By the end of 2012, more than 45.2 million were refugees or internally displaced, the highest number since 1994, a new report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) shows.
This includes 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers, and 28.8 million people forced to flee within the borders of their own countries. The UNHCR's annual Global Trends report does not include the rise in those forced from their homes in Syria during the current year.
War remains the dominant cause. At least 55 percent of all refugees listed in UNHCR's report come from just five war-affected countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. The report also charts major new displacement from Mali, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and from Sudan into South Sudan and Ethiopia.
"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," said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees and head of UNHCR.
The report highlights worrisome trends, including the rate at which people are being forced into situations of displacement. During 2012 some 7.6 million people became newly displaced, 1.1 million as refugees and 6.5 million as internally displaced people. This translates to a new refugee or internally displaced person every 4.1 seconds.
Also evident is a continuing gap between richer and poorer countries in hosting refugees. The report shows that half of refugees are hosted by countries that have a per capita GDP of less than US$5,000.
In all, developing countries host 81 percent of the world's refugees compared to 70 percent a decade ago.
Children below age 18 make up 46 percent of all refugees. In addition, a record 21,300 asylum applications submitted during 2012 were from children who were unaccompanied or separated from their parents. This is the highest number of unaccompanied or separated children that UNHCR has recorded.
Last year saw little change from 2011 in the rankings of the world's major refugee hosting countries. Pakistan continued to host more refugees than any other nation (1.6 million), followed by Iran (868,200) and Germany (589,700).
Afghanistan remained the world's top producer of refugees, a position it has held for 32 years. On average, one out of every four refugees worldwide is Afghan, with 95 percent located in Pakistan or Iran. Somalia, another protracted conflict, was the world's second largest refugee-producing nation during 2012, however there the rate of refugee outflow slowed. Iraqis were the third largest refugee group (746,700 persons), followed by Syrians (471,400).
With people displaced inside their own countries, the figure of 28.8 million for 2012 is the highest level in more than two decades. This includes 17.7 million who are being helped by the UN refugee agency.
Significant new internal displacement was seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.