Today, June 20, marks the annual celebration of World Refugee Day, designated by the United Nations to honour refugees around the globe, celebrate their strength and courage and build understanding for the conditions of their displacement.
“Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Everyone has the right to seek safety,” writes the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on its website, underlining the right of people to seek asylum with safe access and humane treatment, and without pushbacks or discrimination.
Whoever they are.
Wherever they come from.
Whenever they are forced to flee.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) June 20, 2022
A fitting moment to discuss the current state of global displacement
The UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report 2021, published last Thursday, found that by the end of 2021, 89.3 million individuals worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, violent conflict, human rights violations, or events “seriously disturbing public order.”
This figure, which has risen each of the past 10 years, is more than double the 42.7 million people displaced at the end of 2001 two decades earlier.
In last year’s Global Trends report, UNHCR predicted that “the question is no longer if forced displacement will exceed 100 million people, but rather when.” Sure enough, as of May 23, 2022, forced displacement globally reached over 100 million people.
This means one in every 78 people on earth has been forced to flee their homes.
This statistical milestone results from more recent events such as the Russia-Ukraine war, the fallout from conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, adding to ongoing conflicts such as the Syrian civil war, as well as to the humanitarian, political, environmental, food and health crisis like the one in Venezuela, which according to UNHCR caused the world’s “second-largest external displacement crisis.”
Below are some of the UNHCR Global Trends report’s key findings in terms of global displacement and resettlement in 2021.
Global displacement through 2021
- Low- and middle-income countries hosted 83% of the world’s refugees
- Türkiye remained the world’s largest refugee-hosting country, with over 3.8 million refugees, or 15% of all globally displaced people
- Relative to population size, Lebanon hosted the largest number of refugees (1 in 8), compared to Türkiye’s 1 in 23.
Returns and resettlement
- 5.7 million displaced people returned to their areas or countries of origin in 2021 (5.3 million internally displaced people and 429,300 refugees)
- 57,500 refugees were resettled in 2021, two-thirds more than in the previous year (34,400).
The latest Global Trends report reflects on the period January 2021 to December 2021, but due to the importance of developments since early 2022, some data presented in the report are based on information received as of 23 May 2022. These were used to estimate overall refugee numbers for 2022.
The influence of the Ukraine war on global displacement
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the majority of the world’s refugees originated from Syria, Venezuela, and Afghanistan, and most often went to low or middle-income countries such as Türkiye, Uganda, and Pakistan, and Germany, who hosted the world’s biggest refugee populations in 2021.
Refugees from Ukraine, on the other hand, have crossed into neighbouring countries in millions, increasing the number of people displaced into European countries. As of June 16, the UNHCR registered 7,703,857 border crossings out of Ukraine into neighbouring countries.
By then, however, some neighbouring countries had already begun noting a trend of the number of Ukrainians heading back home exceeding the number of those entering. Poland, for instance, has reported more Ukrainians leaving than entering it during the last week of May and first week of June.
While around 6.6 million Ukrainian people have fled to neighbouring countries, approximately eight million have had to relocate within Ukraine and around 13 million are estimated to be stranded or unable to leave areas affected by the fighting. This has led to an inter-agency Regional Refugee Response plan.
This trend persists on a global level, too: A large number of people – 53.2 million – are displaced internally, fleeing persecution. The number of those internally displaced rose for the 15th year in a row, with the figures increasing the most in The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Yemen.
Statistics reflect remarkable rise in global displacement over the last two decades
On this, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stated:
“Every year of the last decade, the numbers have climbed. Either the international community comes together to take action to address this human tragedy, resolve conflicts and find lasting solutions, or this terrible trend will continue”
If ongoing conflicts remain unresolved and the risks of new ones erupting are not reined in, the 21st century will be defined by continuously growing numbers of people forced to flee their homes, with increasingly dire options available. Recording refugee numbers as in the Global Trends report is therefore very important for understanding these unfolding situations.
As new situations causing displacement emerge and intensify, such as the climate crisis which will dramatically increase refugee numbers, the need for long-lasting solutions has never been greater.
The UK government’s controversial new refugee policy
A new British government program to fit some asylum seekers crossing the English channel with GPS trackers has been condemned by refugee rights organisations as criminalising, with potentially traumatic curfews, detentions, and prosecutions.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that the monitoring would ensure “asylum seekers can’t just vanish into the rest of the country.” His defence of the program comes just days after the European Court of Human Rights granted an injunction Tuesday that grounded a chartered flight that would have carried asylum seekers to Rwanda as part of the UK’s new refugee policy which includes the deal it signed with Rwanda in April.
“It’s appalling that this government is intent on treating men, women and children who have fled war, bloodshed and persecution as criminals,”
said Enver Solomon, Chief executive of the Refugee Council, referring to the UK’s new refugee policy.
Solomon also highlighted the policy’s lack of compassion, and its inefficiency in actually deterring asylum seekers. The contentious situation the UK has found itself in is indicative of the wide-spread issues plaguing refugees and refugee management worldwide.
"The world has a choice: either come together to reverse the trend of persecution, violence, and war, or accept that the legacy of the 21st century is one of continued forced displacement."
— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) June 20, 2022
What direction will global displacement take in years to come?
Questions regarding the future of global displacement trends involve the resolution of current conflicts, environmental forced displacement and the willingness of refugees to return to their countries of origin. The latter also incorporates issues regarding economic and social insecurity, and a lack of livelihoods and housing, even in times of lasting peace.
But without the political will to make peace, the prospect for large numbers of refugees returning home will not be feasible in the first place, and displacement trends could instead increase exponentially.
Solutions for outflows from displacement situations have been used in the past, as in the post-WW2 era, and exist now, as in the UNHCR’s Global Compact on Refugees which divides solutions into targets for: easing the pressures on host countries, enhancing refugee self-reliance expanding access to third-country solutions, and supporting conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.
To truly reverse the current trend of increasing displacement, however, the international community must take action to resolve current conflicts, prevent future ones and at the same time tackle the climate crisis.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany, September 2015. Featured Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.