World Bulletin/News Desk
Syrians have overtaken Afghans as the largest refugee population aside from Palestinians, fleeing to more than 100 countries to escape war in their homeland, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
At more than 3 million as of mid-2014, Syrians accounted for nearly one in four of the 13 million refugees worldwide being assisted by the U.N. refugee agency, the highest figure since 1996, it said in a report. Some 5 million Palestinians refugees are cared for by a separate agency, UNRWA.
"As long as the international community continues to fail to find political solutions to existing conflicts and to prevent new ones from starting, we will continue to have to deal with the dramatic humanitarian consequences," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
At least 200,000 people have died and half the Syrian population has been displaced since the conflict began in March 2011 with protests that spiralled into civil war.
Worldwide, an estimated 5.5 million people were forcibly uprooted during the first six months of last year, 1.4 million of them fleeing abroad, the UNHCR said.
The Middle East and North Africa has become the main region of origin of refugees, overtaking the Asia and Pacific region that held the top spot for more than a decade.
Afghan refugees, the biggest group for three decades, have fallen to second place, with 2.6 million hosted by Pakistan and Iran at mid-year, it said. Somalis ranked as the third largest refugee group at 1.1 million.
Syria's neighbours -- Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey -- continue to bear the brunt of the crisis.
"With 257 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants, Lebanon remains the country with the highest refugee density at mid-2014," UNHCR said, noting that Jordan ranked second.
Lebanon, which has the highest per capita concentration of refugees, enforced new immigration controls along its Syrian border on Monday to try to stem the flow of people.
Sweden, with 12 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants, is the only industrialised country among major hosts, ranking 10th, it said.
Syrians also formed the largest group of asylum-seekers worldwide during the first half of 2014, lodging 59,600 applications, it said. Germany and Sweden together received 40 percent of these claims, it added.
Iraqis fleeing conflict were the second largest group of asylum-seekers during the period, at 28,900, the report said.
Last year nearly 3,500 migrants perished while trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the UNHCR says.
Countries around the world must do more to help Syria's neighbours cope with the millions of people who have fled the civil war, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday.
Guterres said he was concerned about such policies but expressed sympathy for countries that are bearing the brunt of what he says is the worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
"We are concerned with these measures but I think these measures should make the international community enhance in a very meaningful way support to host countries including Lebanon in order to help them cope with these enormous challenges," Guterres told a news conference in the Turkish capital Ankara.
Stringent caps on refugee numbers in many countries outside the region meant refugees were forced to rely on people smugglers to reach Europe and beyond, he said.
Nearly 350,000 people worldwide risked illicit sea journeys last year, almost half from countries such as Syria and Eritrea which have outflows of refugees, the U.N. agency said.
Turkey, which has around 2 million refugees, has expressed anger at what it sees as a lack of commitment from European countries, many of which have accepted only a handful of escapees from the fighting, which has killed nearly 200,000 people and left Syria in ruins.
Thousands of supporters poured into the streets of the capital island Male on Friday night and continued their protest rally till early Saturday, the joint opposition said in a statement issued in Colombo.
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