UNHCR: Refugee numbers reach highest ever recorded

A Syrian refugee mother comforts her children, after being rescued from a fishing boat carrying 219 people.

Story highlights

  • UNHCR: More than half the world's refugees are children
  • 42,500 people were displaced every day on average in 2014
  • U.N. High Commissioner: "The world is at war"

(CNN)There are more refugees in the world today than ever previously recorded -- and more than half are children, the United Nations refugee agency said Thursday.

Nearly 60 million people were counted as forcibly displaced in 2014, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
    If those people were the population of one country, it would be the 24th largest in the world.
    One person out of every 122 on the planet is said to be either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. Last year on average, each day saw another 42,500 people driven from their homes.

    'World at war'

    The conflict in Syria has been the biggest single driver of displacement, according to the refugee agency's Global Trends report -- but far from the only one.
    "One clearly gets the impression that the world is at war -- and indeed many areas of the world are today in a completely chaotic situation," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres at a news conference earlier.
    "The result is this staggering escalation of displacement, this staggering escalation of human suffering, because each displaced person is a tragic story."
    In 2014, 13.9 million people became newly displaced -- a record number for a single year. Just 126,800 refugees were able to return to their homes -- the fewest in 31 years.

    Millions of Syrians displaced

    urkey became the world's top refugee-hosting nation in 2014, with 1.59 million Syrians within its borders. Within the EU, Germany and Sweden received the most asylum applications.
    Most refugees come from the Middle East, with 7.6 million Syrians taking to the road within their own country, and 3.88 million having become refugees.
    Many more come from sub-Saharan Africa, fleeing conflicts in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere.
    In Asia, the report highlights growing numbers of people fleeing Myanmar.
    And in the Americas, there was a rise in the number of people seeking to escape gang violence in Central America.
    Asylum claims in the United States were up 44% over the year.

    Agencies sound alarm

    The Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank, also sounded the alarm about the growing refugee crisis.
    On Wednesday it said in its Global Peace Index that almost 1% of the world's population are now refugees or internally displaced people -- the highest level since 1945.
    It said violence cost the global economy $14.3 trillion last year.
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    This Saturday, June 20, is the UNHCR's World Refugee Day.