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UNHCR report shows a record 800,000 people forced to flee across borders in 2011

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UNHCR report shows a record 800,000 people forced to flee across borders in 2011

19 March 2014

A report released today by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees shows 2011 to have been a
record year for forced displacement across borders, with more people becoming refugees than at
any time since 2000.

UNHCR’s 2011 Global Trends report details for the first time the extent of forced displacement
from a string of major humanitarian crises that began in late 2010 in Côte d’Ivoire, and was
quickly followed by others in Libya, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. In all, 4.3 million people were
newly displaced, with a full 800,000 of these fleeing their countries and becoming refugees.
“2011 saw suffering on an epic scale. For so many lives to have been thrown into turmoil over so
short a space of time means enormous personal cost for all who were affected,” said António
Guterres, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees and head of UNHCR, the UN refugee
agency. “We can be grateful only that the international system for protecting such people held
firm for the most part and that borders stayed open. These are testing times.”

Worldwide, 42.5 million people ended 2011 either as refugees (15.2 million), internally displaced
(26.4 million), or in the process of seeking asylum (895,000). Despite the high number of new
refugees, the overall figure was lower than the 2010 total of 43.7 million people, due mainly to the
offsetting effect of large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) returning home: 3.2
million, the highest rate of returns of IDPs in more than a decade. Among refugees, and
notwithstanding an increase in voluntary repatriation over 2010 levels, 2011 was the third lowest
year for returns (532,000 returns) in a decade.

Viewed on a 10-year basis, the report shows several worrying trends: One is that forced
displacement is affecting larger numbers of people globally, with the annual level exceeding 42
million people for each of the last five years. Another is that a person who becomes a refugee is
likely to remain as one for many years – often stuck in a camp or living precariously in an urban
location: Of the 10.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, almost three quarters (7.1
million) have been in protracted exile for at least five years awaiting a solution.

Overall, Afghanistan remains the biggest producer of refugees (2.7 million) followed by Iraq (1.4
million), Somalia (1.1 million), Sudan (500,000), and Democratic Republic of the Congo

Around four-fifths of the world’s refugees flee to their neighbouring countries, reflected in the
large refugee populations seen, for example, in Pakistan (1.7 million people), Iran (886,500),
Kenya (566,500) and Chad (366,500).

The United Kingdom was sixth on the list of destination countries in Europe for new asylum
seekers, with 25,500 applications, and was in eighth place globally. South Africa, meanwhile, was
the largest recipient of individual asylum applications (107,000), a status it has held for the past
four years. With regard to the total number of recognised refugees per country, the United
Kingdom dropped out of the list of the top ten refugee hosting countries in 2011.

UNHCR’s original mandate was to help refugees, but in the six decades since the agency was
established its work has grown to include helping many of the world’s internally displaced people
and those who are stateless, i.e. lacking recognized citizenship and the human rights that
accompany this. The 2011 Global Trends report notes that only 64 governments provided data on
stateless people, meaning that UNHCR was able to capture numbers for only around a quarter of
the estimated 12 million stateless people worldwide.

Of the 42.5 million people who were in a state of forced displacement as of the end of 2011, not
all fall under UNHCR’s care: Some 4.8 million refugees, for example, are registered with our
sister agency, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Among the 26.4 million
internally displaced, 15.5 million receive UNHCR assistance and protection. Overall, UNHCR’s
refugee and IDP caseload of 25.9 million people grew by 700,000 people in 2011.

The Global Trends report is UNHCR’s main annual report on the state of forced displacement.
Additional data is published annually in our Statistical Yearbooks, and in our twice-yearly reports
on asylum applications in industrialized nations.

For further information, please contact:
Laura Padoan, UNHCR London, on 020 7759 8092, 0777 5566127, [email protected]