GENEVA - Some 42 million people were displaced in 2008, having been forced to flee their homes due to conflict or persecution, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Tuesday.
The overwhelming majority, some 26 million, were displaced within their own countries, while about 16 million became refugees and asylum seekers who crossed international borders.
Some 80 percent of all refugees lived in the developing world.
Pakistan topped the list of host countries with 1.8 million refugees, followed by Syria which had 1.1 million and Iran with 980,000.
Germany led in Europe, hosting 582,700 refugees.
There were 2.9 million Afghan refugees and another 1.9 million Iraqis. Inside Iraq another 2.6 million were internally displaced. More than two million people were displaced in the Darfur region of Sudan.
The overall figure for 2008 showed a small drop of 700,000 people compared to the previous year. New displacements in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia in the first months of this year have offset even this slight reduction.
Similarly, the two million displaced people who returned home last year was a decline from the 2007 number. Refugee repatriation fell by 17 percent, while internal returns dropped by 34 percent.
Nearly six million people have been uprooted for more than five years, while some groups, such as many of the three million internally displaced in Colombia and the Palestinians, have not been able to return to their places of origin for decades.
The UNHCR provides humanitarian assistance to 25 million people, while the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, cares for 4.7 million more.
The UN released its annual figures ahead of World Refugee Day Saturday. Part of the agency’s campaign will include the release of a video with film star Angelina Jolie calling for aid to those in need.