Developing countries, including many in Africa, now host 86 percent of the world’s refugees, up from 70 percent 10 years ago, says a new report released by the UN refugee agency on Thursday. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts one-quarter of all refugees in the world.
The UNHCR report shows that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people worldwide has topped 50 million for the first time since World War II.
UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report, which is based on data compiled by governments, non-governmental partner organizations, and from the organization’s own records, shows 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2013, fully six million more than the 45.2 million reported in 2012.
This massive increase was driven mainly by the war in Syria, which at the end of last year had forced 2.5 million people into becoming refugees and made 6.5 million internally displaced. Major new displacement was also seen in Africa – notably in Central African Republic, and towards the end of 2013, in South Sudan too.
“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.”
The worldwide total of 51.2 million forcibly displaced represents a huge number of people in need of help, with implications both for foreign aid budgets in the world’s donor nations and the absorption and hosting capacities of countries on the front lines of refugee crises.
“The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere,” Guterres said. “Non-traditional donors need to step up alongside traditional donors. As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of medium-to-large countries such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or South Korea,” added Guterres.
Displacement data in the Global Trends report covers three groups – refugees, asylum-seekers, and the internally displaced. Among these, refugee numbers amounted to 16.7 million people worldwide, 11.7 million of whom are under UNHCR’s care and the remainder registered with our sister organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine. Of these, 2.9 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa, coming primarily from Somalia (778,400), Sudan (605,400), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (470,300), the Central African Republic (251,900), Eritrea (198,700) and Mali (167,000).
These figures were compiled before fighting in South Sudan at the end of last year caused some 1.4 million people to flee, both inside the country (1,040,706) and to neighboring countries (367,260 as of 01 June).
At the end of 2013, three African countries were among the top 10 refugee-hosting countries in the world – Kenya (534,900 refugees), Chad (434,000) and Ethiopia (433,900). Pakistan tops the list, with 1.6 million refugees, primarily from Afghanistan.
In 2013, Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Eritrea were among the top 10 refugee-producing countries. Overall, the biggest refugee populations under UNHCR care come from Afghanistan and Syria, with refugees from Somalia in third place.
By region, Asia and the Pacific had the largest refugee population overall at 3.5 million people. Sub-Saharan Africa had 2.9 million people, while the Middle East and North Africa had 2.6 million.
In addition to refugees, 2013 saw 1.1 million people submitting applications for asylum, the majority of these in developed countries (Germany in 2013 became the largest single recipient of new asylum claims). A record 25,300 asylum applications were from children who were separated from or unaccompanied by parents. Syrians lodged 64,300 claims, more than any other nationality, followed by asylum seekers from Democratic Republic of the Congo (60,400) and Myanmar (57,400).
People who were forced to flee their homes but stayed within their own country totaled a record 33.3 million people, the largest increase of any group in the Global Trends report. For UNHCR and other humanitarian actors, helping these people represents a special challenge as many are in conflict zones, where getting to aid to them is difficult and where they lack the international protection norms afforded to refugees. Renewed fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic, Mali and the unstable security situation in the north east of Nigeria, all caused enormous numbers of civilians to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere within their own country.
Solutions for the individual
At the same time, some 68,400 refugees were able to return to their homes in DRC last year, according to these statistics. They were among the 414,600 refugees who went back to their homelands, the goal of most refugees and the UN refugee agency. When voluntary return home is not possible, UNHCR seeks long-term solutions for refugees through local integration or resettlement in third countries. During the year, UNHCR submitted 93,200 refugees for resettlement, and some 71,600 departed with UNHCR’s assistance.
The worldwide population of stateless people is not included in the figure of 51.2 million forcibly displaced people (since being stateless doesn’t necessarily correlate to being displaced). Statelessness remains hard to quantify with precision, both because of the inherent difficulties governments and UNHCR have in recording people who lack citizenship and related documentation, and because some countries do not gather data on populations they do not consider as their citizens. For 2013, UNHCR’s offices worldwide reported a figure of almost 3.5 million stateless people including 750,000 in West Africa; Cote D’Ivoire in situ stateless, Mauritanians in Mali and Senegal (refugees and stateless) and Liberian former refugees in ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African State) . However this is about a third of the number of people estimated to be stateless globally.