Measuring forced displacement and statelessness
The collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics on refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons (IDPs) is challenging. The Expert Group on Refugee and IDP Statistics (EGRIS) was established in 2016 by the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC). It is tasked with addressing these challenges including the lack of consistent terminology and difficulties in comparing statistics internationally. Key guidance produced by EGRIS so far includes:
International Recommendations on Refugee Statistics (IRRS, published in 2018) - an internationally accepted framework for statistics on refugee and refugee-related populations.
Refugee statistics compilers’ manual with operational instructions established in compliance with the IRRS.
The Expert Group on Statelessness Statistics and the Inter-agency Group on Statelessness Estimation were established in 2019 with a view to support countries in improving statelessness statistics and to submit international recommendations on statelessness statistics to the UNSC in 2022.
Refugees, asylum-seekers and returned refugees
The diagram below shows the population groups referred to as refugee and refugee-related based on the definitions and concepts contained in the International Recommendations on Refugee Statistics.
Persons in need of international protection comprises prospective asylum-seekers, asylum-seekers, recognized refugees and persons with complementary, subsidiary and temporary forms of protection, and others in refugee-like situations. This category also includes children of refugees or asylum-seekers who may have been born in the country of asylum but did not acquire citizenship of that country and are therefore in need of international protection. These groups, normally excluding prospective asylum-seekers, are counted in UNHCR’s asylum-seeker and refugee statistics, and they are counted under the numbers of forcibly displaced persons. Persons with a refugee background includes naturalized former refugees, family members of refugees such as children born to refugees who acquired or are entitled to citizenship of the country of asylum, and reunified family members from abroad who are important groups but not considered as in need of international protection. They are, however, often of relevance to UNHCR. These groups are not counted among the figures on forcibly displaced persons.
Persons returned from abroad after seeking international protection, often called returnees, comprise repatriating refugees, repatriating asylum-seekers whose asylum application has been decided negative, and other groups who sought or received forms of international protection and returned to their former country of habitual residence.
Venezuelans displaced abroad
People are leaving Venezuela for many reasons: violence, insecurity, fear of being targeted for their political opinions (whether real or perceived), shortages of food and medicine, lack of access to social services, and being unable to support themselves and their families. By mid-2021, 5.1 million Venezuelans had left their homes, travelling mainly towards Latin America and the Caribbean. It is the biggest exodus in the region’s recent history and one of the biggest displacement crises in the world. They stay in their host countries under a wide range of legal status inside and outside the asylum systems.
Various interconnected factors are causing Venezuelans to leave, but given the deteriorating political, socioeconomic and human rights conditions, it is clear that international protection considerations, according to the refugee criteria in the 1951 Convention/1967 Protocol and the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, are applicable to the majority of Venezuelans. With the objective of ensuring a coherent and coordinated operational response, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) established the Regional Interagency Coordination Platform in September 2018. Venezuelans displaced abroad are included in the global forced displacement total.
Internally displaced persons
IDPs are people who have been forced to leave or abandon their homes, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized border. People flee within their own countries for example to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural- and human-made disasters. UNHCR compiles data only on conflict-generated IDPs to whom the organization extends protection and/or assistance. As such, UNHCR statistics do not provide a complete overview of global internal displacement. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) maintains a database on IDPs displaced due to violence and conflict as well as due to natural disasters, providing a more comprehensive picture of global internal displacement.
UNHCR compiles figures on persons under its statelessness mandate for two population groups. The first are persons who meet the statelessness definition in the 1954 Convention because they are not considered as nationals of any State. The second group are persons with undetermined nationality, a population group for which UNHCR collects data in response to Executive Committee Conclusion No. 106 from 2006.
While a formal definition of a person with undetermined nationality does not exist, UNHCR uses the working definition of a person who lacks proof of possession of any nationality and who at the same time has or is perceived as having links to a State other than the one he/she is living in. Persons with undetermined nationality have in many cases a migratory history that leads to an unresolved nationality status. UNHCR previously also reported on de facto stateless populations but discontinued doing so in mid-2019 based on an assessment that de facto statelessness was often incorrectly used to refer to people who meet the statelessness definition in the 1954 Convention and who should therefore be reported as such. Over the past decade, these concepts and definitions have sometimes been applied inconsistently in different UNHCR country operations for the annual statistical reporting process. See the technical paper "UNHCR Statistical Reporting on Statelessness" for details. It is therefore challenging to compare statelessness figures across different countries or even to compare figures in the same country for different years. To identify stateless persons and develop reliable methods for statelessness estimation, it is important to recognize the different causes of statelessness. Nationality laws that are inconsistent with international standards and state secession are together responsible for a significant proportion of today’s known global stateless population. Migration, nomadism and forced displacement are additional potential causes of statelessness.
UNHCR’s statistical reporting generally follows a methodology that reports only one legal status for each person of concern. Consequently, prior to 2017, displaced stateless people (i.e. those people who are both stateless and refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced or others of concern to UNHCR) were reported only by their displacement status.
Since 2017, the reported statelessness figures include stateless persons who are also refugees or asylum-seekers from Myanmar, IDPs in Myanmar, or others of concern to UNHCR. This was due to the size of the Rohingya population displaced within and from Myanmar (at least a million remained displaced during each of the years since 2017). In 2017 and 2018, the dual status was reported for the displaced Rohingya populations in Myanmar and Bangladesh. In 2019, reporting of the dual status of displaced Rohingya populations also included India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Since 2020, reporting on stateless people with a dual status was extended to include all such populations in all countries.
Data publication timeline and data availability
UNHCR publishes population statistics every six months:
- End-year statistics for the previous year are published in June, typically on World Refugee Data.
- Mid-year statistics covering January to June for the current year are typically published in December.
- Demographic data is only collected within the end-year statistics.
In addition, IDMC publish stock figures for Internally Displaced Persons on an annual basis, with end-year statistics for the previous year published in May. These figures are used to calculate the total forcibly displaced population presented on the home page, and therefore this total is only updated on an annual basis. Data on Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate is available on a quarterly basis.
This summary spreadsheet documents when each population type as well as the demographics first became available in each host country. Globally, statistics for each was first available as listed in the following table:
|Population or demographic type||Year first available|
|Forcibly displaced and stateless populations|
|Internally displaced persons of concern to UNHCR||1993|
|Venezuelans displaced abroad||2018|
|Others of concern to UNHCR||1997|
|Release date||Description||Methodological changes compared to the previous version|
|18 June 2021||Annual statistics for 2020||No changes|
|08 December 2020||Mid-year statistics for 2020||Reduced error margin in the redaction of the demographics resulting in consistency with the population totals.|
|18 June 2020||Annual statistics for 2019||Introduction of the Venezuelans displaced abroad population type. Previously these were included as others of concern.|
|10 November 2021||Mid-year statistics for 2021||Includes updates to the 2020 data for the numbers of refugees in the Netherlands, refugees and asylum-seekers in Morocco and Venezuelans displaced abroad in Brazil. This update also benefits from minor improvements to the data redaction of refugee data from 2020.|
Data terms and conditions of usage
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License
Except where otherwise indicated, the datasets made available by UNHCR on UNHCR Refugee Population Statistics Database are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License.