Flight from danger: There were 1.7 million new asylum claims last year (according to most recent figures available).

There are 68.5 million “forcibly displaced people” worldwide, including 25.4 million refugees — the highest numbers in history. Who are the world’s refugees? And where do they flee to?

  • What exactly is a refugee?

    According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, a refugee is “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence”.

    When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum (the right to be recognised as a refugee and receive legal protection and help). An asylum seeker must show that their fear of persecution at home is well-founded.

  • How many refugees are there around the world?

    According to the Global Trends Report, there are 68.5 million “forcibly displaced people” worldwide. This is divided into 25.4 million refugees, 40 million internally displaced people (those who have left their homes, but remain in their home country) and 3.1 million asylum seekers.

    Last year, 16.2 million people were newly displaced — that’s 44,400 per day. Children under the age of 18 constituted 52% of the refugee population. The world’s displaced population has now overtaken that of the United Kingdom and reached a record high.

  • Does that mean the world has never been more dangerous?

    Not really. The world’s population is growing anyway, and the number of displaced people as a percentage of the world’s population is lower than, for example, it was at the end of the World War Two. It is also much easier now for people to move great distances away from their home.

  • Where do most of the refugees come from?

    Over two-thirds of them come from five countries. In order, they are Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Other countries with significant refugee populations are Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Burundi.

  • Why those countries?

    The conflicts in Syria and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan are well known to the outside world. There are 6.3 million refugees from Syria — just half of the number of people who have been displaced from their homes in the country.

    The ethnic conflict in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, has led to sub-Saharan Africa seeing the largest increase in refugee numbers.

    In Myanmar (often known as Burma), violence in Rakhine State at the end of August 2017 led to 655,500 Muslim Rohingya people crossing the border into Bangladesh, where they were granted temporary protection. Most of the population are women and children.

    Somalia has effectively been lawless for 40 years. Large parts of the country are run by al-Shabaab, an offshoot of al-Qaeda.

  • Where are they all going?

    While the migrant crisis in Europe grabs most of the headlines, the vast majority of refugees — some 85% — are hosted in developing countries.

    Turkey leads the way. In 2017, 3.4 million Syrians were refugees in Turkey. Pakistan is the destination for most people fleeing the ongoing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, while Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia are home to huge numbers of refugees from South Sudan and Somalia.

  • But the crisis in Europe is still pretty big isn’t it?

    The crisis reached its most critical point in 2015, when over a million people poured into Europe seeking asylum. In 2015, 890,000 people obtained asylum in Germany alone, and the problems have been profound. These numbers have now dropped: in 2016, it was 280,000 and, in 2017, it was 186,000.

    Many European governments are making efforts to strengthen their borders against the tide of people crossing the Mediterranean. It is also often very hard to differentiate between legitimate asylum seekers and people who are simply coming to Europe for a better life.

    Public opinion in Europe is turning against open borders. But the number of global refugees shows few signs of dropping.

You Decide

  1. What would it take to make you leave your home and seek shelter in a strange country?


  1. Research one of the countries mentioned in the United Nations report that has seen a rise in the number of refugees leaving it. On a map, illustrate what the conflict is about and where the refugees have headed.

Word Watch

Democratic Republic of Congo
The number of internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo doubled in 2017 to 4.4 million. There are also 620,800 Congolese refugees in other countries, and 537,100 refugees from other countries in the Congo.
The world’s newest country
South Sudan split from Sudan, previously the largest country in Africa, in 2011. The country’s current civil war started in 2013, when the president accused his former deputy and 10 others of attempting a coup d’état (an overthrow of the existing government).
The ruling military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, but many Westerners still refer to it as Burma, in part because of the sinister nature of the military regime.
The government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, denies the Muslim Rohingya citizenship and even excluded them from the 2014 census. It sees them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Public opinion in Europe
Italy is now governed by a populist, anti-immigration coalition, and Angela Merkel is facing renewed pressure in Germany for her 2015 decision to allow in 800,000 migrants.

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