Syrian conflict 'major new factor' in rise in refugee numbers worldwide, UNHCR says

The Syrian conflict is "a major new factor" contributing to the soaring number of refugees worldwide, the United Nations has said.

A report from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 7.6 million people were displaced in 2012, sending the total number higher than at any time since 1994. 

More than half (55 percent) came from five countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan and Syria.

Nearly 650,000 people fled the Syrian civil war in 2012 — the biggest exodus of people in a single year since the Kosovo war.

That number could double by the end of the year, UN High Commissioner for Refugees regional representative Richard Towle told the Australian Associated Press

Most of them have sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Turkey and Jordan.

However, Pakistan hosted the most refugees of any country worldwide, with 1.6 million people, the majority of them from neighboring Afghanistan — which remained the world's biggest source of refugees for the 32nd year running.

Ninety-five percent of Afghan refugees are located in either Iran or Pakistan.

Iran hosted the second-biggest number of refugees, with more than 850,000.

On an average day in 2012, 23,000 people were forced to flee their homes around the world.

The BBC quoted UNHCR regional representative in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, Antonio Guterres, as saying: 

"These truly are alarming numbers. They reflect individual suffering on a huge scale and they reflect the difficulties of the international community in preventing conflicts and promoting timely solutions for them."

Guterres said that the figure of 7.6 million meant there was a new displaced person every 4.1 seconds.

"Each time you blink another person is forced to flee," he said.