LONDON (AP) — Amnesty International urged world leaders Monday to radically overhaul refugee policies and create a comprehensive global strategy to deal with the crisis, describing it as the worst emergency of its kind since World War II.
The human rights watchdog issued a report Monday suggesting that world leaders have abandoned millions of refugees to "an unbearable existence" and left thousands more to die by failing to provide basic human protections. It estimated that some 50 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes in 2013.
"The refugee crisis is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century, but the response of the international community has been a shameful failure," said Salil Shetty, the group's secretary-general.
The report estimates that 4 million people have fled Syria, with more than half of the country's population displaced. Some 95 percent are eking out an existence in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Amnesty says these countries are struggling to cope with the influx.
Shetty is urging states to share responsibility internationally.
The rights group is also challenging governments to rethink the use of the word "migrants" to describe the flood of people taking to ships and other modes of transport in fleeing their native lands. Many picked up as sea in the Mediterranean, for example, should properly be called refugees because they are fleeing war zones — a definition that would give them international protection, said Audrey Gaughran, the director of global issues for the organization.
"If governments acknowledge they are refugees, they are acknowledging they have to do things differently," she said.