Refugees in Numbers

Published: Feb 1, 2023 Reading time: 8 minutes
Refugees in Numbers
© Elisa Finocchiaro

According to an estimate by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), today’s number of forcibly displaced people is at the highest it’s been since World War II. As of mid-2022, about 103 million people have had to leave their homes. Over half of these people (53 million) are internally displaced. Seven out of ten people who have had to leave their homelands come from only five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Ukraine, Afghanistan and South Sudan. Over a third of all forcibly displaced people are children, and three-quarters of all refugees are in developing countries.

The topic of refugees first became a significant talking point in Czechia in 2015 and 2016, when, among other refugee groups, hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the war in Syria came to Europe. Then, in 2022, the issue of forced migration became a particularly hot topic in the wake of the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Using a Q&A format, the following text aims to present readers with the most essential facts and figures regarding refugees around the world today.

Who is a "refugee"?

The term “refugee” can be defined in two ways. The more narrow, legal definition can be found in the Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol. According to this document, a “refugee” is a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality. The status of this "refugee" a.k.a. "international protection status holder" is then evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In practice, this process is often very complicated, involving a multi-level assessment either by the UNHCR, or state offices. In Czechia, the Ministry of the Interior’s Department for Asylum and Migration Policy handles the applications for this and the status can take one of two forms: "asylum" or "subsidiary protection". In principle, "subsidiary protection" is for people who face similar risks as a "refugee", but don't quite fit within the narrow definition prescribed by the Refugee Convention. Typical holders include people fleeing war (sometimes referred to as ”war refugees”). "Subsidiary protection" guarantees similar rights to those seeking asylum, but it is only temporary. After about one or two years, the status needs to be extended. 

Aside from the narrow legal definition, the term “refugee” is often used in a broader context. In public discourse, more or less anyone who involuntarily leaves their country of origin is labelled as a “refugee”. The primary reason for this misnomer is that there is a common misunderstanding between “refugee” and “migrant”. However, whether these two categories should be strictly separated is a point of debate among experts. Some stopped using the term “refugee” altogether because they found it misleading or they felt it carried a negative connotation. This is why we see qualifiers such as “forced”, ”vulnerable”, or “humanitarian migrants” more and more often.

What status do the people fleeing from Ukraine hold?

People fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine are being granted a special status of "temporary protection" in the Czech Republic and, by extension, in the EU. While this word entered the EU legal system in 2001 in the wake of mass migration from former Yugoslavia, it remained a dormant legal term for many years. The basic purpose of "temporary protection" is to prevent the overcrowding of refugees in Member States' asylum systems. The term "temporary protection" was created to deal with the mass arrival of foreign nationals fleeing war, violence or other human rights violations. It is granted for one year but can be extended for up to two years. Again, the EU Council decides on its duration. 

Who are "internally displaced persons"?

The term internally displaced persons (or IDPs, for short) refers to people who were forced to leave their homes due to war, violence, human rights violations, or natural disasters, but who didn’t cross an internationally recognised border. While these people don’t have the right to refugee status as determined by the Refugee Convention, other human rights norms do apply, and UN agencies often provide them with material and/or other forms of aid. IDPs worldwide outnumber “conventional” refugees: for example, in 2022, over 53 million IDPs were registered by the UN. This means that their numbers have doubled since 2000. 

Where do most refugees come from?

As of mid-2022, the number of refugees worldwide was approximately 32.5 million. As a result of the Russian invasion in February 2022, over 5 million Ukrainians crossed their country's borders in just two months. This catapulted Ukraine to one of the countries with the largest number of refugee populations in the world, second only to Syria (with 6.8 million refugees). In third place is Venezuela, with more than 5.5 million people on the run (displaced people from this Latin American country are registered separately by UNHCR - their status is not formally defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention, but by the Cartagena Declaration of 1984). Afghanistan and South Sudan take the fourth and fifth spots, respectively. All the other countries that make up the top 10, with the exception of Myanmar, are located in sub-Saharan Africa.

Which countries do most refugees go?

In mid-2022, the most refugees – roughly 3.7 million – were in Turkey and most of them were Syrians. Colombia came in second, being the primary destination for Venezuelan refugees. The third spot was taken by Germany, mainly owing to an influx of Ukrainian refugees. Pakistan and Uganda tie for the final spot for most popular refugee destinations. Both of these countries host roughly 1.5 million displaced people each. Other notable destinations include Iran, Ethiopia and Rwanda. Generally, the vast majority of refugees – about three-quarters of them – end up in the developing countries of the “global south”. Many people who leave their homeland primarily head for a neighboring nation due largely to a desire to stay close to their country of origin, as well as potential physical, economic and/or financial constraints.

The ranked list of countries with the highest number of refugees would look very different if we evaluated the ratio of refugees to local citizens, instead of simply the absolute number of refugees. If we were to do that, Lebanon and Jordan would take the top positions because in those nations displaced people make up roughly 10% of the population. In Lebanon, the vast majority of its refugees are those fleeing conflict in Syria and the own country’s deep political and economic crises do not make the situation any less complicated. According to the UNCHR, almost 90% of the local refugees in both of those nations live in extreme poverty.

Is there a solution to the refugee crisis?

Generally, people speak about three potential solutions to the refugee situation. These include: voluntary repatriation, local integration, or resettlement into a third country. Unfortunately, these seemingly simple solutions have run into several issues over the years when governmental bodies have tried to implement them. As a result, none of them have really worked out well and overall, only about 2% of all refugees worldwide are really affected by them. Voluntary repatriation, generally considered the most viable option, has only been made possible for 162,300 people in the first half of 2022. At the same time, only 42,300 people were moved to another country. The vast majority of displaced people either end up in refugee camps, or are simply classified as “ordinary migrants” with little to no institutional protection. According to the UNHCR, most people on the run are in so-called “protracted refugee situations”, some of which can last up to 25 years.

Which countries host the most Ukrainian refugees?

At the end of 2022, most Ukrainians who had fled Russian aggression were being hosted by Poland (around 1.5 million people). Over a million people had also found refuge in Germany and another half a million people held "temporary protection visas" from Czechia (although the actual number of people currently residing in the Czech Republic is likely to be much smaller. According to some estimates, the real figure might have been 200-300 thousand people at the end of 2022. However, this doesn’t change the fact that Czechia ranks among the top countries by the number of refugees per capita). A high number of Ukrainian refugees are present in various nations throughout central and eastern Europe. In addition to Poland and Czechia, these countries include the Baltic states, as well as Moldova.

What is People in Need doing to help?

Regarding the Ukrainian crisis in particular: People in Need assists both IDPs, as well as those seeking refuge in Czechia and elsewhere. In Ukraine, we provide humanitarian aid in the form of food, water, hygiene supplies, and cash. In Czechia, PIN financially supports other collaborating organisations, runs a Ukrainian language helpline, and assists with accommodating refugees and educating children. These efforts have been made possible largely through the fundraising campaign SOS Ukraine. Detailed information can be found here

PIN is also active in the field of awareness. In particular, the Migration Awareness Department focuses primarily on the fields of education and meaningful collaboration with journalists. We provide journalists and all interest parties with important facts and figures, such as up-to-date migration information and crucial information on how to best mediate contact between refugees/migrant and representatives of non-state, non-profit organisations. 

Author: Migration Awareness

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