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UN says 45.2 million are refugees and displaced people

GENEVA — The Syrian civil war contributed to pushing the numbers of refugees and those displaced by conflict within their own nation to an 18-year high of 45.2 million worldwide by the end of 2012, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday.

That is the highest number since 1994, when people fled genocide in Rwanda and bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia.

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By the end of last year, the world had 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers, and 28.8 million people who had been forced to flee within the borders of their own countries, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a report.

Of those, 17 percent were new to their situations in 2012: 1.1 million new refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced people.

That translates into someone becoming a new refugee or internally displaced person somewhere in the world every 4.1 seconds during the last year, said Antonio Guterres, head of the Geneva-based agency. The overall numbers rose by 6 percent from the 42.5 million refugees and internally displaced people at the end of 2011.

Children below the age of 18 accounted for 46 percent of refugees worldwide. There were 21,300 asylum applications by children who were either unaccompanied or separated from their parents — the highest such number the agency has recorded.

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