DUBAI// The conflict in Syria has forced more than a million people to flee their homes and become refugees so far this year, the UN says.
The crisis has emerged as a "major new factor" in global displacement, said Mohammed Abu Asaker, the UN refugee agency's public information and communications officer in Abu Dhabi.
"There have been 1.1 million Syrian refugees this year alone," said Mr Abu Asaker. "This means there is one Syrian refugee every 14 seconds."
An annual report by the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, released ahead of World Refugee Day today, found 45.2 million people were victims of forced global displacement last year, an "unprecedented 18-year high".
The figure includes 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers and 28.8 million people forced to flee within the borders of their own countries.
"This report records all figures as it is in 2012," said Mr Abu Asaker. "There is an increase in 3.5 million people compared with 2011."
He described the trend as "worrisome and disturbing", especially with those below the age of 18 making up 46 per cent of all refugees.
A record 21,300 asylum applications submitted last year were from children who were unaccompanied or separated from their parents.
"This is the largest significant increase in children approaching the UNHCR for asylum," said Mr Abu Asaker.
"It is the first time we have seen such a huge number."
More than half of the refugees came from Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan or Afghanistan, the last of which has rated as the world's "top producer" of asylum seekers for 32 years in a row.
The report also found that one of every four refugees worldwide is Afghan, with 95 per cent located in Pakistan or Iran.
Pakistan has 1.64 million refugees, the highest number in the world, with most coming from Afghanistan.
The protracted conflict in Somalia created the second-largest number of refugees last year, while Iraqis were the third-largest refugee group, followed by Syrians and Sudanese.
"The issue of refugees is well connected and related to the Arab world, as more than half of the world's refugees are coming from four Arabic-speaking countries," said Mr Abu Asaker.
This month, the UN issued a humanitarian appeal for US$4.4 billion (Dh16.16bn), its largest ever, to meet the needs of Syrian refugees for this year. It was increased from January's appeal for $1.5bn.
"That's more than half the combined total of all of our other appeals, which cover 16 countries from Afghanistan to Somalia," said Valerie Amos, under secretary general for the UN humanitarian affairs, while launching the appeal in Geneva.
Arabian Gulf states, including the UAE, pledged $1.1bn in aid at the International Donors Conference for Syria in Kuwait in January.
The UAE, for its part, pledged Dh1.1bn.
In April, the Red Crescent Authority said it had already spent more than Dh70 million on projects for those displaced by the conflict in Syria, which included building a "five-star" refugee camp that shelters people in caravans rather than tents.
Two schools to educate 2,000 pupils and hospitals have also been built to take care of the needs of refugees at the camp in Mrajeeb Al Fhood, Jordan, 37 kilometres from the Syrian border.
Phase one of the camp to house more than 5,500 people opened at an initial cost of Dh26m. Once finished it will house up to 25,000.
"The UAE has built two schools, seven clinics and provides three hot meals a day," said Mr Abu Asaker.
"We really appreciate the role of the UAE in providing assistance to Syrians."