Forced displacement flow dataset
UNHCR has published a new dataset recording the number of people forced to flee during each of the years since 1962. This dataset presents the forced displacement flows.
Stocks and flowsCommonly reported refugee statistics revolve around two key concepts – stocks and flows. Stocks provide information about the total number of refugees in a country at a given time, usually the end of the year. Flows illustrate movements, capturing the arrival or departure of refugees in a country during a period of time.
There are many instances where policy makers, researchers and the public are most interested in flows of refugees and not in stock numbers. Often the net increase or decrease in stock figures between years has been used in lieu of accurate flow figures. But these may underrepresent the true magnitude of population movements if, for example, refugee arrivals and departures balance each other out. Flow data is better suited in this case, as it records the true extent of the refugee movements. Further, refugee stocks may be subject to changes that go beyond the arrival of new refugees, such as improved statistical estimation. Such changes would not normally impact flow figures on forced displacement, which are based on the number of individuals fleeing their home country to a country of asylum.
The newly published flow dataset
UNHCR has compiled a new dataset on flows of refugees, people in refugee-like situations, asylum-seekers and other people in need of international protection (see definitions) between their country of origin and the country they seek protection in. Specifically, the population types covered in this new dataset include:
- Refugee Arrivals: includes prima facie (group recognition) refugees and those who have received temporary protection. The first available data for this group is for 1962. People in refugee-like situations are also included from 2007.
- New Asylum Applications: are new asylum applications registered during each year. Repeat and appeal applications have been excluded. The first year that published data for this population group became available is 1970 and only for a limited number of high-income countries (see for example asylum applications in industrialised countries), with data from more countries available from 2000.
- Other people in need of international protection: includes just the new arrivals of this population group, first reported in 2018.
Individual and group refugee recognitionRefugee status can be granted individually or on a group basis. Group recognition most commonly takes place when there are readily apparent, objective circumstances in a country of origin which suggest that the majority of individuals fleeing from that country are likely to be refugees. In most cases, individuals being granted refugee status on a group basis will be directly registered as refugees, as opposed to an individual recognition where an individual will first be registered as an asylum seeker. This is why individuals undergoing group determination will normally not be counted in the “asylum application” total.
Prior to the creation of this dataset, this data was available only through different, often annual publications. The new flow dataset presents a curated and quality assured version of refugee and asylum seeker flows from 1962 onwards. Non-flow related increases, such as methodological revisions or legislative changes have been removed from the data. This data therefore is particularly useful for those interested in refugee movements between countries spanning the last six decades.
Some of the largest flows of refugees and asylum-seekers since 1962
Using this dataset, four situations are presented below, showing how conflict, war and political unrest have ignited some of the largest forced displacements in recent history.
The Syrian civil war
The Syrian Civil War started in 2011 and over the course of the following decade, millions of Syrians have been forced to flee their home country. Displacement accelerated in 2012, as more than half a million refugees fled to neighbouring Türkiye, Jordan, and Lebanon. Numbers continued to surge in 2013 and 2014 with 2.3 million and 1.7 million, respectively, fleeing Syria predominately to nearby countries in the region (Türkiye, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt). In 2015, countries of asylum for Syrian refugees shifted, as new displacement to Lebanon and Jordan decreased, while more refugees and asylum-seekers sought refuge in Europe. As such, Germany received 159,000 new Syrian asylum applications in 2015, increasing to 266,000 in 2016, while other European countries registered the inflow of 228,000 and 76,000 Syrians during the same years. While flows of Syrians to the European Union took up much of the media’s attention after 2014, Syrian refugees fleeing to Türkiye continued to outnumber those arriving in Europe in most of that period (947,000 in 2015; 329,000 in 2016; 681,000 in 2017 and 398,000 in 2018).
