The Global Displacement Crisis: A Mammoth Problem Facing The World

A refugee camp at the border between Turkey and Syria. Photo credit: thomas koch /
A refugee camp at the border between Turkey and Syria. Photo credit: thomas koch /

What Is The Global Displacement Crisis?

The global displacement crisis refers to the large number of people from all over the world who are forced from their homes due to violence, internal conflict, persecution, climate change, natural disaster, and human rights violations. This social issue is also sometimes referred to as forced displacement. The UN Refugee Agency reported that by the end of 2016 at least 65.6 million individuals had been displaced from their native countries. This number is the highest the world has experienced since World War II. Of these individuals, 40.3 million are internally displaced, 22.5 million are refugees, and 2.8 million are asylum seekers.

In recent years, the number of people forced from their homes has increased at a significant rate. Just the number of refugees and internally displaced peoples alone has doubled since the year 2000. The Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council has commented that this crisis is continuing to grow with every passing year, with some countries now facing displacement because of both natural and manmade disasters. These individuals are forced to rely on humanitarian aid and can often be found living in the temporary shelters of refugee camps. Where humanitarian aid is unavailable or scarce, displaced individuals may resort to living in unused land outside of cities or in the streets. This article takes a closer look at who these people are, where they are from, and possible solutions to the problem.

Which Countries Experience Displacement?

The displacement crisis is not confined to only one area of the globe. Countries across Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have all been affected. In some cases, reporters from mass media cover the stories extensively and the situation is well documented, like the crises in Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. Other countries, however, receive less media coverage. Some of these nations include: Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, Iraq, the Ukraine, Myanmar, and Somalia.

Of these countries, Syria has experienced the greatest instance of displacement. In fact, it is the only country in the world where the majority of the population has been affected by forced displacement. For every 1,000 displaced individual in the world today, 650 of them are Syrian. By the end of 2016, 12 million Syrians were forcefully displaced from their homes due to the ongoing conflict. Of these individuals, 6.3 million were considered internally displaced, 5.5 million were refugees, and only 185,000 were asylum seekers.

The second largest group of displaced individuals are from Colombia. This country saw 7.7 million of its citizens displaced internally by the end of 2016. In terms of percentage of the population, however, South Sudan was the second most greatly affected. Here, 259 out of every 1,000 individuals was forcibly replaced due to an increasingly violent war. Within the course of just one year, the number of displaced individuals in this country increased by 85% and a 64% increase in the latter half of 2016. This increase represents the fastest growing displacement rate in the world.

Myanmar has perhaps experienced the longest incidence of displacement, with internal conflict taking place between ethnic minorities and government and military authorities since its independence in 1948. In total, this country has experienced the displacement of 1.095 million individuals, 90,000 of which sought safety outside of their homes in the year 2016 alone.

In terms of internally displaced individuals due to natural disasters, Nepal tops the list with 2.6 million individuals unable to return home after the earthquake of April 2015. Other natural disasters that have displaced individuals include: landslides, volcanic eruptions, high temperatures, storms, wildfires, and flooding. Other countries where natural disasters cause the largest number of displaced individuals include: India, Myanmar, China, Chile, and the Philippines.

Where Do The Displaced Go?

With such a large number of individuals fleeing from their homes and countries every day, finding a safe place that can fill their daily needs can be difficult to achieve. In many instances, displaced individuals turn to refugee camps in other countries, relying on humanitarian assistance for both food and shelter. Some countries around the world receive a higher number of displaced individuals than other nations. This difference in reception may simply be due to proximity between the sending and receiving countries or may be involve internal policies of the host country, which limit the number of refugees a country can receive.

For 3 years in a row, Turkey has held the top position in terms of number of displaced individuals hosted. As of 2016, this country had provided asylum for 2.9 million refugees. This number is followed by Pakistan (1.4 million), Lebanon (1 million), Iran (979,400), Uganda (940,800), and Ethiopia (791,600). Although Lebanon is in 3rd place, the number of refugees here make up a larger percentage of the population, where 1 out of every 6 people has been displaced. These countries represent some of the least developed host countries in the world. Despite their economic conditions and own internal struggles, these host countries have taken in approximately 28% of all refugees worldwide.

Demographics Of The Displaced

It can be difficult to imagine exactly what 65.6 million individuals looks like. For reference, if these individuals were the population of one single country, that country would be the 24th most populous in the world. To put that information in other words, approximately 20 people are newly displaced every minute.

Just over half (51%) of all displaced individuals are children under the age of 18. This percentage is disproportionate to the percentage of children in the global population, which is only 31%. Half of these children are primary school-aged. Of these displaced children, asylum seeking records indicate that around 75,000 are separated from their parents and family members or are unaccompanied by an adult. These applications for asylum were filed in at least 70 countries around the world and Germany received nearly half of these asylum applications (35,900). Most of the unaccompanied, asylum-seeking children are from Afghanistan and Syria.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that approximately 10 million people are stateless or at risk of being stateless as of 2016 as well. While all of this news seems disheartening, some good numbers have also been reported. At least 552,500 refugees were able to return to their home countries in 2016, which is a significant increase over previous years. Most of these refugee returns were to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the conditions within these home countries had not yet recovered by the time the refugees arrived.

Solutions To The Problem

Faced with this growing and uncontrolled crisis, humanitarian workers around the world are struggling to find sustainable solutions to the global displacement problem. Some nonprofit organizations work closely with governments around the world in an effort to secure funding for refugee camps and humanitarian supplies. Refugees International, for example, reported securing additional financial aid from the US for several countries, including: an additional $439 million for Syria, $155 million for Iraq, and $41 million for Nigeria. These funds were used to procure food supplies for displaced individuals.

Additionally, the UNHCR works to provide safe housing conditions and international protection for internally displaced individuals, refugees, and asylum seekers around the world. Their aim is to ensure these people have all of their human needs met and that they are able to carry on their lives with dignity. This organization has identified 3 principal goals as solutions to the problem of global displacement: resettlement, local integration, and voluntary repatriation.

Resettlement efforts concern those refugees or asylum seekers who were placed in a host country where they were unable to meet their needs, or where their livelihoods or safety continued to be at risk. In this situation, UNHCR workers identify a third host country and help transfer the asylum seeker after obtaining approval from the government. In this new country, the individual is provided with permanent residency status and receives full legal protection. In 2016, an increase of 15,000 resettlement places was achieved for Syrian refugees specifically. In total, 189,300 refugees from several countries were entered into resettlement programs in 2016; this number represents a 77% increase over 2015 numbers.

Local integration programs involve assisting refugees to obtain permanent housing and become a contributing member of their new community. Local integration requires an effort on part of both the refugee and the receiving nation. In order to measure success of this program, the UNHCR considers the number of naturalization processes completed by refugees in their new country.

Voluntary repatriation is considered the ultimate goal to strive for as it is the most sustainable solution. This program requires effort from 3 parties: the refugee, the host country, and the home country. Both the host and home countries must work together to ensure the refugee experiences a smooth transition from the asylum granting nation back to their homeland. Once in their homeland, the government must work to make sure the individual is able to successfully reintegrate into their original community. In 2016, the number of voluntary repatriation cases increased significantly, resulting in more than double the number of cases in 2015.

The state of the global displacement crisis, however, indicates that these solutions are no longer sufficient as a growing number of individuals remain in unsafe and unsustainable living conditions.


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