Eritrean female asylum seekers sit along with their children on the sidewalk in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday. Since April 29, over 200 Eritrean asylum seekers including women and children living on the streets of Sanaa wait to be resettled to a third country. For the first time since the World War II era, the number of people forced from their homes worldwide has surged past 50 million, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.
TAZA KHORMATO, Iraq — In a battered car loaded with blankets and clothes, Hassan Abbas left with his mother from a dusty town in northern Iraq, fleeing this week’s violence and joining what the United Nations says is the largest worldwide population of displaced people since World War II.
The U.N. refugee agency’s latest annual report, released Friday, found more than 50 million people worldwide were displaced at the end of last year, reflecting an ever-expanding web of international conflicts.
Last year’s increase in displaced people was the largest in at least two decades, driven mainly by the civil war in Syria, which has claimed an estimated 160,000 lives and forced 9 million people to flee their homes. Now Iraq is adding to that tide.
“I am going to sell this phone so we have money,” Abbas said at a checkpoint outside the town of Taza Khormato, near the city of Kirkuk, where he will move in with relatives, and where 20 people will share a single home.
He and his 50-year-old mother, Shukriya, decided to leave the town after fighters from the al-Qaida breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant shelled and burned down the neighboring village of Basheer.
“My heart is sick. It’s sick. From the fear, the shelling, the explosions,” Shukriya said, sobbing. “They say they killed children in Basheer. By God all we want is peace.”
The jihadi group swept across northern Iraq last week, seizing the city of Mosul and carrying Syria’s brutal civil war across the border. Their swift advance set the stage for a conflict that has already displaced hundreds of thousands and could widen.
Iraqis who have fled over the past week were not included in the U.N. High Commission for Refugees’ annual global trends report. The Kurdish regional government says at least 300,000 people have fled the latest violence.
The agency found that at the end of last year, 51.2 million people had been forced from their homes worldwide, including refugees, the internally displaced and asylum-seekers. That was the highest figure since the U.N. began collecting numbers in the early 1950s.
It’s also 6 million more people than at the end of the previous year, reflecting a failure to resolve longstanding conflicts or prevent the eruption of new ones, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said in announcing the report.
“The world has shown a limited capacity to prevent conflicts and to find a timely solution for them,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said.
“Today, we not only have an absence of a global governance system, but we have sort of an unclear sense of power in the world,” Guterres told reporters in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, where the report was released.
By the end of last year, 2.5 million Syrians had become refugees in neighboring countries and more than 6.5 million had been displaced within Syria, the U.N. refugee agency said.
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