(Adds quotes from António Guterres of UNHCR.)
By Joseph D'Urso
LONDON/ISTANBUL, June 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
A lmost 60 million people worldwide were forcibly uprooted by
conflict and persecution at the end of last year, the highest
ever recorded number, the U.N. refugee agency said on Thursday,
warning that the situation could deteriorate further.
More than half the displaced from crises including Syria,
Afghanistan and Somalia were children, UNHCR said in its annual
Global Trends Report.
In 2014, an average of 42,500 people became refugees, asylum
seekers, or internally displaced every day, representing a
four-fold increase in just four years, the aid agency said.
"I believe things will get worse before they eventually
start to get better," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
Antonio Guterres said at a news conference in Istanbul.
UNHCR said Syria, where conflict has raged since 2011, was
the world's biggest source of internally displaced people and
There were 7.6 million displaced people in Syria by the end
of last year and almost 4 million Syrian refugees, mainly living
in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
The number of Syrian refugees has overtaken the number of
Afghan refugees for the first time, the report found.
"Even amid such sharp growth in numbers, the global
distribution of refugees remains heavily skewed away from
wealthier nations and towards the less wealthy," UNHCR said.
UNHCR said there were 38.2 million displaced by conflict
within national borders, almost five million more than a year
before, with wars in Ukraine, South Sudan, Nigeria, Central
African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
swelling the figures.
Of the 19.5 million refugees living outside their home
countries, 5.1 million are Palestinians. Syrians, Somalis and
Afghans make up more than half the remaining 14.4 million
refugees, UNHCR said.
It also noted that more than 1.6 million people sought
political asylum in a foreign country last year, a jump of more
than 50 percent compared to the previous year - largely due to
the 270,000 Ukrainians who submitted asylum claims in Russia.
While many conflicts have erupted or reignited in the past
five years, few have been conclusively resolved. Just 126,800
refugees were able to return home in 2014, the lowest number in
31 years, UNHCR said.
Guterres said the responsibility to protect Syrian refugees
should not be lie solely with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and
called on the European Union and other parts of the world to
open their borders to refugees.
"It is important... for people to be able to have the chance
to move into those countries without having to force themselves
in the hands of smugglers and traffickers, who exploit them in a
miserable way," he said.
(Reporting By Joseph D'Urso, Additional reporting from Dasha
Afanasieva in Istanbul, Editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit
the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson
Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights,
trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)