More people became refugees in 2011 than in any other year since the new millennium began, with one out of every four of them coming from Afghanistan, the United Nations refugee agency reported Monday.
The agency called the new numbers a sign of “suffering on an epic scale.”
Though more than 800,000 people fled across borders last year, the highest number since 2000, the number of people displaced worldwide actually dropped as millions of people returned to their homes, the agency said.
All in all, 42.5-million people were displaced or seeking asylum last year, a figure that could actually be higher since many countries do not report the number of people believed to be stateless.
Afghanistan produced the most refugees, followed by Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. Most fled to neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Kenya; Pakistan hosted more than 1.7-million refugees last year, the largest number in the world according to government estimates. Nearly all of them came from Afghanistan.
The U.N. refugee agency said while growing numbers of displaced people have returned home, it is alarmed that almost three out of every four refugees under its watch have been exiled from their homes for at least five years, many of them languishing in refugee camps.
The report was released ahead of World Refugee Day on Wednesday. The day comes as the agency is grappling with several new crises.
The U.N. recently lamented a dire shortfall of funding to help people uprooted by conflict in northern Mali, where Tuareg rebels have declared their own state. Bangladesh has turned away Rohingya Muslims trying to leave Myanmar after a recent eruption of ethnic violence, despite calls from the U.N. and other countries to allow them in. And in South Sudan, tens of thousands of refugees crossing from Sudan are suffering from deadly dehydration.
— Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Afghan refugees travel on a truck as they cross the border between their homeland and Pakistan at Torkham on May 20. Credit: A. Majeed / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.