100 million people displaced around the world: What you need to know
The Ukraine war has pushed the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence and persecution over the staggering milestone of 100 million, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced in late May.
14 June 2022
The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is also being propelled by new waves of violence or protracted conflict and crises in countries including Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Yemen, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
100 million people represents 1% of the global population and is equivalent to the 14th most populous country in the world.
The number includes refugees and asylum seekers as well as the 53.2 million people displaced inside their own country. The number of refugees in need of resettlement is also rising steeply, from 1.47 million in 2022 to 2 million in 2023, or a 36% increase year-on-year.
“Refugees from Ukraine make up 6.4 million of today’s harrowing statistic, representing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to global displacement,” noted Andrew Pugh, IRC Ukraine Director, in response to the news. “Beyond the Ukraine response, governments across the world must not lose sight of humanitarian needs resulting from other conflicts and crises. People enduring crisis in countries like Afghanistan and Yemen must not be left behind, and humanitarian aid must also continue to other regions in need.”
Here’s what you need to know about this unprecedented humanitarian crisis:
Who is a refugee?
The 100 million number released by UNHCR includes refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people.
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home and cross an international border because of war, violence or persecution, often without warning. They are unable to return home unless and until conditions in their native lands are safe for them again.
An official entity such as a government or the U.N. Refugee Agency determines whether a person seeking international protection meets the definition of a refugee, based on well-founded fear.
Those who obtain refugee status are given protections under international laws and conventions and lifesaving support from aid agencies, including the IRC. Some may be eligible for resettlement in a third country, such as the EU. Resettlement is one of the few safe and regular pathways for vulnerable refugees to reach the EU. However, as the number of people in displacement reaches record highs, the gap between global needs and the EU’s resettlement efforts is growing fast. This is why the IRC has urged the EU to reinforce its commitment to resettlement in 2022 by committing to take in 40,000 refugees through this route in 2023, and following through on existing commitments for this year.
Who is an asylum seeker?
An asylum seeker is someone who is also seeking international protection from dangers in his or her home country, but whose claim for refugee status hasn’t yet been determined legally.
Asylum seekers must apply for protection in the country of destination—meaning they must arrive at or cross a border in order to apply. Then they must be able to prove to authorities there that they meet the criteria to be covered by refugee protections. Not every asylum seeker will be recognised as a refugee.
Today, many families escaping violence and persecution in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and other countries in crisis have undertaken a dangerous journey to seek safety at the U.S.-Mexico border. In the Central Mediterranean, many people from North Africa and the Sahel have undertaken a similarly perilous journey to reach Europe.
It is important to know that crossing a border to seek asylum is legal, and protected by international law. People asking for asylum have often already tried to find safety in their country, but have encountered conditions similar to those they fled.
Who is an internally displaced person?
An internally displaced person is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home because of war, violence or persecution, but who has not crossed an international border. Instead, they are forced to move to a different place within their own country.
The 53.2 people internally displaced today includes more than 8 million people in Ukraine, 6.9 million people displaced by conflict in Syria and 3.6 million by the war in Yemen. It also includes 23.7 people displaced by weather-related events such as floods, storms and cyclones, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for more than 80% of all internal displacements triggered by conflict and violence worldwide in 2021, for a total of 11.6 million internally displaced persons - the highest figure ever recorded for the region.
New violence in eastern Africa and spiralling conflict in the central Sahel and Lake Chad regions caused most of the displacements, but violence also pushed more people out of their homes in southern and central Africa, most notably in CAR, DRC and Mozambique.
Who are people on the move?
People on the move are refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants who have left their homes and started their journey for different reasons. Some may have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, violence, or persecution. Others had no other choice but to leave due to unemployment, food insecurity, and the impact of climate change. For example, along the Central Mediterranean Route, conflict and insecurity, increasing inequality, rapid population growth, escalating climate change and lack of economic opportunities are pushing many Africans to migrate. As they move along the route, their status may change.
Whilst the majority of Africa’s refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants move within their region, thousands risk dangerous journeys along the Central Mediterranean Route each year in search of safety and protection. By the time they reach Libya, many refugees and other migrants have already been exposed to serious harm or exploitation. While there, they have little to no access to basic services or legal support and risk being held arbitrarily in Libyan detention centres where the conditions are horrific.
Where do most refugees and displaced people come from?
Somalia has been plagued by ongoing conflict and life-threatening droughts for decades, while climate change and conflict have displaced millions in Ethiopia. Both countries are currently facing a devastating hunger crisis intensified by drought, ongoing conflict, swarms of desert locusts, and surging food prices due to the war in Ukraine.
