This synthesis of The State of the World’s Refugees: In Search for Solidarity, is intended for UNHCR’s diverse stakeholders, and all people concerned with forced displacement. The book is available from Oxford University Press at: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199654758.do.

Thousands flee the area of Kibati, north Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Thousands flee the area of Kibati, north Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The world’s refugee protection system was established with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, in 1950 and the adoption of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Refugee Convention). The system was designed to respond to the potentially destabilizing effects of population movements from the Second World War and its aftermath, and to uphold the rights of refugees and support the countries hosting them. The Convention has since been supplemented by the 1967 Protocol, as well as protection regimes in several regions of the world.

UNHCR is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. UNHCR’s mandate distinguishes it from other humanitarian actors, requiring it to provide international protection to refugees who do not enjoy the protection of their governments. It also recognizes that international cooperation and support are needed to complement the efforts of the host country, which bears the primary responsibility for meeting the needs of refugees. In times of economic difficulty and heightened security concerns, states understandably tend to focus on the well-being of their own populations; but the global challenges of forced displacement call for more, not less, international cooperation and solidarity.

Current trends in forced displacement are testing the international system like never before. Some 33.9 million people were ‘people of concern’ to UNHCR at the start of 2011, an increase from 19.2 million in 2005. Many were not refugees, as the proportion of refugees among the people of concern to UNHCR decreased from 48 per cent to 29 per cent over the past six years. UNHCR has increasingly engaged with internally displaced people (IDPs), stateless people, populations affected by major natural disasters and people displaced in urban areas. UNHCR has responded to new emergencies in places such as Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, while addressing long-standing displacement in and from countries such as Afghanistan the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. Recognizing the diversity of displaced populations and their needs, UNHCR has taken steps to ensure that its programmes are tailored to meet different needs, and UNHCR’s Age, Gender and Diversity Policy sets out its commitment to ensuring equitable outcomes.

Box 0.2 Somalia: the state of the world’s refugees in microcosm

Global social and economic trends indicate that displacement will continue to grow in the next decade, taking on new and different forms. Displacement patterns will be affected by population growth, from today’s 7 billion people to 10.1 billion by 2100, and mostly in Africa and Asia; by urbanization, including the increased rural-to-urban migration of young people leaving rural poverty and food insecurity, and adding pressures on housing and employment in cities; by climate change and natural disasters, which already displace millions of people every year; by increased food prices linked to urbanization and reduced agricultural output in Africa and Asia; and by increasing conflict over scarce resources which could depopulate some areas.

Developments in the international system have also affected the international response to refugees and displaced people. Humanitarian reforms initiated by the United Nations in 2005 have made international humanitarian action more efficient, accountable and predictable. The UN Security Council’s endorsement of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, and a new emphasis on the protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations, have contributed to protecting basic human rights in situations of armed conflict. The International Criminal Court, and mechanisms at national and regional levels, have contributed to reinforcing accountability for armed actors. The need to ensure the protection of IDPs is now widely accepted, and a broad definition of protection has been affirmed by the UN-led Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). Further, UNHCR and other humanitarian actors have increasingly recognized that their principal accountability is to the people they serve.

Young migrants and asylum seekers in a crowded detention centre, on the Greek island of Lesvos.

Young migrants and asylum seekers in a crowded detention centre, on the Greek island of Lesvos.

This sixth edition of The State of the World’s Refugees provides an overview of key developments in forced displacement from 2006 to 2011, a time frame that coincides with the first five-year term (mid-2005 to June 2010) and the start of the second term of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. Produced by UNHCR with input from independent experts, the book is intended to make a contribution to global policy and practice relating to forced displacement.

Under the overarching theme of solidarity, the book is divided into eight thematic chapters. Chapter 1 focuses on armed conflict and humanitarian responses, the context for many UNHCR operations today. Chapter 2 looks at trends in asylum and changes in the refugee protection environment, 60 years after the 1951 Convention. Chapter 3 examines the search for durable solutions, and the growing constraints to achieving them. Chapter 4 offers a fresh review of statelessness, a long-standing problem. Chapter 5 looks at UNHCR’s work with IDPs, and its greatly expanded role in recent years. Chapter 6 examines displacement in urban environments and associated protection challenges. Chapter 7 offers new perspectives on displacement caused by climate change and natural disasters. Chapter 8 describes the continuing quest for national responsibility and international solidarity, to ensure the protection of refugees and displaced people.