War, persecution, natural disasters. Throughout history, situations such as these have forced people to leave their homes and find shelter elsewhere. Today, 42 million people find themselves torn from their homes, many seeking refuge in other countries, sometimes permanently.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is the agency that has provided worldwide assistance to displaced populations for more than six decades. When its executive committee met earlier this month, the agency's head, Antonio Guterres, said the refugee situation was exacerbated by simultaneous new emergencies around the world.
"Already in 2011, as crisis after crisis unfolded, more than 800,000 people crossed borders in search of refuge -- an average of more than 2,000 refugees every day. And this was higher than at any time in the last decade," he said.
The numbers are already more dire this year. The situation is most acute in the Middle East, in Syria. Since the uprising there began in March 2011, fierce conflicts have driven a million Syrians from their homes, forced to become refugees in their own homeland. Others have crossed borders and sought refuge in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. More than 300,000 Syrians are now registered refugees in those countries. By year's end, the UNHCR estimates the number will more than double to 700,000 refugees.
Several countries in Africa have also seen large-scale displacements. In Mali, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 700,000 people have fled to neighboring countries because of conflicts in their homelands.
The United States plays a critical role in aiding refugees. Not only is it the largest financial donor to the U.N. refugee agency, but the United States also welcomes more refugees to resettle permanently than all other countries. According to State Department figures, in fiscal 2011, more than 56,000 refugees from countries as diverse as Eritrea, Burma, Moldova and Iraq made America their new home.
This week Christiane Amanpour discusses the current refugee crises with Melissa Fleming. She is the spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.