World Refugee Day: UNHCR report finds 80 per cent of world's refugees in developing countries

News Stories, 20 June 2011

© UNHCR/Electronic Publishing Unit
Number of refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita 2010

GENEVA, June 20 (UNHCR) A UNHCR report released today reveals deep imbalance in international support for the world's forcibly displaced, with a full four-fifths of the world's refugees being hosted by developing countries and at a time of rising anti-refugee sentiment in many industrialized ones.

UNHCR's 2010 Global Trends report shows that many of the world's poorest countries are hosting huge refugee populations, both in absolute terms and in relation to the size of their economies. Pakistan, Iran and Syria have the largest refugee populations at 1.9 million, 1.1 million and 1 million respectively.

Pakistan also has the biggest economic impact with 710 refugees for each US dollar of its per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product), followed by Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya with 475 and 247 refugees respectively. By comparison, Germany, the industrialized country with the largest refugee population (594,000 people), has 17 refugees for each dollar of per capita GDP.

Overall, the picture presented by the 2010 report is of a drastically changed protection environment to that of 60 years ago when the UN refugee agency was founded. At that time UNHCR's caseload was 2.1 million Europeans, uprooted by World War Two. Today, UNHCR's work extends to more than 120 countries and encompasses people forced to flee across borders as well as those in flight within their own countries.

The 2010 Global Trends report shows that 43.7 million people are now displaced worldwide roughly equalling the entire populations of Colombia or South Korea, or of Scandinavia and Sri Lanka combined. Within this total are 15.4 million refugees (10.55 million under UNHCR's care and 4.82 million registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees), 27.5 million people displaced within their own country by conflict, and nearly 850,000 asylum-seekers, nearly one fifth of them in South Africa alone.

Particularly distressing are the 15,500 asylum applications by unaccompanied or separated children, most of them Somali or Afghan. The report does not cover displacement seen during 2011, including from Libya, Côte d'Ivoire and Syria.

"In today's world there are worrying misperceptions about refugee movements and the international protection paradigm," said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "Fears about supposed floods of refugees in industrialized countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration. Meanwhile, it's poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden."

Reflecting the prolonged nature of several of today's major international conflicts, the report finds that the refugee experience is becoming increasingly drawn-out for millions of people worldwide. UNHCR defines a protracted refugee situation as one in which a large number of people are stuck in exile for five years or longer.

In 2010, and of the refugees under UNHCR's mandate, 7.2 million people were in such a situation more than at any time since 2001. Meanwhile only 197,600 people were able to return home, the lowest number since 1990.

Some refugees have been in exile for more than 30 years. Afghans, who first fled the Soviet invasion in 1979, accounted for a third of the world's refugees in both 2001 and in 2010. Iraqis, Somalis, Congolese (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Sudanese were also among the top 10 nationalities of refugees at both the start and end of the decade.

© UNHCR
Global Trends 2010 Populations of concern

"One refugee without hope is too many," said High Commissioner Guterres. "The world is failing these people, leaving them to wait out the instability back home and put their lives on hold indefinitely. Developing countries cannot continue to bear this burden alone and the industrialized world must address this imbalance. We need to see increased resettlement quotas. We need accelerated peace initiatives in long-standing conflicts so that refugees can go home."

Despite the low level of refugee returns last year, the situation for people displaced within their own countries so-called internally displaced people, or IDPs showed some movement. In 2010, more than 2.9 million IDPs returned home in countries including Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Kyrgyzstan. Nonetheless even with these return levels, at 27.5 million people the global number of internally displaced was the highest in a decade.

A further but harder-to-quantify group that UNHCR cares for is stateless people, or people lacking the basic safety net of a nationality. The number of countries reporting stateless populations has increased steadily since 2004, but differences in definitions and methodologies still prevent reliable measurement of the problem.

In 2010, the reported number of stateless people (3.5 million) was nearly half of that in 2009, but mainly due to methodological changes in some countries that supply data. Unofficial estimates put the global number closer to 12 million. UNHCR will be launching a worldwide campaign in August this year to bring better attention to the plight of the world's stateless and to accelerate action to help them.

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Global Trends Report 2010Play video

Global Trends Report 2010

UNHCR's Global Trends report, released on the occasion of World Refugee Day 2011, finds forced displacement at a 15-year high.

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 2012, 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

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Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

UNHCR has begun transferring refugees from Côte d'Ivoire to a new refugee camp in the north-eastern Liberian town of Bahn. Over the coming weeks UNHCR hopes to move up to 15,000 refugees into the facility, which has been carved out of the jungle. They are among almost 40,000 civilians from Côte d'Ivoire who have fled to escape mounting political tension in their country since the presidential election in late November.

The final number of people to move to Bahn will depend on how many wish to be relocated.from villages near the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border. Initially most of the refugees were taken in by host communities, living side-by-side with locals. Poor road conditions made it difficult for humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance. Supplies of food, medicine and water have been running low, making conditions difficult for both locals and refugees.

At the camp in Bahn, refugees will have easy access to basic services such as health care, clean water and primary school education.

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

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'atri camp

Life in Jordan's Za'atri 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'atri, 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'atri camp

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Sweden: Mahmoud's Escape

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UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR  and CameroonPlay video

UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR and Cameroon

This video was shot by one of our staff* using a mobile phone as they helped refugees who had crossed the river to safety.
Switzerland: Kuwait Donates US$ 100 Million to the Syria CrisisPlay video

Switzerland: Kuwait Donates US$ 100 Million to the Syria Crisis

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