TAZA KHORMATO, Iraq — In a battered car loaded with blankets and clothes, Hassan Abbas and his mother left a dusty town in northern Iraq, fleeing this week’s violence and joining what the United Nations says is the largest worldwide population of displaced people since World War II.
The U.N. refugee agency’s latest annual report, released Friday, found more than 50 million people worldwide were displaced at the end of last year, reflecting an ever-expanding web of international conflicts.
Last year’s increase in displaced people was the largest in at least two decades, driven mainly by the civil war in Syria, which has claimed an estimated 160,000 lives and forced 9 million people to flee their homes. Now Iraq is adding to that tide.
“I am going to sell this phone so we have money,” Abbas said at a checkpoint outside the town of Taza Khormato, near the city of Kirkuk, where he will move in with relatives, and where 20 people will share a single home.
He and his 50-year-old mother, Shukriya, decided to leave the town after fighters from the al-Qaida breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant shelled and burned down the neighboring village of Basheer.
“My heart is sick. It’s sick. From the fear, the shelling, the explosions,” Shukriya said, sobbing. “They say they killed children in Basheer. By God all we want is peace.”
The jihadi group swept across northern Iraq last week, seizing the city of Mosul and carrying Syria’s brutal civil war across the border. Their swift advance set the stage for a conflict that has already displaced hundreds of thousands and could widen.
Iraqis who have fled over the past week were not included in the U.N. High Commission for Refugees’ annual global trends report. The Kurdish regional government says at least 300,000 people have fled the latest violence.