The UN Refugee Agency

State of the World’s Refugees 2012

Overview

This publication provides a synthesis of UNHCR’s flagship publication, The State of the World’s Refugees: In Search of Solidarity. The book itself was produced during 2011-2012, and written from the perspective of UNHCR, drawing on experiences from the past seven years. It is divided into eight thematic chapters, which together reflect the state of the world’s refugees. Growing numbers without state protection First, the book describes growing numbers of people who lack the full protection of their state. At the start of 2011, tens of millions of people—including 33.9 million of concern to UNHCR—are therefore particularly vulnerable. Most are people at risk from armed conflicts and political violence in their communities and countries of origin: civilians in conflict, refugees, asylum-seekers, refugees in protracted displacement,…

Introduction: Trends in Forced Displacement

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. 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…

Chapter 1: Conflict, Displacement, and ‘Humanitarian Space’

This chapter examines the impact of conflict and insecurity on forced displacement and the humanitarian response worldwide. In view of the tens of millions of people forcibly displaced by conflict today, the chapter examines the changing nature of conflict, the challenges this poses for humanitarian action, and the ‘risk management’ approach adopted by UNHCR and other humanitarian actors. It concludes with an outline of expected future challenges in addressing forced displacement in conflicts. In 2011, UNHCR worked in situations of armed conflict more than ever before in its 60-year history. A majority of the 10.5* million refugees under its mandate fled from conflicts, more than half of them from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Since the start of 2011, UNHCR has responded to new outflows…

Chapter 2: Keeping Asylum Meaningful

This chapter describes the increasingly complex challenge of preserving refugee protection and the integrity of asylum. It begins by describing the international legal framework for refugee protection, then describes the inconsistencies that beset its practice, and its entwinement with other forms of migration and the need to strengthen the ‘governance’ of the international refugee protection system. It concludes with a list of steps to keep asylum meaningful. The world’s refugee protection regime was designed to offer international protection to refugees who cannot rely on the protection of their own state. The term ‘asylum’ is not defined in international law, but it has come to refer to a status that guarantees refugees the enjoyment of their full human rights in a host country. For more…

Chapter 3: Unblocking Durable Solutions

This chapter explores how the established framework of three durable solutions might be adjusted to respond better to the needs of today’s refugees. It begins by outlining the three traditional durable solutions, goes on to describe the importance of comprehensive strategies which include development and peacebuilding, and then considers how refugees themselves approach durable solutions. It concludes by suggesting policy directions to revitalize the search for solutions. The ultimate aim of refugee protection is to secure lasting solutions to refugee problems. Lasting solutions may be achieved by returning to a home country (voluntary repatriation), by settling permanently in the country where the refugee has found protection (local integration), or by relocating to a third country which offers the refugee permanent residence (resettlement). A durable…

Chapter 4: Resolving Statelessness

This chapter examines global developments in addressing the problem of statelessness. It begins by describing the international legal framework relating to statelessness, goes on to describe the various causes of statelessness, and then outlines various efforts to resolve the problem. It concludes that statelessness can often be effectively resolved, and notes renewed international commitments to address the problem. Everyone has the right to a nationality, as affirmed in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Possession of nationality often serves as a key to enjoying many other rights, such as education, health care, employment and equality before the law. Two global instruments provide guidance on the rights of stateless people and on how statelessness can be avoided: the 1954 Convention relating to…

Chapter 5: Protecting the Internally Displaced

This chapter reviews progress achieved during the past six years in establishing a broad understanding of what the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) means in practice, as well as the continuing need for national and international engagement. It begins by outlining how internal displacement has become an international concern, goes on to describe the role of the international community, including in legal and operational protection, and then considers the conditions needed for displacement to end. It concludes with an assessment of future prospects, and offers some directions for future progress. In recent years, IDPs have emerged as the largest group of people receiving UNHCR’s protection and assistance. By 2011, UNHCR was engaged with 14.7 million IDPs in 26 countries, in contexts ranging from…

Chapter 6: Displacement and Urbanization

This chapter looks at the challenges of rethinking UNHCR’s response to refugees in urban areas. The chapter begins with a description of UNHCR’s evolving policy on urban refugees, goes on to outline the particular protection challenges in cities and then describes UNHCR’s adapted operations and good practices. It concludes that broader partnerships and adequate funding will be needed to address these challenges. As the world becomes urbanized, refugees and displaced people increasingly live in cities and towns too. It is difficult to know the precise number of refugees, returnees and IDPs who live in urban areas. But these populations are diverse, including single young men, women, children and older people, as well as some highly vulnerable people. Refugees and displaced people frequently struggle to…

Chapter 7: Displacement, Climate Change, and Natural Disasters

This chapter examines the international response to the displacement linked to climate change and natural disasters. It begins by describing the displacement challenges linked to the effects of climate change and natural disasters, and then describes a potential normative gap in the protection of people displaced across borders owing to these phenomena. It concludes that protection gaps need to be addressed by the international community, and that solidarity will be tested by the impacts of climate change. The scale and complexity of human displacement will be increased by climate change, a defining issue of our times. More people are already displaced annually by natural disasters than by conflict, and the long term effects of climate change are expected to trigger large-scale population movements within…

Chapter 8: State Responsibility and International Solidarity

This chapter considers how international solidarity can help states to meet their responsibilities concerning refugees and contribute to improving their protection and finding lasting solutions to their problems. It begins by describing international solidarity and the impact of refugees on host countries, goes on to describe responsibility-sharing practices among states, and then describes efforts to strengthen international solidarity. It concludes by restating evolving challenges and the need for responsible states, international cooperation and meaningful solidarity to address them. The international refugee protection system is founded on national responsibility and states complying with their legal obligations towards refugees and others at risk, on the basis of treaties and customary international law. At the same time, the system depends on international solidarity, the principle by which…