Conflict and persecution caused global forced displacement to escalatesharply in 2015 reaching the highest level ever recorded and representingimmense human suffering, according to a report released today by UNHCR, the UNRefugee Agency.
UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report,which tracks forced displacement worldwide based on data from governments,partners including the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, and theorganization’s own reporting, said 65.3 million people were displaced as of theend of 2015, compared to 59.5 million just twelve months earlier. This is thefirst time that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.
The total of 65.3 million comprises 3.2 million people in industrializedcountries who as of end 2015 were awaiting decisions on asylum (the largesttotal UNHCR has recorded), 21.3 million refugees worldwide (1.8 million morethan in 2014 and the highest refugee total since the early 1990s), and 40.8million people who had been forced to flee their homes but were within theconfines of their own countries (an increase of 2.6 million from 2014 and thehighest number on record).
Measured against Earth’s 7.349 billion population these numbers meanthat 1 in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internallydisplaced or a refugee – a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent. Inall, there are more forcibly displaced people today than the populations of theUnited Kingdom, France or Italy. ¹
Forced displacement has been on the rise since at least the mid-1990s inmost regions, but over the past five years the rate of climb has increased. Thereasons are threefold: Situations that cause large refugee outflows are lastinglonger (for example, conflicts in Somalia or Afghanistan are now into theirthird and fourth decades, respectively), dramatic new or reignited situationsare occurring frequently (today’s largest being Syria, but also in the space ofthe past five years South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, Ukraine, Central AfricanRepublic etc.), and the rate at which solutions are being found for refugeesand internally displaced people has been on a falling trend since the end of theCold War. As recently as 10 years ago, at the end of 2005, UNHCR recorded anaverage of 6 people displaced every minute. Today that number is 24 a minute –almost double the typical frequency at which adults breathe.
“More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’sworrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplyingtoo,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “At sea, afrightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, peoplefleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Politics isgravitating against asylum in some countries. The willingness of nations towork together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest iswhat’s being tested today, and it’s this spirit of unity that badly needs toprevail.”
3 countries produce half the world’s refugees…
Among countries covered by the Global Trends report several stand out:Syria at 4.9 million, Afghanistan at 2.7 million and Somalia at 1.1 milliontogether accounted for more than half the refugees under UNHCR’s mandateworldwide. Colombia at 6.9 million, Syria at 6.6 million, and Iraq at 4.4million meanwhile had the largest numbers of internally displaced people. Yemenwas the biggest producer of new internal displacement in 2015 – 2.5 millionpeople, or 9 per cent of its population.
…And they’re mostly in the Global South
Europe’s struggles to manage the more than one million refugees andmigrants who arrived via the Mediterranean dominated the attentions of many in2015, nonetheless the report shows that the vast majority of the world’srefugees were elsewhere. In all, 86 per cent of refugees under UNHCR’s mandatein 2015 were in low and middle income countries close to situations ofconflict. This figure rises to over 90 per cent of the world’s refugee total ifthe Palestinian refugees under the responsibility of UNHCR’ssister-organization UNRWA are included. Worldwide, Turkey was the biggest hostcountry with 2.5 million refugees. Lebanon, meanwhile hosted more refugeescompared to its population than any other country (183 refugees per 1,000inhabitants). Relative to the size of its economy the Democratic Republic ofthe Congo hosted most (471 refugees for every dollar of per capita GDP,measured at price purchasing parity).
Asylum claims rise
Among industrialized countries, 2015 was also a record year for newasylum claims, with two million requests (contributing to the 3.2 million casesstill pending as of the end of the year). Germany received more asylum requeststhan any other country (441,900), largely reflecting its readiness to receivepeople who were fleeing to Europe via the Mediterranean. The United States hadthe second highest number of asylum claims (172,700), many of these individualsfleeing gang-related violence in Central America. Substantial asylumapplications were also seen in Sweden (156,000) and Russia (152,500).
About half the world’s refugees are children
Children constituted 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015according to the data UNHCR was able to gather (complete demographic data wasnot available to the report authors). Worryingly, many were separated fromtheir parents or travelling alone. In all there were 98,400 asylum requestsfrom children who were unaccompanied or separated from their families. This isthe highest total UNHCR has seen – and a tragic reflection of how global forceddisplacement is disproportionately affecting young lives.
