The Ukraine war has pushed the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence and persecution over the staggering milestone of 100 million.
There were 89.3 million people already displaced around the world at the end of 2021, according to a report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for World Refugee Day 2022. In addition to the war in Ukraine, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is also being propelled by new waves of violence or protracted conflict and crises in countries including Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Yemen, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Overall, the number of displaced persons has more than doubled in the last ten years alone. One hundred million people represents 1% of the global population and is nearly equal to the populations of the United Kingdom and Canada combined. The number includes refugees and asylum seekers as well as the more than 53.2 million people, and over 7 million Ukrainians, displaced inside their own country.
Here’s what you need to know about this unprecedented humanitarian crisis:
Who is a refugee?
The over 100 million number includes refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people.
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home and cross an international border because of war, violence or persecution, often without warning. They are unable to return home unless and until conditions in their native lands are safe for them again.
An official entity such as a government or UNHCR determines whether a person seeking international protection meets the definition of a refugee, based on well-founded fear.
Those who obtain refugee status are given protections under international laws and conventions and lifesaving support from aid agencies, including the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Some may be eligible for resettlement in a third country, such as the United States.
An asylum seeker is someone who is also seeking international protection from dangers in his or her home country, but whose claim for refugee status hasn’t been determined legally.
Asylum seekers must apply for protection in the country of destination—meaning they must arrive at or cross a border in order to apply. Then they must be able to prove to authorities there that they meet the criteria to be covered by refugee protections. Not every asylum seeker will be recognized as a refugee.
Today, many families escaping violence and persecution in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and other countries in crisis have undertaken a dangerous journey to seek safety at the United States-Mexico border. It is important to know that crossing a border to seek asylum is legal, and protected by international law. Often, people asking for asylum have already tried to find safety in their own country, but have encountered conditions similar to those they fled.
An internally displaced person is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home because of war, violence or persecution, but who has not crossed an international border. Instead, they are forced to move to a different place within their own country.
Today, there are 6.9 million people internally displaced by conflict in Syria and 3.6 million by the war in Yemen. The number of internally displaced people also includes 23.7 people displaced by weather-related events such as floods, storms and cyclones, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. As of June of 2022, there are more than 7 million people displaced internally in Ukraine.
Where do most refugees and displaced people come from?
In 2022, the war in Ukraine displaced more than 7 million people within the country and forced more than 6 million to leave the nation.
Decades of violent conflict and natural disasters in Afghanistan have created one of the world's largest refugee populations—and humanitarian needs have only skyrocketed since the shift in power in 2021. Over 681,000 people were internally displaced in Afghanistan last year alone.
Since conflict exploded inside Syria in 2011, millions of people have fled their homes. In 2021, there were 6.7 million refugees and asylum seekers from Syria around the world—more than from any other country at that time.
Yemen has also been embroiled in a bitter war that has left 80% of the population in need of aid—and 3.6 million people internally displaced.
Somalia has been plagued by ongoing conflict and life-threatening droughts for decades, while climate change and conflict have displaced millions in Ethiopia. Both countries are currently facing a devastating hunger crisis intensified by drought, ongoing conflict, swarms of desert locusts, and surging food prices due to the war in Ukraine.
Deteriorating living conditions, including rising hunger, economic instability and escalating conflict, have driven millions from Venezuela. A combination of gender-based violence, climate change, COVID-19 impacts and violence perpetrated by non-state armed actors is pushing families from northern Central America to seek safety at the U.S. border.
Many of those crossing the U.S. border from Central American countries—El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—are often referred to as migrants, but they are, in fact, asylum seekers. They have a well-founded fear of persecution if they were to return home.
Where do most refugees go?
The vast majority of refugees are stuck in protracted limbo. Less than 4% of displaced people returned home in 2020. Many lack access to basic services and are not allowed to work.
Less than 4% of displaced people returned home in 2020.
Low and middle-income countries host the vast majority of the world’s refugees: countries that account for just 1.3% of the global GDP are hosting 40% of all refugees. Many of these countries themselves are experiencing civil unrest.
Prior to the war in Ukraine, just three countries—Turkey, Colombia and Pakistan—hosted nearly a quarter of the world’s refugees. Conflict and crises in neighboring nations, including Syria, Venezuela and Afghanistan, have forced millions to cross into these countries to seek safety.
How is the IRC helping?
The IRC launched an emergency response to the crisis in Ukraine in February 2022 and has been working directly and with local partners to reach those most in need. We are in Poland and Moldova delivering vital services including cash assistance, mental-health support, medical supplies and equipment, and specialized social-service support for children and survivors of violence.
In Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, thousands of IRC aid workers have reached millions fleeing violence with emergency relief and long-term support. We're focusing on health care, protection of vulnerable women and children, education, and economic recovery and development.
The IRC has worked inside Afghanistan for nearly three decades and currently reaches millions of people in thousands of communities, focusing on community-driven reconstruction projects and education. We support over 60 health facilities and provide information and training sessions about COVID-19. In recent years, the IRC has become a leader in women’s protection and empowerment in Afghanistan.
In Yemen, we provide lifesaving emergency aid, clean water, education, women’s protection and medical care to millions of people affected by violent conflict and a growing health crisis complicated by COVID-19.
The IRC reaches communities in the Horn of Africa and the Central Sahel (including Somalia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) that are affected by conflict and natural disaster with support that includes water and sanitation, education, health care, economic livelihoods, and emergency support and protection.
In Europe, the IRC was one of the first aid organizations to assist thousands of refugees arriving on Lesbos in 2015. IRC aid workers continue to work around the clock in Greece, Serbia and Italy to provide essential services, including clean water and sanitation, to families living in terrible conditions. And we are helping new arrivals navigate the confusing transit process and understand their legal rights. In Germany and the U.K., we are helping refugees integrate into their new communities.
In the United States, we have more than 20 offices across the country that resettle refugees. We are also assisting families seeking asylum at the southern U.S. border. We provide immediate aid to refugees, including food and shelter, as well as access to the tools of self-reliance—housing, education, English-language classes, employment skills and job placement—in addition to clothing, medical attention and community orientation.
Refugee resettlement doesn’t end when the plane lands. When someone arrives at their new home, it’s critical they receive the support they need to build new lives.— IRC - International Rescue Committee (@RESCUEorg) June 9, 2022
More on how we’re supporting Afghan refugees in Kansas: https://t.co/auOtRRhuBh
The IRC is responding across the arc of the crisis in Latin America: helping people impacted by the Venezuela crisis in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as well as through local partners in Venezuela; supporting people at risk in northern Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) and along the main migration corridors in Mexico, from the southern to the northern borders. Additionally, after the earthquake that hit Haiti in August 2021, the IRC provided funding to support the work of FOSREF, FADHRIS and Kay Fanm, all local organizations implementing activities to satisfy priority needs.
5 ways you can welcome refugees
We stand for a world that recognizes, welcomes and supports all refugees, on World Refugee Day (June 20) and every day.
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