World Refugee Day takes place against backdrop of worsening global crisis
UNHCR head urges greater international action to stop conflicts as number of forcibly displaced hits all-time high.
GENEVA, June 20 (UNHCR) - Stark warnings over the inability of the international community to cope with record numbers of people forced to flee spiralling wars and persecution provided the grim backdrop to events marking World Refugee Day on Saturday.
"We have reached a moment of truth," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres declared in a statement.
"World stability is falling apart leaving a wake of displacement on an unprecedented scale. Global powers have become either passive observers or distant players in the conflicts driving so many innocent civilians from their homes."
Guterres, who earlier in the week travelled to the Turkey-Syrian border to witness Syrians fleeing the latest upsurge of fighting into southern Turkey, noted that more people had fled last year than at any time since UNHCR records began, pushing the total number of forcibly displaced people globally to a staggering 59.5 million.
"Around the world, almost 60 million have been displaced by conflict and persecution. Nearly 20 million of them are refugees, and more than half are children. Their numbers are growing and accelerating, every single day, on every continent," he added in the statement.
Guterres has remained in Turkey to mark World Refugee Day as a gesture of support to the country which in the last year has taken over from Pakistan as the biggest refugee-hosting nation in the world, largely as a result of conflict in Iraq and Syria, where the war has entered its 5th year.
Turkey now hosts more than 2 million refugees in total and spends more than US$6 billion on helping Syrians alone.
"Fifteen years into a millennium that many of us hoped would see an end to war, a spreading global violence has come to threaten the very foundations of our international system," Guterres added.
Stressing the grim statistics, he said that in 2014, an average of 42,500 people every day became refugees, asylum-seekers or internally displaced.
"That is four times more than just four years ago. These people rely on us for their survival and hope. They will remember what we do," he said.
The head of the UN refugee agency, who has previously warned the scale of the current crisis was overwhelming international humanitarian organizations, said some countries most able to help were instead shutting their gates to people seeking asylum.
"Borders are closing, pushbacks are increasing, and hostility is rising. Avenues for legitimate escape are fading away. And humanitarian organizations like mine run on shoestring budgets, unable to meet the spiralling needs of such a massive population of victims," he said in another dire warning.
Guterres called on those with "leverage over the parties to these conflicts to put aside their differences and come together to create the conditions for ending the bloodshed".
"In the meantime, the world must either shoulder collectively the burden of helping the victims of war, or risk standing by as less wealthy countries and communities - which host 86 per cent of the world's refugees - become overwhelmed and unstable," he said.
Throughout the ages, refugees have been considered worthy of protection, Guterres said but lamented that: "Today, some of the wealthiest among us are challenging this ancient principle, casting refugees as gate crashers, job seekers or terrorists. This is a dangerous course of action, short-sighted, morally wrong, and - in some cases - in breach of international obligations."
"It is time to stop hiding behind misleading words. Richer nations must acknowledge refugees for the victims they are, fleeing from wars they were unable to prevent or stop," he concluded.
On Thursday, UNHCR's annual Global Trends Report: World at War, detailed that the increase in forcibly displaced in 2014 was the largest leap ever seen in a single year and said the situation was likely to worsen still further.
Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world's 24th biggest.
Meanwhile, decades-old instability and conflict in Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere means that millions of people remain on the move or - as is increasingly common - stranded for years on the edge of society as long-term internally displaced or refugees.
One of the most recent and highly visible consequences of the world's conflicts and the terrible suffering they cause has been the dramatic growth in the numbers of refugees seeking safety through dangerous sea journeys, including on the Mediterranean, in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, and in Southeast Asia.