Four decades of flight from Afghanistan
For more than four decades, people have been forced to flee Afghanistan. During the nine-year conflict starting from 1979, nearly 6 million Afghans were forced to flee their country, primarily to neighbouring Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The movement of nearly 2.4 million Afghan refugees in 1981, represents the third largest annual refugee flow from a single country of origin during the last six decades (the largest is the outflow of Ukrainians in 2022). As the conflict flared up over the following years, further forced displacement ensued. This includes more than 800,000 Afghan refugees between 1999 and 2001 that fled to Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran as the situation deteriorated. International displacement reduced in the years thereafter, until a new exodus in 2014 of Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers, this time seeking refuge primarily in European countries.
The recent exodus of Venezuelans
Some million Venezuelans (includes refugees, asylum-seekers and other people in need of international protection) have left their country since 2017, predominantly seeking protection in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Chile and, to a smaller extent, the United States of America. In 2018 alone more than 2.5 million Venezuelans left their country, the second largest annual flow from a single country of origin recorded in this dataset.
Rwanda before and during the civil war
Between 1980 and 1997 more than 3.1 million Rwandan refugees arrived in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania. Until 1994 annual refugee flows had never exceeded a quarter of a million. This substantially changed, during the most violent period of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 when more than 2.3 million refugees fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1.4 million), the United Republic of Tanzania (674,000) and Burundi (260,000). The flow of Rwandan refugees in 1994 is the fourth largest refugee movement recorded in this dataset.
Explore the data
This dataset will provide researchers, policy makers and general users with curated and regularly updated statistics on global refugee and asylum seeker flows. More research will follow here on the Refugee Data Finder and please do get in touch to discuss your own research. The full dataset is publicly available and can be downloaded below. You can also explore the data using the interactive chart below.
Summary by origin or asylum:
Select country: (of origin)
To use this chart, first choose whether you want to select a country of origin or a country of asylum. Then choose the country from the dropdown list. Only those countries producing or receiving more than 100,000 refugees, asylum-seekers and other people in need of international protection are shown. The chart will refresh to show the five most common countries of origin (if you selected a country of asylum) or asylum (if you selected a country of origin). All the other countries are included in "other countries". To highlight just one country, hover over or tap that country in the legend. To zoom into a specific time period click or tap and drag to select the range you are interested in. Double click or tap to view the full range again.
The data is sourced from UNHCR archives containing data on asylum applications for some 37 industrialized countries and refugee arrivals for 137 countries until 1999. For data since 2000, the numbers of new refugees, asylum applications and other people in need of international protection are sourced from UNHCR’s annual official population statistics. These are collated by UNHCR in each country to global specifications from statistics most commonly provided by governments or sourced from UNHCR’s own data. Data is harmonized in a series of steps:
- Including only new asylum applications. Applications were filtered to include only new applications (codes: "N", "NR", "NA", "FA", "SP"). In addition, between 2000 and 2006, the "V" code was used predominately to indicate various / unknown application types. Applications of type "V" in this period were filtered using also the Decision Type (codes: "FI", "FA", "NA", "TR", "CA").
- Increases for refugee-like populations are included in the dataset only where these reflect new arrivals rather than e.g. methodological changes.
Specific exceptions include:
- For the USA, new affirmative asylum cases were multiplied by the average case size in each year between 2000 and 2020 to reflect the average number of individuals per case. Note that the actual case size might vary considerably by country of origin.
- Temporary protection provided to refugees in the Russian Federation between 2013 and 2017 are excluded from the dataset, as these are also included in the asylum statistics.
As the data reflects new asylum applications and refugee arrivals in each country, it is possible that the same individual is counted in more than one country due to onwards movements. Likewise, the same individual may have been displaced several times over the years and as such be counted in this dataset several times.
Lastly, it should be noted that this flow data presents official statistics, which are published less frequently than operational data, but with a greater level of curation.
Before publishing any official population statistics, UNHCR applies safeguards to protect confidentiality. In this dataset, small numbers less than five are rounded to the nearest multiple of five.
The impact of this redaction on research results has been shown to be negligible. Recent research uses this flow dataset to reproduce the findings of 25 previous studies, published across various academic journals. The original data for these studies was based on differencing end-year stock figures. In all of these studies, the results replicated using the redacted and unredacted flow data show virtually identical results across all tests.
Data will be updated six-monthly as the mid- and end-year statistics for the current and previous year become available.
Last updated: October 2022