In an annual trends report, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) announced on Friday that the total number of forcibly displaced people had topped 51.2 million by the end of the 2013, an increase of 6 million from the previous year.
"We are really facing a quantum leap, an enormous increase of forced displacement in our world," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told a news briefing.
This total includes 16.7 million refugees abroad, 33.3 million displaced internally and 1.2 million asylum seekers whose applications were pending.
The civil war in Syria was largely to blame for the increase, according to the report. Since March 2011, 2.5 million people have fled Syria, with a further 6.5 million people internally displaced.
"We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending war, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict," Guterres said. "We see the Security Council paralyzed in many crucial crises around the world."
The report also cited new crises in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Ukraine and Iraq that have forced more people from their homes.
Overall, the biggest refugee populations under UNHCR responsibility came from Afghanistan, Syrian and Somalia, who together form over half the global total.
Refugees flee to developing world
The report also said the majority of refugees have found shelter in developing countries. The world's top refugee hosts were Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon.
"Usually in the debate in the developed world, there is this idea that refugees are all fleeing north and that the objective is not exactly to find protection but to find a better life," he said. "The truth is that 86 percent of the world's refugees live in the developing world," he added.
Meanwhile, out of the more than 1 million people who submitted asylum applications, the majority in developed countries, Germany was the largest single recipient. Germany has also pledged to resettle more than 25,500 Syrians.
Underlining the stark nature of the international conflicts, a record 25,300 unaccompanied children lodged asylum applications in 77 countries in 2013.
"We see a growing number of unaccompanied minors on all routes. We see them in the Mediterranean routes, we see them in the Caribbean route, through Mexico to the United States, we see them in the Afghan route into Iran, into Turkey, into Europe," Guterres said. "We see them everywhere."
hc/mkg (AFP, Reuters, dpa)