June 19 (UPI) -- The United Nations said 65.6 million people were displaced from their homes because of conflict and persecution by the end of 2016, which is an increase of about 300,000 from 2015.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Monday released its annual Global Trends study. It found an average of 20 people were driven out from their homes every minute last year, the refugee agency said.
"War, violence and persecution have uprooted more men, women and children around the world than at any time in the seven-decade history of UNHCR," the agency said in a statement.
The UNHCR said there have been annual increases to the global displacement total for the past five years, but while the 2016 total increased, the rate at which displacement grew that year slowed.
The UNHCR said 40.3 million people of the 65.6 million people displaced in 2016 were uprooted within the borders of their own countries, identified as internally displaced persons, or IDPs. That number was 500,000 fewer than in 2015.
Also in 2016, the total number of people seeking asylum globally was 2.8 million, about 400,000 fewer than in 2015.
"By any measure this is an unacceptable number," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement. "It speaks louder than ever to the need for solidarity and common purpose in preventing and resolving crises, and ensuring together that the world's refugees, internally displaced and asylum-seekers are properly protected and cared for while solutions are pursued."
About 22.5 million people are seeking safety across international borders as refugees, which is the highest number recorded since the UNHCR's founding in 1950 following World War II.
The Syrian civil war contributes most to increasing refugees; 5.5 million Syrians are identified as refugees, the UNHCR said. About 12 million Syrians, or some 65 percent of the country's population, are displaced internally or live outside of the country as refugees, the most worldwide.
Colombia has the second-highest displaced population with 7.7 million and Afghanistan has the third-highest displaced population with 4.7 million, the UNHCR said. Iraq has the fourth-highest displaced population with 4.2 million, followed by South Sudan with 3.3 million.
In 2016, the conflict in South Sudan became the fastest-growing displacement of people in the world. About 3.3 million people were displaced, with 737,400 being externally displaced.