People Forced to Flee

People Forced to Flee: History, Change and Challenge, UNHCR’s flagship publication, is an invaluable resource on the most pressing issues for improving responses for forcibly displaced persons. Published by Oxford University Press in February 2022, the digital version is available here in English and Portuguese.

People Forced to Flee cover

People Forced to Flee: History, Change and Challenge is produced by UNHCR, the United Nations agency charged with safeguarding the rights and well-being of refugees, other forcibly displaced people and stateless persons around the globe. The book:

  • Traces the history of asylum from ancient period to modern times
  • Describes how the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees outgrew post-war Europe to become a global, binding framework for the protection of refugees
  • Reviews international responses to internally displaced persons and those forcibly displaced in the context of climate change and disasters
  • Discusses the record on finding lasting solutions to forced displacement, the lessons learned and prospects to unlock more
  • Charts the growing recognition that forced displacement is a development and humanitarian challenge
  • Looks at the potential this holds for improving lives of forcibly displaced persons and the communities in which they live
  • Examines how new partnerships are widening the funding base, improving data, evidence and analysis, strengthening innovation and investments in locally led responses
  • Traces the expansion of efforts to hold those who cause displacement – the perpetrators of serious human rights abuses – criminally liable.

It is 70 years since nations in the wake of World War II drew up the landmark 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. People Forced to Flee marks this milestone. It is the latest in a long line of publications, stretching back to 1993, that were previously titled The State of the World’s Refugees.

People in danger have received protection in communities beyond their own from the earliest times of recorded history. The causes — war, conflict, violence, persecution, natural disasters, and climate change — are as familiar to readers of the news as to students of the past.

The book traces the historic path that led to the 1951 Convention, showing how history was made, by taking the centuries-old ideals of safety and solutions for refugees, to global practice. It maps its progress during which international protection has reached a much broader group of people than initially envisaged.

It examines international responses to forced displacement within borders as well as beyond them, and the protection principles that apply to both. It reviews where they have been used with consistency and success, and where they have not. At times, the strength and resolve of the international community seems strong, yet solutions and meaningful solidarity are often elusive. Taking stock today – at this important anniversary – is all the more crucial as the world faces increasing forced displacement.

Most is experienced in low- and middle-income countries and persists for generations. People forced to flee face barriers to improving their lives, contributing to the communities in which they live and realizing solutions. Everywhere, an effective response depends on the commitment to international cooperation set down in the 1951 Convention: a vision often compromised by efforts to minimize responsibilities.

There is growing recognition that doing better is a global imperative. Humanitarian and development action has the potential to be transformational, especially when grounded in the local context. People Forced to Flee examines how and where increased development investments in education, health and economic inclusion are helping to improve socioeconomic opportunities both for forcibly displaced persons and their hosts.

In 2018, the international community reached a Global Compact on Refugees for more equitable and sustainable responses. It is receiving deeper support. People Forced to Flee looks at whether that is enough for what could – and should – help define the next 70 years.

Reference papers

To mark the 70th Anniversary of the 1951 Convention, UNHCR received the following reference papers which canvass a number of wide-ranging contemporary issues such as drivers of displacement; socioeconomic inclusion for forcibly displaced persons; improving data and evidence; unlocking more solutions; and engaging more broadly. They represent the perspectives of a broad array of partners in forced displacement responses and have helped inform the research for People Forced to Flee: History, Change and Challenge. The reference papers reflect the personal views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of their associated institutions or UNHCR. UNHCR is greatly appreciative of these contributions and insights.