Unable to go home
While global displacement totals were higher than ever, the number ofpeople able to return to their home or find another solution (local integrationin a country of first refuge or resettlement elsewhere) was low. 201,400refugees were able to return to their countries of origin in 2015 (mainlyAfghanistan, Sudan and Somalia). This was higher than the total in 2014(126,800), but still substantially down compared with the peaks of the early1990s. Some 107,100 refugees were admitted for resettlement in 30 countries in2015 – representing just 0.66 per cent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate(by comparison, 26 countries admitted 105,200 refugees for resettlement in2014, representing 0.73 per cent of the refugee population under UNHCR care).At least 32,000 refugees became naturalized over the course of the year, themajority in Canada and with smaller numbers in France, Belgium, Austria andelsewhere.
Displacement in 2015, by region (from highest to lowest)
1. Middle East and North Africa
Syria’s war remained the world’s leading cause of displacement andassociated suffering. By the end of 2015 it had driven at least 4.9 millionpeople into exile as refugees and displaced 6.6 million internally – amountingto around half Syria’s pre-war population. Iraq’s conflict had by year’s enddisplaced 4.4 million people internally and created more than a quarter of amillion refugees. Yemen’s civil war, which began in 2015, had by the end ofDecember displaced 2.5 million people – more new displacement than any otherconflict globally. Including the 5.2 million Palestinian refugees under themandate of UNRWA, the almost half a million Libyans forced to flee their homesand remaining in the country, plus a number of smaller situations, the MiddleEast and North Africa region accounted for more displacement than any other.
2. Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa had the largest displacement totals in 2015 after theMiddle East and North Africa. Continuing bitter conflict in South Sudan in2015, as well as in Central African Republic and Somalia, plus new orcontinuing mass displacement in or from countries including Nigeria, Burundi,Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and elsewhere togetherproduced 18.4 million refugees and internally displaced people as of year’send. Sub-Saharan Africa meanwhile hosted some 4.4 million refugees in all –more than any other region. Five of the world’s top-10 hosting nations wereAfrican countries, led by Ethiopia, and followed by Kenya, Uganda, DemocraticRepublic of the Congo and Chad.
3. Asia and Pacific
The Asia and Pacific region accounted for almost a sixth of the world’srefugees and internally displaced people in 2015, making it the third largestregion for displacement overall. One in six of the refugees under UNHCR’smandate were from Afghanistan (2.7 million people) where almost 1.2 millionpeople were internally displaced. Myanmar was the region’s second largestproducer of both refugees and internally displaced people (451,800 and 451,000respectively). Pakistan (1.5 million) and Islamic Republic of Iran (979,000)remain among the world’s leading refugee hosting countries.
Rising numbers of people fleeing gang and other violence in CentralAmerica contributed to a 17 per cent rise in displacement across the widerregion. Refugees and asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Hondurastogether reached 109,800, most coming to Mexico and the United States andrepresenting a more than five-fold increase over three years. Colombia, alongstanding situation, remained the world’s biggest country for internaldisplacement (6.9 million).
The situation in Ukraine, Europe’sproximity to Syria and Iraq, plus the arrival of more than a million refugeesand migrants via the Mediterranean mostly from the world’s top tenrefugee-producing countries, together dominated the region’s displacementpicture in 2015. European countries together produced some 593,000 refugees -most from Ukraine; and hosted 4.4 million – 2.5 million of these in Turkey.Figures provided by the Government of Ukraine list 1.6 million Ukrainians asbeing displaced there. The Global Trends report lists 441,900 asylum claims inGermany, where the refugee population increased by 46 per cent from its 2014level to 316,000.
¹ 2015 population of UK: 64.7 million; pop of France: 64.4 million;pop of Italy 59.8 million. Source: UN Population Division, World PopulationProspects, the 2015 Revision https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Download/Standard/Population/
UNHCR’s Global TrendsReport is being released on World Refugee Day, 20 June in conjunction with our #WithRefugeespetition campaign.