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Welcome to the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II.
Welcome to the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II.
On June 20, World Refugee Day, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR declared that 51.2 million people worldwide had been forced to flee their homes by the end of last year. That's 6 million more than at the end of 2012. It's the equivalent of the entire population of South Korea or Spain. And it's a figure never before seen in the post-1945 era.
Of those 51.2 million, 16.7 million have left their own countries altogether. According to UNHCR, at least 6.3 million of them have been in exile for five or more years.
Here's what that looks like. Meet the 10 countries that between them account for almost all of the world's many million refugees.
(NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
More than 30 years of conflict have made Afghanistan the world's biggest single source of refugees. Most go to Pakistan or to Iran. Millions have returned since 2002, but the rate has slowed in recent years — indicating that many are still too afraid to go home. Another 630,000 people are internally displaced within Afghanistan, according to UNHCR.
(BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Syria is the world's fastest growing source of refugees, a result of its devastating civil war. Nearly as many people have fled there in less than three years as have left Afghanistan in three decades. Many live in sprawling camps just over Syria's borders with Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Lebanon alone is host to an estimated 1 million Syrian refugees — one quarter of the country's total population. Others have traveled thousands of miles to attempt the long and difficult process of seeking asylum in Europe. Meanwhile, more than 6.5 million people remain internally displaced within Syria.
(Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)
Disasters — natural and man-made — have taken a heavy toll on Somalia. The country was without a functioning government for years after the collapse of military rule in 1991. Then came fighting between rival warlords, intermittent droughts, famine and most recently, the terrorist attacks carried out by jihadist group Al Shabaab. Small wonder more than 1 million Somalis have fled the country and just over the same amount are internally displaced. Of those that left, many live in overcrowded camps in Kenya that were designed to provide temporary shelter more than two decades ago. Some have been forcibly deported in the wake of the Kenyan crackdown on Somali nationals that followed Al Shabaab's attack on a Nairobi mall. Together, Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan account for more than half of the world's refugees.
(Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
More than 20 years of one of the world's bloodiest civil wars gave the Sudanese population plenty of reasons to flee. Ongoing conflicts, notably in Darfur, mean that many of its people still live in exile. More than 300,000 of them — around half the total number of Sudanese refugees — live in camps in Chad. Many others left for South Sudan, which only became a separate country in 2011. In recent months, tens of thousands of people have fled fighting in South Sudan, too, putting additional strain on the region's emergency shelters. Some Sudanese refugees have even headed back to the war zones they escaped from because of food shortages in South Sudanese camps.
(ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed rebels have terrorized eastern DRC for decades — and the government troops sent to rout them have done little to make civilians feel safer. Several hundred thousands have fled into Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and other neighboring countries, though the UNHCR says it helped more than 100,000 to return over the past two years. Almost 3 million more Congolese are internally displaced, many having been forced to flee several times over.
Myanmar, formerly Burma, has some of the world's longest-standing refugees. Some members of the Karen minority who fled persecution under the military regime have been living in camps on the border with Thailand for more than 25 years. More recently, hundreds of thousands of members of the Rohingya Muslim minority, faced with discrimination and attacks, have left western Myanmar. Many now live in makeshift camps in southern Bangladesh; many others were denied entry by the Bangladeshi government. Since inter-religious violence started escalating two years ago, some 86,000 Rohingya were so desperate they even attempted to escape Myanmar by boat, according to the UN. More than 600 died making the journey in 2013 alone.
(SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
No one needs reminding right now that Iraq is a mess. First the Gulf War in 1991, then the Iraq War in 2003 and the sectarian violence that followed — culminating in the Islamist offensive of recent weeks — sparked waves after waves of displacement. Most Iraqis remained in the region, the majority seeking shelter in Syria, and you know how things are going there. Many of them are now on the move for the second, third, fourth time. The latest violence has already displaced around 300,000 more people, according to UNHCR's estimates.
(EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
With crises in the Middle East grabbing the headlines, it's easy to forget just how long Colombia has been subject to conflict. The legacy of half a century of armed rebellion is hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of whom have fled to Ecuador, Costa Rica, Venezuela and other countries in the region. In Ecuador, where around 1,000 refugees continue to arrive each month, there are reports of illegal armed groups crossing the border to terrorize Colombian refugees and the communities that host them. Meanwhile Colombia has one of the highest numbers of internally displaced people in the world, with more than 5 million Colombians living as refugees in their own country.
Vietnam's refugees are a rare success story among so much hardship. The figure refers to ethnic Chinese who fled Vietnam for China after the Vietnam War and during the brief Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. What followed was, in one former UNHCR chief's words, "one of the most successful integration programs in the world." Today, many are well-settled in southwest China and receive protection from the Chinese government.
(JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Eritrea operates a shoot-to-kill policy on any of its citizens seen trying to flee, so it's a measure of just how desperate people are to escape that as many as 3,000 of them attempt it every month. Those that make it out — never to return, on pain of death — describe life in a prison state. Basic freedoms are non-existent, free elections are a distant memory, and anyone under the age of 50 can be conscripted into military service for pretty much as long as the regime pleases. According to the UNHCR, many of those who try to leave are children, traveling alone. Unfortunately they're often heading out of the frying pan and into the fire. Those who make it out might languish in refugee camps in Egypt or Sudan, where they risk being kidnapped by people traffickers and enslaved, held hostage or tortured. Or they face a long and dangerous journey north to Europe, where they might die crossing the Mediterranean Sea, or to Israel, where the government refuses to recognize Eritreans as refugees in need of protection.