UN High Commissioner for Refugees launches "State of the World's Refugees" warns of worsening global displacement

Press Releases, 31 May 2012

NEW YORK, May 31 (UNHCR) The head of the UN refugee agency, António Guterres, warned today that factors causing mass population flight are growing and that the coming 10 years will see more and more people on the move becoming refugees or internally displaced persons.

In comments marking the launch of a flagship UNHCR book, The State of the World's Refugees: In Search of Solidarity, Guterres said displacement from conflict is becoming compounded by a combination of causes; including climate change, population growth, urbanization, food insecurity, water scarcity and resource competition. All these factors are interacting with each other increasing instability and conflict and forcing people to move. In a world that is becoming smaller and smaller, finding solutions, he said, will need determined international political will.

"The world is creating displacement faster than it is producing solutions," said Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "And this means one thing only: More people trapped in exile over many years, unable to return home, to settle locally, or to move elsewhere. Global displacement is an inherently international problem, and as such needs international solutions and by this I mainly mean political solutions."

The State of the World's Refugees: In Search of Solidarity details these and other changes to the environment for the displaced since 2006 when the previous edition of the book was published. It presents a decidedly gloomier outlook: larger and more complex displacement challenges, increased threats to the safety of humanitarian workers, and states needing to strengthen their cooperation.

Notable among these changes is the emergence of internal displacement as a dominant challenge. Today most of the world's 43 million forced to flee their homes are not refugees but people who are displaced within their own countries. Globally, some 26 million people fall into this category, compared to around 15-16 million refugees and a further million asylum seekers. For humanitarian workers, an ensuing implication is that helping the displaced is becoming more costly and dangerous. In countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, or Iraq, getting help to internally displaced populations means working in environments where access is difficult and conflict or criminality can present deadly risk.

The State of the World's Refugees: In Search of Solidarity looks at these problems and the state of cooperation among countries. "The space for humanitarian intervention is shrinking exactly when the need for humanitarian help is increasing. Pressures on the international protection system are clearly growing. In some industrialized countries in particular we see fortress mentalities that serve only to shift responsibility and compassion elsewhere. In a world where societies are becoming multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, it is essential to promote the values of tolerance and to fight the manifestation of xenophobia," said Guterres.

Several chapters in the book look at emerging challenges, including the growing numbers of urban refugees, and displacement from climate change and natural disasters. It notes that more people are already displaced annually by natural disasters than by conflict. And it carries a warning about gaps in international protection when it comes to people who flee across borders to escape climate change impacts or natural disasters. They are not recognized as refugees under international law.

The book describes how UNHCR and its partners have developed many innovative practices in response to evolving displacement challenges. However, it also elaborates the struggle UNHCR often faces in promoting state compliance with customary international law as it relates to the forcibly displaced, or the compliance of signatory states to their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. It also looks at the problems of the world's estimated 12 million stateless people without citizenship of any state, they are often trapped in legal and human rights limbo.

Eighty per cent of today's refugees live in the developing world. Greater international solidarity is needed to address this challenge, the book concludes in its last chapter. This encompasses providing more resettlement opportunities for refugees in the industrialised world, focusing development cooperation projects to foster sustainable voluntary return or local integration, and supporting host communities. A new deal in burden and responsibility sharing is needed in the whole cycle of refugee protection from prevention of conflict to solutions.