From the Field

Forced to flee: Top countries refugees are coming from

Around the world, 82.4 million people have been forcibly displaced. That’s the most since World War II, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Since most people remain displaced within their home country, how many refugees are there in the world? About 26.4 million people worldwide have fled to other countries as refugees. Another 4.1 million people are asylum-seekers who have applied for refugee status, but not received it yet.

An estimated 42% of refugees are children, among whom are about 1 million born as refugees from 2018 and 2020.

A record 82.4 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes.

Qutaibah was born into refugee life five years ago. Instability is constant since his family was displaced from their home in Homs, Syria. Now, they live in Azraq refugee camp, where Qutaibah attends one of World Vision’s early childhood education centers.

After a decade of war in Syria, thousands of refugee children have been living in a state of limbo, not knowing when, or even if, they will ever return home. In light of the pandemic, children face even more uncertainty.

“When I grow up, I hope that this virus disappears so I can go see the white snow in Syria, the country that my parents always talk about,” Qutaibah says.

Many children are likely to remain in exile, some potentially for the rest of their lives.

Conflict and insecurity in other countries, including Ethiopia, Iraq, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Myanmar have also caused millions to flee their homes.

In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 11.2 million people were newly displaced worldwide. The pandemic also threatens progress toward eliminating poverty and income inequalities and has worsened joblessness faced by refugees

Here are the top seven countries of origin that account for the most refugees in the world today. About two-thirds of today’s refugees (68%) come from the first five.

1. Syria — 6.8 million refugees and asylum-seekers

Most Syrians who are refugees because of the Syrian civil war remain in the Middle East. Turkey hosts nearly 3.7 million, the largest number of refugees hosted by any country in the world. Syrian refugees are also in Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Returnees face a daunting situation, including lack of infrastructure and services and danger from explosive devices. About 6.7 million Syrians remain displaced inside the country, and nearly 11.1 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance.

Since the crisis began, World Vision has helped more than 6.5 million children in the region.

2. Venezuela — 5.4 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants

Years of economic and political instability in Venezuela caused millions of Venezuelans to leave the country since 2014. They migrate to seek food, work, and a better life, most of them to nearby countries. Many Venezuelans on the move lack legal status and need international protection and aid.

World Vision assists Venezuelan migrants in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. In Venezuela, we’re working through partner organizations to make life better for children and families.

3. Afghanistan — 2.8 million refugees and asylum seekers

About 2.6 million people from Afghanistan are refugees, representing one of the largest long-term refugee situations in the world — and that number increases to 2.8 million when you add asylum-seekers applying for refugee status. Another 2.9 million Afghans are displaced within the country due to conflict, drought, and other natural disasters.

Pakistan hosts nearly 1.4 million people, 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.

4. South Sudan — 2.2 million refugees and asylum-seekers

The protracted conflict in South Sudan has caused one of the largest refugee crises in Africa. About 1.6 million people are displaced within the country, and an additional 2.2 million are refugees who fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.

An estimated 83% of the refugees are women and children. And more than 66,000 of the children are orphaned, unaccompanied, or separated from their parents. “South Sudan’s refugee situation justifiably continues to be characterized as a children’s crisis, and refugee children (65% of the population) are exposed to particular risks,” according to a 2021 UNHCR report on the South Sudan refugee crisis. “Their situation is particularly concerning, as many suffer harassment, exploitation, neglect, and abuse.”

The UNHCR report also shared concerns about rising food insecurity, with 7 million people in South Sudan at risk of famine conditions.

5. Myanmar – 1.1 million refugees and asylum-seekers

About 1.1 million people who identify as members of the Rohingya ethnic group have fled their homes in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Today, about 880,000 stateless Rohingya refugees live in the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camp, Kutukpalong. About half are children. Aid agencies are struggling to adequately serve people who are dependent on aid, including those in local communities.

World Vision works in all 34 Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, serving nearly 500,000 refugees with food, clean water, sanitation facilities, shelter, and other humanitarian aid. We’re also distributing emergency food to families affected by the devastating fire on March 22, 2021. We converted our educational and multipurpose centers to serve as emergency shelters.

6. Democratic Republic of the Congo — 1 million refugees and asylum-seekers

Many people from the DRC have fled conflict and food insecurity. About 5.2 million are internally displaced, and about 1 million people live in neighboring countries as refugees and asylum-seekers. Violence also hampered the containment of an Ebola outbreak that started in May 2018.

As COVID-19 has reached the DRC, it has become an added burden to a health system already stretched to the breaking point by Ebola infections and a measles outbreak starting in early 2019 that sickened more than 300,000 people and killed at least 6,000.

7. Somalia — 800,000 refugees and asylum-seekers

Most Somali refugees have settled in Kenya, Ethiopia, or Yemen. Some have lived in massive refugee camps for years. Tens of thousands have returned to the country since 2015, 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 3 million people are displaced because of insecurity.

How you can help refugees:

  • Pray  for mothers, fathers, and children who struggle to survive as refugees. 
  • Give  to World Vision’s Refugee Children’s Crisis Fund to help provide for their needs. 


Chris Huber and Sevil Omer of World Vision’s U.S. staff contributed to this article.


View All Stories
Poverty, violence, lack of economic opportunities, and food insecurity are driving more people from Central America to the border.
From the Field

Central American migration: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

World Vision is providing safe play spaces for children and their families who are fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

From the World Vision U.S. president: Beauty amid the pain


View All Stories
María wraps her arms around her daughter, Dayana, while she reads to her.
From the Field

An ode to mothers

World Vision is working to limit the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the pandemic’s impacts on vulnerable children and their families worldwide
From the Field

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