Global displacement hits record 110 million people

Somali refugees are seen through a discarded mosquito net as they gather in the new arrivals area of the Hagadera refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, in Garissa County, Kenya, January 17, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Somali refugees are seen through a discarded mosquito net as they gather in the new arrivals area of the Hagadera refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, in Garissa County, Kenya, January 17, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Conflicts and humanitarian crises in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan have forced millions to flee their homes

Dominique Hyde, director of external relations at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

It’s a world record that no one wants to celebrate. By the end of last year, the number of forcibly displaced people – refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people – around the world had reached 108.4 million. After more than a decade in which UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has been announcing annual increases in global displacement, we find ourselves doing it again.

You can unpack these figures in various ways, all of them discouraging. For example, the increase on 2021 was 19.1 million, an astounding rise of more than 20% in the forcibly displaced population. Add to this the recent violence in Sudan, and we estimate that the total number of people forced to flee their homes had risen to 110.4 million by this May.

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In response to these inexorable rises, the first thing to do is to acknowledge who bears the brunt of this human tragedy. Three-quarters of refugees – those who have crossed an international border – are hosted in middle to low-income countries. More than a fifth currently reside in the world’s 46 least developed countries, which account for less than 1.3% of global GDP.

Without sustained and meaningful help, those already hard-pressed states can hardly be expected to keep supporting such large numbers of vulnerable people. Yet many countries with big refugee populations have shown an admirable willingness to try. Countries such as Colombia, Mauritania, Kenya, Niger and others have in recent years taken steps to include refugees in their national systems, from education and labour markets to healthcare and housing.

The expectation seems to be that these states and their citizens – many of whom are simultaneously grappling with the damaging effects of climate change, which itself compels people to move – will continue to protect and support increasing numbers of the displaced without a commensurate increase in outside assistance.

Already this year, more than 1 million Somalis have fled their homes because of conflict, floods and drought. That brings the number of IDPS in Somalia to more than 3.8 million, in a country where millions more are struggling to find enough food to eat (more than half a million Somali children, who did absolutely nothing to contribute to either the conflict or the climate disasters, are severely malnourished). Are we really expecting Somalia to handle this on its own?

So one wonders why international humanitarian and development funding is falling. For some reason, wealthier countries are not only turning away from humanitarian crises – many of UNHCR’s most critical operations are severely underfunded – but also failing to see action as a global public good.

Yet we know that our solutions work. When refugees are included in national systems and given opportunities to study and work, they move out of a state of dependency to one of self-reliance, contributing to local economies to the benefit of themselves and their hosts. If host countries were given proper support on job creation, educational provision, technology, climate change mitigation, healthcare and more, both the displaced and local communities would benefit.

We have also seen refugees and IDPs return home when the conditions are right. During 2022, at least 5.7 million IDPs returned home, while 339,300 refugees were also able to go back to their country of origin. But this can only happen if lasting peace is achieved. Last year, 22 people became refugees for every one that returned.

Sharing responsibility also means an increased commitment on the part of well-resourced states to resettle refugees or offer more opportunities such as scholarships and work visas. Yet for the vast majority, resettlement and similar solutions remain out of reach. While 114,300 refugees were resettled to a safe third country in 2022, double the number of 2021, this is an insignificant number compared to the needs.

At the end of this year, UNHCR and Switzerland will co-host the second Global Refugee Forum, four years on from the first. It is an opportunity for everyone concerned – states, the private sector, charities and foundations, refugee-led organizations, UN agencies, and individual citizens – to join forces and pledge concrete support for refugees and the communities that host them.

But it must be part of a wider effort to give long-term, meaningful support to countries who do the most to support the forcibly displaced. Until we stop setting new records, it is both illogical and inhuman not do so.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A Somali refugee girl carries her sibling as they walk in their new arrivals area of the Hagadera refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, in Garissa County, Kenya, January 17, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

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Refugee crises around the world

We look at the global refugee crisis in its breadth and depth - from policies that restrict refugees' freedom to those that allow for a dignified new life

Updated: June 19, 2023


  • War and conflict
  • Migration
  • Economic inclusion

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