Number of forcibly displaced rises to 43.3 million last year, the highest level since mid-1990s

News Stories, 15 June 2010

© UNHCR
Refugee returns. 1990-2009

BERLIN, Germany, June 15 (UNHCR) Annual figures released Tuesday by the UN refugee agency show that some 43.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2009, the highest number of people uprooted by conflict and persecution since the mid-1990s.

At the same time, according to the 2009 Global Trends report, the number of refugees voluntarily returning to their home countries has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, commenting on the figures during an address in Berlin on Tuesday, said "last year was not a good year for voluntary repatriation."

The report also indicated that overall refugee numbers remained relatively stable at 15.2 million, two thirds of whom come under UNHCR's mandate while the other third fall under the responsibility of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. More than half of the refugees under UNHCR's care, or 5.5 million people, are in protracted situations.

Commenting on the voluntary repatriation figures 251,000 last year against a norm over the past decade of around 1 million people per year Guterres noted that "major conflicts such as those in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo show no signs of being resolved. Conflicts that had appeared to be ending or were on the way to being resolved, such as in southern Sudan or in Iraq, are stagnating."

The High Commissioner, addressing the annual Berlin Symposium for Refugee Protection on the first day of his second five-year mandate, added that "already a majority of the world's refugees have been living as refugees for five years or more. Inevitably, that proportion will grow if fewer refugees are able to go home."

The 2009 Global Trends report said the number of people uprooted by conflict within their own country grew by four per cent to 27.1 million at the end of 2009. Persistent conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and Somalia mainly accounted for the increase in the overall figure.

The annual survey also noted that more and more refugees are living in cities, primarily in the developing world, contrary to the notion that refugees are inundating industrialized nations.

The number of new individual asylum claims worldwide grew to nearly 1 million, with South Africa receiving more than 222,000 new claims last year, making it the single largest asylum destination in the world.

The annual Global Trends report, which reviews statistical trends and patterns of conflict-related displacements, also covers stateless people. The number of people known to be stateless at the end of 2009 was 6.6 million though unofficial estimates range as high as 12 million.

© UNHCR
Main destination countries of new asylum-seekers, 2008-2009

UNHCR protects, assists and seeks solutions for refugees. The persistence of conflict makes voluntary return to countries of origin, the solution preferred by host countries and refugees alike, more difficult.

With resettlement through which refugees hosted in one asylum state, usually in the developing world, are permanently relocated to another state, usually in the developed world UNHCR submitted a record 128,000 individuals for resettlement in third countries, the highest level in 16 years.

At the end of 2009, 112,400 refugees were admitted for resettlement by 19 countries, including the United States (79,900), Canada (12,500) and Australia (11,100). The main refugee groups resettled in 2009 were from Myanmar (24,800), Iraq (23,000), Bhutan (17,500) and Somalia (5,500).

Meanwhile, High Commissioner Guterres outlined some of the challenges and priorities during his second term, which will also coincide with UNHCR's 60th anniversary in December. He said the main challenges were the "growing resilience of crises," the shrinking humanitarian space in which refugees can find shelter and humanitarian agencies can work, and the erosion of asylum space.

He listed two priorities to respond to the challenges. "First, preparing our capacity to meet the needs of the people we care for. Particular attention is required to address gaps that currently exist in the response to refugees in mixed migratory flow and protection situations, and to IDPs [internally displaced people] living outside camps, especially in urban areas," Guterres said.

"Second, we will continue to enhance our emergency response capability in a livelihoods-focused and environmentally sensitive way, taking due account of the needs of host families, communities and states," he added.

Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba in Geneva contributed to this article

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Asylum-Seekers

UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

UNHCR Statistical Yearbooks

These yearbooks follow major trends in displacement, protection and solutions.

UNHCR Statistical Online Population Database

Standardized data on UNHCR's population of concern at country, regional, and global levels.

Statistics

Numbers are important in the aid business and UNHCR's statisticians monitor them daily.

Refugees

The number of refugees of concern to UNHCR stood at 10.4 million at the beginning of 2013, down slightly from a year earlier.

Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

Photojournalist Corentin Fohlen and UNHCR Public Information Officer Céline Schmitt visited CAR refugees in southern Chad to document their plight and how they're trying to cope.

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

2011 Global Trends

UNHCR's annual Global Trends report shows 2011 to have been a record year for forced displacement across borders, with more people becoming refugees than at any time since 2000. Of the 4.3 million people newly displaced in 2011, 800,000 actually left their countries and thus became refugees.

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).

The report also highlights several worrying trends: One is that forced displacement is affecting larger numbers of people globally, with the annual number exceeding 42 million in the last five years. Another is that a person who becomes a refugee is likely to remain one for several years: 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.

2011 Global Trends

Refugees prepare for winter in Jordan's Za'atari camp

Life in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp is hard. Scorching hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, this flat, arid patch of land near the border with Syria was almost empty when the camp opened in July. Today, it hosts more than 31,000 Syrians who have fled the conflict in their country.

The journey to Jordan is perilous. Refugees cross the Syrian-Jordan border at night in temperatures that now hover close to freezing. Mothers try to keep their children quiet during the journey. It is a harrowing experience and not everyone makes it across.

In Za'atari, refugees are allocated a tent and given sleeping mats, blankets and food on arrival. But as winter approaches, UNHCR is working with partners to ensure that all refugees will be protected from the elements. This includes upgrading tents and moving the most vulnerable to prefabricated homes, now being installed.

Through the Norwegian Refugee Council, UNHCR has also distributed thousands of winter kits that include thermal liners, insulated ground pads and metal sheeting to build sheltered kitchen areas outside tents. Warmer clothes and more blankets will also be distributed where needed.

Refugees prepare for winter in Jordan's Za'atari camp

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."
Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced Iraqis

This week UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is visiting Iraq to meet with families displaced by conflict in recent weeks. After listening to accounts of their difficult journeys to safety, Guterres called for more support to help deal with the crisis. He will also visit some of the 300,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps in northern Iraq.
Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New OpportunitiesPlay video

Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New Opportunities

UNHCR and partners are training scores of Syrian and Lebanese women in traditional fabric printing – helping to sustain centuries-old techniques and provide livelihoods for refugees and host communities.