From the Field

Forced to flee: Top countries refugees are coming from

Around the world, 70.8 million people have been forcibly displaced. That’s the most since World War II, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Most people remain displaced within their home countries, but about 25.9 million people worldwide have fled to other countries as refugees. More than half of refugees are children.

In 2018, 13.6 million people were newly displaced, either as refugees or IDPs (internally displaced people).

Udai was 6 when the Syrian civil war began in 2011. 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 the nearly 13 million Syrians who have been forced to flee their homes because of the war. About 6.2 million people are displaced within Syria. The UNHCR counted 6.7 million Syrian refugees and asylum seekers during 2018.

Find out more about protecting displaced children from violence.

Conflict and insecurity in Iraq, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic, and Myanmar have also caused millions to flee their homes.

Years of economic and political instability in Venezuela have caused an estimated 3.4 million Venezuelans to leave the country seeking food, work, and a better life since 2014. Most of them have traveled to nearby countries, including 1.4 million who have been granted work permits or temporary status and about 400,000 people who have requested asylum.

70.8 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to violent conflict.

Here is a list of the top seven countries of origin that account for the most refugees in the world today. About two-thirds of today’s refugees (67%) come from the top five of these countries.

1. Syria — 5.6 million refugees

Most of the Syrians who are currently refugees remain in the Middle East. Turkey hosts 3.6 million, the largest number of refugees hosted by any country. Syrian refugees are also in Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. During 2018, 1.4 million refugees returned home to Syria. Returnees face a daunting situation, including lack of infrastructure and services and danger from explosive devices. About 6.2 million Syrians are still displaced inside the country.

Since the crisis began, World Vision has helped more than 2.5 million people in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Serbia.

2. Afghanistan — 2.7 million refugees

About 2.7 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 in Afghanistan since 2015 has led to a new surge of asylum seekers. As many as 2.6 million Afghans are displaced within the country due to conflict, drought, and other natural disasters.

3. South Sudan — 2.3 million refugees

The protracted conflict in South Sudan is in its sixth year.  About 1.8 million people have been displaced within the country, in addition to 2.3 million who fled to neighboring countries. An estimated 80% of the refugees are women and children. And about 50,000 of the children are orphaned or unaccompanied.

During 2018, World Vision helped more than 1.5 million children and families in South Sudan.  We also helped South Sudanese 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

About 1.1 million people who identify as members of the Rohingya ethnic group have fled their homes in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. As many as 700,000 relocated to Bangladesh since August 2017. Aid agencies are struggling to adequately serve people who are dependent on aid, including those in local communities.

World Vision has served more than 265,000 refugees in Bangladesh with food, water, sanitation facilities, shelter, and other items.

5. Somalia — 900,000 refugees

Most Somali 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, which at one time was the world’s largest refugee camp. But the widespread humanitarian need continues as a result of conflict and recurring and severe drought inside Somalia. Within Somalia, an estimated 2.6 million people are displaced because of insecurity.

6. Sudan — 725,000 refugees

An economic crisis in Sudan that began in 2018 has been exacerbated by escalating violence and insecurity that continues following the overthrow of the Sudanese government in April 2019. Deteriorating conditions have led to displacement of about 1.9 million people within Sudan, along with about 725,000 people fleeing as refugees. At the end of 2018, Sudan was hosting more than 1 million refugees from other conflict-torn countries including South Sudan and Eritrea.

7. Democratic Republic of the Congo — 720,300 refugees

Conflict and food insecurity are driving people to flee the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 2 million people were newly displaced in 2017 and 2018, and more than 700,000 people from the DRC live in neighboring countries as refugees. Violence has also prevented containment of an Ebola outbreak that started in May 2018.

World Vision has reached more than 600,000 people in the DRC with humanitarian assistance since August 2017. In Uganda, where many DRC refugees have gone, World Vision is providing life-saving aid.


Chris Huber of World Vision’s staff in the U.S. contributed to this article.


View All Stories
A camp for internally displaced people in northwest Syria offers a bleak and cold existence for Samer*, 5. Aid workers are working around the clock to provide emergency support, but with tens of thousands of people arriving every day, supplies are low and the humanitarian response is overwhelmed. *Name changed to protect identity.
From the Field

Syrian refugee crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Middle Eastern cheese pastry
From the Field

In the kitchen: Middle Eastern cheese pastry recipe


View All Stories
Jesse Leaupepe, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church member, places World Vision Family Emergency Kits into cars during a distribution of relief supplies at his church in Burien, Washington, USA. The kits contain food, first-aid antiseptic spray, hand sanitizers, and school supplies. World Vision partnered with a local school district to identify families greatest need.
From the Field

What is the coronavirus? Facts, symptoms, and how to help

More than 100,000 people around the world have contracted a new strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Wearing masks to prevent infection has become an ordinary way of life in China since the outbreak of the new coronavirus in December 2019.

Prayers for people affected by the new coronavirus