GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations refugee agency on Thursday said the number of people forcibly displaced stood at a record 117.3 million as of the end of last year, warning that this figure could rise further without major global political changes.

"These are refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people, people being forced away by conflict, by persecution, by different and increasingly complex forms of violence," said Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"Conflict remains a very, very deep driver of displacement."

In its report on global trends in forced displacement, UNHCR said that there had been a yearly increase in the number of people forcibly displaced over the last 12 years.

UNHCR estimates that forced displacement has continued to increase in the first four months of 2024, and that the number of those displaced is likely to have exceeded 120 million by the end of April.

"Unless there is a shift in international geopolitics, unfortunately, I actually see that figure continuing to go up," Grandi said, referring to the risk of new conflicts.

The conflicts that have driven displacement include the war in Sudan, which Grandi described as "one of the most catastrophic ones" despite garnering less attention that other crises. More that 9 million people have been internally displaced and another 2 million have fled to neighbouring countries including Chad, Egypt and South Sudan, Grandi said.

"People are arriving in the hundreds every day," he said, referring to the influx of people seeking safety in Chad.

In Gaza, Israel's bombardment and ground campaign have caused around 1.7 million people - nearly 80% of the Palestinian enclave's population - to become internally displaced, many of them multiple times.

Grandi warned that the possible crossings of Gazans into Egypt from the southern border town of Rafah to escape Israel's military offensive would be catastrophic.

"Another refugee crisis outside Gaza would be catastrophic on all levels, including because we have no guarantee that the people will be able to return to Gaza one day," Grandi said.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)