Record 120 mn people forcibly displaced globally: UN

Palestinians clean the rubble from the destruction caused by an Israeli attack in Nusairat in Gaza on June 8, 2024. [AFP]

A staggering total of 120 million people are living forcibly displaced by war, violence and persecution, the UN said Thursday, branding the ever-increasing number a "terrible indictment on the state of the world".

The United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR said forced displacement globally had once again smashed records, with conflicts in places like Gaza, Sudan and Myanmar forcing even more people to flee their homes.

The global displaced population is now equivalent to that of Japan, it pointed out in a statement.

"Conflict remains a very, very big driver of mass displacement," UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi told reporters.

At the end of last year, 117.3 million people were displaced, UNHCR said in a report.

And by the end of April, the number had swelled further, with an estimated 120 million people around the world living in displacement.

The number is up from 110 million a year ago, and has been rising for 12 consecutive years -- nearly tripling since 2012 amid a combination of new and mutating crises and a failure to resolve long-standing ones, UNHCR said.

Grandi told AFP he had been shocked at the high displacement figure when he took the job eight years ago.

Since then it has "more than doubled", he said, describing this as "a terrible indictment on the state of the world".

Figures will keep rising

Grandi pointed to a palpable increase in crises, and also highlighted how climate change is impacting population movement and driving conflicts.

UNHCR last year declared 43 emergencies across 29 countries -- more than four times what was common just a few years ago, he told reporters.

In particular, Grandi noted "the way conflicts are conducted ... in complete disregard" of international law, and "often with the specific purpose of terrorising people".

"This of course is a powerful contributor to more displacement."

Grandi acknowledged there currently seemed to be little hope of bucking the trend.

"Unless there is a shift in international geopolitics, unfortunately, I actually see the figure continuing to go up," he said.

Of the 117.3 million displaced at the end of 2023, 68.3 million people were internally displaced within their own country, Thursday's report showed.

The number of refugees and others in need of international protection meanwhile climbed to 43.4 million, it said.

UNHCR countered the perception that all refugees and other migrants go to wealthy countries.

"The vast majority of refugees are hosted in countries neighbouring their own, with 75 percent residing in low- and middle-income countries that together produce less than 20 percent of the world's income," it said.

'Human tragedies'

Sudan's civil war has been a key factor driving up the numbers.

Since the war broke out in April 2023 between rival generals, it has displaced more than nine million more people, leaving nearly 11 million Sudanese uprooted at the end of 2023, UNHCR said.

The numbers were still rising.

Grandi pointed to the many still fleeing to neighbouring Chad, which has received some 600,000 Sudanese in the past 14 months.

"Hundreds and hundreds every day are crossing from one devastated country to one of the poorest countries in the world," he told AFP.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar, millions more people were also internally displaced last year by vicious fighting.

And in the Gaza Strip, the UN estimates 1.7 million people -- 75 percent of the population -- have been displaced by the war sparked eight months ago by Hamas's October 7 attack inside Israel.

As for the war raging in Ukraine since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, the UN estimated that around 750,000 people became newly displaced inside the country last year, with a total of 3.7 million internally displaced people registered by the end of 2023.

The number of Ukrainian refugees and asylum-seekers increased by over 275,000 to six million, it said.

Syria remains the world's largest displacement crisis, with 13.8 million people forcibly displaced inside and outside the country, UNHCR said.