World faces major crisis as number of displaced hits record high

UNHCR head says humanitarian organizations can no longer cope alone with 59.5 million displaced people needing assistance.

Syrian woman holds two babies in her arms after fleeing crossing the Akcakale border gate in southern Turkey's Sanliurfa province this week.   © Anadolu Agency/F.Yurdakul

ISTANBUL, Turkey, June 18 (UNHCR) - The world is facing a staggering crisis as the number of forcibly displaced people rises to record numbers - 59.5 million at the end of 2014, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned on Thursday.

"To those that think that it doesn't matter because humanitarian organizations will be there and able to clean up the mess, I think it's important to say that we are no longer able to clean up the mess," he told reporters in Istanbul.

"UN agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross -- we no longer have the capacities and the resources to respond to such a dramatic increase in humanitarian needs."

Guterres issued the stark warning a few hours after UNHCR had issued its annual Global Trends Report: World at War, (available at showing worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded.

The report said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 as a result of war, conflict and persecution had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.

"When you see the news in any global network we clearly get the impression that the world is at war. And indeed many areas of the world are today in a completely chaotic situation and the result is this staggering escalation of displacement, the staggering escalation of suffering, because each displaced person is a tragic story," Guterres added.

In the last year Turkey has become the biggest refugee-hosting nation in the world, with more than 1.77 million Syrians fleeing there from the violent conflict in their country. Turkey now hosts more than 2 million refugees in total and spends more than $6 billion on helping Syrians alone.

The events of recent days at the Syrian-Turkish border underlined Guterres's grim analysis. More than 23,000 people surged across the border crossing at Akçakale to escape brutal fighting around Tel Abyad in Syria.

Now, with little but the clothes on their backs, they sit and wait in makeshift tents of blankets and plastic. As the upsurge in fighting subsided, some returned home, but most stay in Turkey, anchored by fear.

Hatice arrived with her family of 10 three days ago. The men have gone off looking for work and mattresses. She waits with the children.

"Due to the war, we fled here, all my relatives. I have just heard that that the border gate is open for returns. But we're still scared, scared of the continuing fighting."

Turkey continues to keep its borders open, and continues to house some of the arriving refugees in 23 camps.

"That has a special meaning in a world where so many borders are closed or restricted," Guterres said. "And where new walls are being built or announced."

By Don Murray in Istanbul, Turkey