Forcibly displaced people are one of the world's most disadvantaged groups. Whether they are forced to leave home due to widespread violence, political repression, ethnic persecution, or natural disaster, meeting needs as basic as clean water is a constant struggle for many of these people. Today, there are almost 44 million forcibly displaced people in the world. Of these, 15.4 million are refugees, 27.5 million are internally displaced persons (IDP's), and 800,000 are asylum-seekers hoping to achieve refugee status. In addition to displaced people, there are up to 12 million stateless persons worldwide who do not have citizenship in any nation-state. Despite the fact that few countries have reliable methods for documenting stateless people, awareness of their presence and the difficulties they face is on the rise. As of 2010, 65 countries reported statistics on stateless people, up from just 30 in 2004.
The vast majority of displaced people come from the developing world, but they resettle all over the globe. Many flee to neighboring countries seeking immediate safety, where they most often live in refugee camps. Some hope to permanently resettle, but others wait until conflict dies down in their home country so they can return. This can be a long and trying waiting period. From 2006-2010, only 444,000 refugees were permanently resettled (1% of the displaced population) and 2.5 million (6% of the displaced population) voluntarily returned home. The rest either continued living in camps or attempted to integrate into local communities. Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom are the top destinations for permanent resettlement.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the main international organization charged with overseeing rights and resettlement for displaced people. The UNHCR collects data, provides services to forcibly displaced people, and cooperates with both sending and receiving countries to best meet the needs of diverse populations. The UNHCR was chartered in 1951 by the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
The data on displaced people in these map layers included in the MapMaker Interactive come from reports published by the UNHCR. More information on the data collection methods and the datasets themselves can be found on the UNHCR website.
It is important to note that the data presented on the MapMaker Interactive represent an average of data taken from 2006 to 2010, a five year period. The number of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people in a country or territory can change drastically from year to year. For example, from 2006 to 2009 no internally displaced people were counted by the UNHCR in the Philippines, but in 2010 there were 139,509. Such a dramatic rise in the number of internally displaced people may be representative of a national conflict or natural disaster.
Are refugees and asylum-seekers considered forced or voluntary migrants?
What kinds of events cause people to leave their homes as refugees?
Some displaced people receive UNHCR assistance to permanently resettle in participating developed countries. Based on what you see in the map data, what major destination countries do you think are involved in permanent resettlement?
Why do you think Pakistan, Syria, and Iran are among the top refugee-receiving countries?
Refugees and asylum seekers differ in their legal status, but must overcome many of the same hardships. Which countries are top destinations for political asylum seekers, but not top destinations for refugees according to the data in the maps presented? Why might there be a lot of asylum seekers in a country, but not as many refugees?
- Ever year since 2001, the UNHCR has commemorated World Refugee Day on June 20. On this day the UNHCR also gives out the Nansen Refugee Award, named for the first High Commissioner for Refugees and winner of the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize, Fridtjof Nansen.
- The United Nations drafted the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees to specify each countrys responsibility in dealing with the refugee crisis that World War II created. Today, 147 countries have signed the Convention, the Protocol (which expanded the Convention in 1967), or both. Pakistan, Syria, and Iranthe three top destination countries for refugeeshave not signed either.
- The top ten refugee-producing countries or territories (in descending order) averaged from 2006-2010 are Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Burundi, and the occupied Palestinian territories, a part of Israel.
- The top ten refugee-receiving countries (in descending order) averaged from 2006-2010 are Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Germany, Jordan, the United States, Kenya, Chad, China, and Tanzania.
- The five countries with the most internally displaced people (in descending order) averaged from 2006-2010 are Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Somalia, and Iraq. These figures only reflect internally displaced people assisted by the UNHCR.
- Internationally recognized stateless communities include the Kurdish ethnic group in Iraq, Nubians in Kenya, Russians in Estonia and Latvia, and Bhutanese in Nepal.
- The UNHCR estimates that 47% of refugees, 55% of IDPs, and 31% of asylum-seekers are under the age of 18. An estimated 11% of refugees are under the age of five.
- Almost all refugees and asylum-seekers originating from the United States are actually U.S.-born spouses and children of refugees from other countries that have moved to Canada. They are reported as refugees because they are receiving UNHCR assistance as a family.
For Further Exploration
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry asylum-seeker Noun
immigrant who has applied for, but not yet received, refugee status.
member of a country, state, or town who shares responsibilities for the area and benefits from being a member.
a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.
event or situation leading to dramatic change.
to deprive of equality or justice.
forced removal of something, often people or organisms, from their communities or original space.
having to do with characteristics of a group of people linked by shared culture, language, national origin, or other marker.
forced migration Noun
the movement of people away from their homes due to political conflict, natural disaster or environmental hazard.
a person's native country or region.
internally displaced person Noun
someone forced to leave their local area, who has not left the country.
natural disaster Noun
an event occurring naturally that has large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane.
to harass or discriminate against, sometimes violently, on the basis of race, religion, or social and political beliefs.
person who flees their home, usually due to natural disaster or political upheaval.
refugee camp Noun
temporary shelters built for immigrants who have fled their homes due to environmental or social conflict.
to subdue or control.
to move and build a life in a new place.
transportation of people to a new residential area, usually following a natural or man-made disaster.
stateless person Noun
someone who is not considered a citizen or national or by any nation-state.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Noun
United Nations agency whose goal is to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another country, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally, or to resettle in a third country.
huge and spread out.
voluntary migration Noun
the movement of people to another place to seek better economic or political opportunities.
affecting a large area or community.