A United Nations report on refugees and internally displaced persons released last week revealed an appallingly high number of them in the world at the end of 2013 — 51 million, up 11 million from the year before. Even worse, half of them were children.
The total, which covers 34 million internally displaced by war within their countries and 17 million refugees driven into neighboring states, has risen sharply from 4 million in 1975 and 9 million in 2004. The origins of the rise lie in various troubled countries.
Long-standing sources of displacement include Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Palestine and Somalia. More recent generators of people on the run are the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Ukraine.
The top recipient nations of today’s refugees include Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey, none of them notably wealthy. The United Nations asked for $16.9 billion in help last year. So far it has received from donors only 30 percent of its request.
The problem has many facets. The impact on the lives of the displaced is the chief problem. Despite the aid of international organizations and non-governmental bodies, the impact on a child of living in a tent with uncertain food supplies and only intermittent education for what might be a long period of time is inestimable. The limits to host and donor nations’ generosity to refugees and to the assistance given internally displaced persons in war-torn countries are formidable barriers.
Another problem is that a too rapid and generous international response to the plight of the displaced can encourage some of them, particularly in severely underdeveloped countries such as the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and South Sudan, to move into camps for economic reasons, rather than for safety.
The root of the problem, of course, is the proliferation of internal conflicts across the world in recent years. People, especially leaders, in these countries who would like to fight each other for political power need to think long and hard about the impact of their violence on the 25 million children who are forced from their homes by such conflicts. It is, after all, the children who suffer most.