to the agency's new annual "Global Trends 2011" report

Afghanistan tops the list, with 2.7 million refugees, followed by Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the UNHCR.

"2011 saw suffering on an epic scale," UNHCR Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in the report. "For so many lives to have been thrown into turmoil over so short a space of time means enormous personal cost for all who were affected."

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While the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and the internally displaced worldwide last year was lower than 2010 by about one million people, the report said attributed the change to the higher numbers of internally displaced people returning to their native countries. 

The report also identified "several worrying trends" when it comes to the movement of people worldwide, one being that an increasing number of people are being forced into displacement -- the level has been over 42 million people every year for the past five years.

The other problem, UNHCR said, is that those who become refugees are now more likely than ever to remain so for an extended period of time. Nearly three-fourths of the roughly 10 million refugees being monitored by the agency "have been in exile for at least five years awaiting a solution," according to the report.