Conflict and persecution forcibly uprooted more than 43 million people around the world including Pakistan and Afghanistan last year, the most people displaced from their homes since the mid-1990s, the UN has said.
At the same time the number of refugees voluntarily returning to their home countries has fallen to its lowest level in the past two decades, the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in its '2009 Global Trends' report released here yesterday.
Only 251,000 of the world's 15 million refugees returned to their home countries last year.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said major conflicts such as those in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which show no signs of being
resolved, forced many refugees from those countries to stay put last year.
Only 251,000 refugees returned to their homes last year which "was not a good year for voluntary repatriation", Guterres said.
"Already a majority of the world's refugees have been living as refugees for five years or more. Inevitably, that proportion will grow -- if fewer refugees are able to go
The report also found that the number of people uprooted by conflict within their own country grew by four per cent to more than 27 million at the end of 2009.
Persistent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and Somalia drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and this mainly accounts for the increase, it said.
Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to be displaced as a result of military operations against the Taliban in Pakistan.
The report also indicated that the world's overall number of refugees -- defined as those who flee conflict or persecution across international borders -- was stable last year at 15.2 million, two thirds of whom come under UNHCR's mandate while the other third fall under the responsibility of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.