According to a recent report from the UN Refugee Agency, December was the first time since World War II that the number of displaced people climbed over 50 million:
The sharp increase in the total number of refugees was in large part the result of the ongoing Syrian civil war, which has forced 2.5 million to flee the country and resulted in 6.5 million internally displaced people. In total, there were some 51.2 million refugees in the world at the end of 2013, an increase of more than six million on the previous year. On its own, the figure 51.2 million can be somewhat difficult to conceptualize, a figure so large that it’s difficult to imagine the human toll of conflict.
Will Freeman delves into the report, which shows how Iraq is driving the number up even further:
In just over a week, refugees fleeing insurgents battling to create an Islamic state in Iraq have tripled from 500,000 to 1.5 million. The swift takeover of towns such as Mosul and Tikrit by the Iraq Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has displaced nearly 1 in 30 Iraqis. UNICEF, the United Nation’s children’s agency, recently upgraded the crisis to a level 3 humanitarian disaster— its most severe ranking. … The future is grim for Iraq’s latest wave of displaced people, as only 31 percent of the United Nation’s funding requests have been met. With terrorists continuing to fight their way towards Baghdad, the number of refugees will likely continue to rise.
To make matters worse, the record number of refugees are experiencing brutal temperatures:
Temperatures have indeed been much hotter than average in the Middle East this year. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, just about the entire region was classified as “Much Warmer Than Average” for the March-May period, while much of Iraq and bits of Syria saw record-high temperatures.
In line with global warming’s habit of punishing the most vulnerable populations, other refugee-laden regions saw record heat too, such as the conflict-stressed area near the Golden Triangle, an opium-producing hotbed. Thailand’s border is riddled with refugee camps, where Burmese have sought shelter for decades, after fleeing the violently oppressive ruling junta.
I’ve been to one of those camps, and it was an abject, malarial place. Tens of thousands of people were cramped together in mud-pocked makeshift housing, with limited access to medical treatment, and totally exposed to the elements. Like the heat.
There are 16.7 million refugees in such situations, and 35 million more are displaced. And both trends, displaced people and rising temperatures, are only on track to worsen.
Previous Dish on the Iraqi refugee crisis here and here.
Update: Jay Ulfelder disputes a key talking point of the UN Refugee Agency report:
A lot of the news stories on this report’s release used phrases like “displaced persons highest since World War II,” so I assumed that the U.N. report included the data on which that statement would be based. It turns out, though, that the report only makes a vague (and arguably misleading) reference to “the post-World War II era.” In fact, the U.N. does not have data to make comparisons on numbers of displaced persons prior to 1989. With the data it does have, the most the UNHCR can say is this, from p. 5: “The 2013 levels of forcible displacement were the highest since at least 1989, the first year that comprehensive statistics on global forced displacement existed.” The picture also looks a little different from the press release if we adjust for increases in global population.