The exodus of more than 1 million refugees from war-torn Iraq reversed a five-year trend decline in the number of refugees worldwide, the United Nations says.
In a report released on Monday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said its count of refugees grew by 14 percent in 2006 to about 9.9 million. It was the first increase since 2002.
The 1.2 million Iraqis who sought refuge in neighboring Jordan and Syria during the year were the biggest reason for the increase, UNHCR said.
Iraqis now make up the world's second-largest refugee population, behind the 2.1 million who have fled Afghanistan amid decades of insurgencies and civil war that date back to the Soviet invasion of 1979. In addition, the number of Iraqis internally displaced -- forced from their homes, but remaining within the country -- rose by 660,000 in 2006, to a total of 1.8 million.
Refugees from Sudan, where ongoing strife between the Arab-led government and the black African population of the country's Darfur region, made up the third-largest group with 686,000.
The report does not count the estimated 4.3 million Palestinians looked after by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.
The report comes in advance of the United Nations marking World Refugee Day on Wednesday.