The lost millions: 43.3m are now displaced worldwide

It’s Refugee Week, and the number of displaced people is at its highest for 20 years, with 80% housed in developing countries. Is Britain shirking its responsibility?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), established almost 60 years ago to safeguard the wellbeing of refugees, has just published Global Trends, its annual report. The total number of displaced people is 43.3m (roughly two thirds of the UK population), the highest for 20 years.
This splits into 15.2m refugees (people forced to move to another country), 27.1m people displaced within their own country, and just under 1m asylum seekers (those whose request for ‘refuge’ abroad has not yet been accepted). The number hasn’t been this high since 1990.
War and conflict are, as ever, the most common factors pushing people from their homes. And while we are used to counting the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of lives lost and billions spent, UNHCR reminds us of the wider human cost. Over 1.7m citizens have fled abroad from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Talk of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK calls to mind politically charged tabloid headlines and exposés of our inadequate immigration system. But UNHCR’s report shows that the countries really taking most refugees are Pakistan, Iran and Syria. Compared to population, Britain’s refugee intake of 269,363 is less than half

that of Pakistan, one-third that of Iran and one-tenth that of Syria; compared to national wealth, the contrast is even more damning.

Moral duty

There are two key issues. As a rich country that chooses to engage in wars in poorer countries on the other side of the world, do we not have a responsibility to take in more refugees? And hasn’t history proved that many refugees of past wars have gone on to enrich this country immeasurably? (Jewish immigration around World War II, for example, is sometimes called ‘Hitler’s gift’).
On the other hand the reason so many refugees end up in poor countries is that they are on the other side of the nearest border: it’s easier, safer and more similar to home. And even if much British opposition to accepting refugees is born of ignorance, isn’t it also a natural response to seeing one’s own home change beyond recognition? Is it surprising – or wrong – that our political leaders think of their own citizens and voters first?

You Decide

  1. By welcoming refugees into Britain we not only show moral leadership but also enrich our culture and society. Do you agree with this idea?
  2. A recent survey of the British public shows 57% believe asylum seekers receive up to £100 a week for living expenses when they in fact £35 a week. Why is media coverage of asylum seekers generally so negative?


  1. What simple act would you do to make refugees feel more welcome ? Create a banner with your thoughts and enter the Simple Acts Schools Competition at

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