Years of conflict have also displaced nearly 5 million people in South Sudan and 5.5 million in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Western and Central Africa, in addition to conflict and insecurity, increasing inequality, rapid population growth, escalating climate change and lack of economic opportunities are pushing many to migrate.
Whilst the majority of Africa’s refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants move within their region, thousands risk dangerous journeys in search of safety and protection along the Central Mediterranean Route (CMR), which stretches from Sub-Saharan Africa to Italy, across a number of countries including Niger and Libya. By the time they reach Libya, many refugees and other migrants have already been exposed to serious harm or exploitation.
While there, they have little to no access to basic services or legal support and risk being held arbitrarily in Libyan detention centres where the conditions are horrific.
Decades of violent conflict and natural disasters in Afghanistan have created one of the world's largest refugee populations—and humanitarian needs have only skyrocketed since the shift in power in 2022. Over 681,000 people were internally displaced in Afghanistan last year alone.
Years of conflict have also displaced 1.7 million in Myanmar.
Deteriorating living conditions, including rising hunger, economic instability and escalating conflict, have driven millions from Venezuela. A combination of gender-based violence, climate change, COVID-19 impacts and violence perpetrated by non-state armed actors is pushing families from northern Central America to seek safety at the U.S. border.
Many of those crossing the U.S. border from Central American countries—El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—are often referred to as migrants, but they are, in fact, asylum seekers. They have a well-founded fear of persecution if they were to return home.
In 2022, the war in Ukraine displaced 8 million people within the country and forced around 6 million to leave the nation.
Since conflict exploded inside Syria in 2011, millions of people have fled their homes. In 2021, there were 6.7 million refugees and asylum seekers from Syria around the world–more than from any other country.
Yemen has also been embroiled in a bitter war that has left 80% of the population in need of aid–and 3.6 million people internally displaced.
Where do most refugees go?
The vast majority of refugees are stuck in protracted limbo. Less than 4% of displaced people returned home in 2020. Many lack access to basic services in host countries and are not allowed to work.
Low and middle-income countries host 83% - the vast majority - of the world’s refugees. Countries that account for just 1.3% of the global GDP are hosting 40% of all refugees. Many of these countries themselves are experiencing civil unrest.
Prior to the war in Ukraine, just three countries—Turkey, Colombia and Pakistan—hosted nearly a quarter of the world’s refugees. Conflict and crises in neighbouring nations, including Syria, Venezuela and Afghanistan, have forced millions to cross into these countries to seek safety.
How is the IRC helping?
In Europe, the IRC was one of the first aid organisations to assist thousands of refugees arriving on Lesbos in 2015. IRC aid workers continue to work around the clock in Greece, Serbia and Italy to provide essential services, including clean water and sanitation, to families living in terrible conditions. And we are helping new arrivals navigate the confusing transit process and understand their legal rights. In Germany and the U.K., we are helping refugees integrate into their new communities.
The IRC launched an emergency response to the crisis in Ukraine in February 2022 and has been working directly and with local partners to reach those most in need. We are in Poland and Moldova delivering vital services including cash assistance, mental health support, medical supplies and equipment, and specialised social service support for children and survivors of violence.
In Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, thousands of IRC aid workers have reached millions fleeing violence with emergency relief and long-term support. We're focusing on health care, protection of vulnerable women and children, education, and economic recovery and development.
The IRC has worked inside Afghanistan for nearly three decades and currently reaches millions of people in thousands of communities, focusing on community-driven reconstruction projects and education. We support over 60 health facilities and provide information and training sessions about COVID-19. In recent years, the IRC has become a leader in women’s protection and empowerment in Afghanistan.
In Yemen, we provide lifesaving emergency aid, clean water, education, women’s protection and medical care to millions of people affected by violent conflict and a growing health crisis complicated by COVID-19.
The IRC reaches communities in East Africa and the Central Sahel that are affected by conflict and natural disaster with support that includes water and sanitation, education, health care, economic livelihoods, and emergency support and protection.
Programmes like IRC’s Sheega website support refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants to obtain or share timely and accurate information about the availability of administrative, legal and basic social services in Niger and along their route and to help address misinformation.
How can I help refugees?
Make a monthly donation to support refugees and other people affected by humanitarian crises. Your gift will help us provide food, medical care and emergency support services to families whose lives are shattered by conflict in countries around the world.