From the Field

Forced to flee: How many refugees in the world?

How many refugees in the world? More than 65 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes, the most since World War II. About 22.5 million of them have fled their own countries as refugees. Find out the top six countries where refugees come from.

Globally, 20 people are newly displaced every minute. Overall, more than 65 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced. That’s the most since World War II, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Eleven-year-old Udai was 6 when the Syria civil war began. His little sister, Rana, was 2. They hardly remember life before the violence, chaos, and strife.

Their family of eight remained in their home in eastern Aleppo as long as they could. But they were finally forced to flee when the fierce battle between government and rebel forces in late 2016 literally hit home.

“We had dinner and were getting ready for bed when we heard a ‘booooooom,’” Udai recounted that December. “And we started looking for each other. I was shouting ‘dad!’ No one was answering. People came in with flashlights and they found us.”

By the time Udai, Rana, and their three siblings escaped the city in mid-December, they had lost both of their parents and their 7-year-old sister in bomb attacks. The orphaned children relied on relatives and caring strangers to usher them to relative safety in Idlib, Syria.

Udai and his siblings are among more than 11.7 million Syrians who have been forced to flee their homes because of the war. Most — about 6.1 million people — remain displaced within Syria. The UNHCR had registered 5.6 million refugees as of March 22, 2018. Refugees are defined as people who have fled to other countries.

Conflict and insecurity in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Myanmar have also recently caused millions to flee their homes. Most people remain displaced within their home countries, but about 22.5 million people worldwide have fled to other countries as refugees. More than half of refugees are children.

Here are the six countries of origin that account for the most refugees in the world today.

1. Syria — 5.6 million refugees

Almost 660,000 Syrians fled the country in 2017, according to the UNHCR. That puts the total number of refugees from the 7-year-long conflict to 5.6 million people. Most settled in neighboring countries, including Turkey (3.5 million people), Lebanon (1 million), Jordan (658,000), and Iraq (247,000). The vast majority of Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East. The war has displaced an additional 6.6 million Syrians within the country.

Since the crisis began, World Vision has helped more than 2 million people in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Serbia.

2. Afghanistan — 2.5 million refugees

About 2.5 million people from Afghanistan are living as refugees, representing the second-largest refugee population in the world. Pakistan hosts nearly 1.4 million, including some second- or third-generation Afghan refugees who have never lived in their home country. Some have been forced to return home from neighboring countries, but increased violence there since 2015 has led to a new surge of asylum seekers. As many as 1.5 million Afghanis are displaced within the country due to conflict.

3. South Sudan — 2.4 million refugees

The world’s youngest country sank back into violent turmoil in July 2016 after renewed fighting shattered a peace deal that was years in the making. This forced more than 1.5 million people from their homes between July 9, 2016 — South Sudan’s fifth birthday — and March 31, 2018. Now, more than 2.4 million South Sudanese people are refugees, nearly half of whom fled to Uganda. In addition, 1.9 million people have been displaced within the country.

World Vision has helped more than 1 million people in South Sudan and refugees in surrounding countries with aid including food, a special nutrition treatment for malnourished children and breastfeeding mothers, livelihood training, seeds and farming supplies, household items like bed nets and blankets, and water and sanitation services.

4. Myanmar – 1.1 million refugees

More than 1.1 million Rohingya people have fled their homes in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state and have registered as refugees in Bangladesh as of April 2018 because of fighting between intercommunity groups, minority groups, and government military forces. The United Nations is calling this the world’s fastest developing refugee crisis. About 375,000 people are also displaced within Myanmar.

World Vision staff in Bangladesh have mobilized resources to provide emergency food relief, drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services, child-protection activities and services, and household supplies to 150,000 people. Between March and December 2018, and host-community residents with immediate, life-saving supplies like food, water, sanitation facilities, shelter, and other items.

5. Somalia — 876,000 refugees

The total number of registered Somali refugees sits at almost 876,000, as of April 25. Most refugees have settled in Kenya, Ethiopia, or Yemen. Some have lived in massive refugee camps for years. About 100,000 have returned to the country since June 2016, largely due to the Kenyan government’s intent to eventually close Dadaab refugee camp, once the world’s largest. But the widespread humanitarian need as a result of conflict and recurring and severe drought inside Somalia continues. Within Somalia, an estimated more than 1 5 million people are displaced because of insecurity.

6. Democratic Republic of the Congo — 735,000 refugees

The DRC has been mired in conflict for decades. The second-largest country in Africa is fraught with political instability, armed clashes, and human rights violations. This instability and violence have forced almost 735,000 people to flee their homes and settle in other countries as refugees. The latest conflict erupted in 2016 in the Kasai region, which includes five provinces in the center of the country. It is yet another instance of fighting between the military and splintered ethnic militias. Nationally, 1.9 million people were newly displaced in 2017, making the DRC the African country with the highest number of internally displaced people — 4.3 million.

World Vision has provided relief and development programs in the DRC since 1984. In partnership with the World Food Program, we have distributed food items to more than 100,000 people in Kasai-Central since August 2017.


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Since Aug. 25, 2017, about 700,000 people from Myanmar have fled to Bangladesh because of extreme violence in northern Rakhine state. Most of the Myanmar refugees identify as Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Learn more about the Myanmar refugee crisis in Bangladesh.
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Since Aug. 25, 2017, about 700,000 people from Myanmar have fled to Bangladesh because of extreme violence in northern Rakhine state. Most of the Myanmar refugees identify as Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Learn more about the Myanmar refugee crisis in Bangladesh.
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