A young girl with blue eyes in a pink hooded sweatshirt glances sideways as a boy appears in the background.

What is a refugee?

The refugee crisis is a pressing humanitarian challenge on a global scale. According to a mid-year 2023 analysis from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world has 36.4 million refugees — people who have fled their home countries due to conflict, violence, persecution, or human rights violations.

Each year, the United Nations and people worldwide recognize the plight of refugees on June 20, World Refugee Day. Explore the challenges faced by refugees and find out more about the global refugee crisis.

Refugees: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Fast facts: Refugees

  • 110 million people — more than 1 in 73 globally — were experiencing forced displacement from their homes due to conflict, persecution, violence, and human rights violations as of June 2023. This includes refugees, people seeking refugee status, and people displaced within their own countries.
  • 87% of the world’s current refugees originated from just 10 countries. Just over half of all refugees worldwide are from Afghanistan, Syria, or Ukraine.
  • The countries hosting the most refugees globally are Iran (3.4 million), Turkey (3.4 million), Germany (2.5 million), and Colombia (just under 2.5 million).
  • Low- and middle-income countries host 75% of the world’s refugees and other displaced people.
  • 6.1 million people are asylum-seekers (seeking refugee status), and an additional 62.5 million are internally displaced.
  • 40% of all forcibly displaced people are children.

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Open the door to hope for refugee children.

A mother glances wearily to the side as she and her three children sit under a makeshift tent in South Sudan.
When conflict broke out in Sudan in April 2023, Fatha and her children fled to South Sudan seeking safety and protection. In April 2024, the UNHCR reported that over 8.5 million Sudanese had been forced to flee, with 1.8 million people having crossed borders into countries such as South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Chad, and Ethiopia. (© 2023 World Vision/photo by Scovia Faida Charles)

What is the definition of a refugee?

Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their home countries because of persecution, conflict, violence, or other circumstances that place them in need of international protection. Under international law, anyone who meets these criteria is a refugee, although a host country may require asylum seekers to establish a well-founded fear of danger before formally granting them refugee status. The 1951 Refugee Convention outlines refugees’ rights, including the right to non-refoulement — the right of a person not to be returned to a country where they may be persecuted. Refugee protections do not extend to people who have committed serious crimes or pose a security threat.

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How are refugees different from asylum-seekers, internally displaced people, and migrants?

  • Refugees are people who flee their home country because of danger or persecution and because they are not protected by their country’s government. A person may fit this definition before being formally granted refugee status.
  • Asylum-seekers are people who’ve applied for protection — refugee status — on arrival in a country besides their own.
  • Internally displaced people (IDPs) are people displaced by conflict, violence, or natural disasters within their home country.
  • Migrants are people who move from their usual place of residence, whether internally or internationally, regardless of their legal status or reasons for moving. Although there is no formal legal definition, experts agree on this classification.

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How many people are displaced in the world?

The number of people forcibly displaced due to conflict, violence, human rights violations, and persecution has reached 110 million, including refugees and people who are displaced within their own countries, according to mid-2023 figures from UNHCR.

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What are the top refugee crises in the world?

UNHCR’s analysis reveals that three countries — Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine — account for 52% of all refugees and other people in need of international protection.

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Uprooted: A gallery of global displacement

Two women pass in front of makeshift tents in a displacement camp.

Never expecting to be called “refugee”

A little girl looks at dry ice in a cup her grandmother holds. Behind her is a World Vision banner in the play area.

Forced to flee: Top refugee origin countries

Sudanese refugees sit and wait underneath a makeshift shelter in Chad.

What rights and obligations do refugees have under international law?

Refugees have the right to safe asylum and not to be returned to possible persecution in their country of origin. According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, they are entitled to the basic rights of any other foreigner in the host country, especially the right to practice their religion, pursue education, and move about freely. They must follow and respect the laws of the country that accepts them.

Sometimes an influx of refugees is sudden and immense. Refugee camps are set up to provide temporary shelter and safety for them. Aid groups can deliver food, water, and other services in these camps. As time goes on, they sometimes become thriving communities.

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How many children have become refugees?

An estimated 43.3 million children are refugees. That number is disproportionately high: Although children make up less than a third of the global population, they accounted for more than 40% of the world’s refugees in 2022. Approximately 1.9 million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2022.

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How does World Vision get access to refugee contexts?

Through our presence in nearly 100 countries, World Vision is well-positioned to meet the needs of displaced people, whether they are in their own country or living as refugees. We coordinate humanitarian activities with national governments and other aid organizations to achieve the best outcomes for people affected by refugee crises.

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What is World Vision doing to help refugees?

We are supporting refugees around the world through:

  • Emergency relief, including access to food, clean water, shelter, and other essentials refugees need when displaced by conflict or disaster
  • Child protection programs and Child-Friendly Spaces where kids can play, learn life skills, and experience everyday childhood interactions while also receiving psychosocial support to help them and their families navigate the difficulties of displacement
  • Education support for refugee children, helping ensure they have the opportunity to learn in safe environments during displacement
  • Livelihoods training and cash-for-work programs, focusing on empowering families to thrive and become self-sufficient.

We also partner with local communities and governments, local churches, and international organizations like United Nations agencies — including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) — to go beyond responding to immediate needs and support communities for long-term development.

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What are some of the groups of refugees and displaced people that World Vision supports?

We support millions of people affected by forced displacement across regions such as Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South America, and beyond. The following are some of the groups we support:

Syrian refugees and displaced people

For more than a decade, the largest global refugee population has come from Syria. At mid-2023, 6.5 million Syrian refugees were residing in 130 countries, slightly fewer than at the end of 2022. Since the conflict started in 2011, the majority of Syrian refugees have been living in the Middle East, particularly in Turkey (officially the Republic of Türkiye).

World Vision works in Syria and has also supported more than 7.8 million children in the surrounding region, including in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. The 2023 earthquake in Syria and Turkey further complicated the situation, impacting internally displaced Syrians and Syrian refugees living in Turkey. In partnership with local organizations, World Vision has initiated 39 projects, including healthcare services, health and nutrition assistance, education programs, and psychological support sessions in schools. These critical efforts assisted more than 1.8 million people within the first year of our response.

A family in Moldova sits. Dressed in winter gear, the father embraces his two children while the mother holds a baby.
Ivan and Elena, along with their three children, Peotr, Ivan, and Violeta (shown left to right) have resettled in Moldova after their home in Ukraine was destroyed by bombing in 2023. Through our partnerships with the WFP, local officials, and Moldovan host families, we have provided financial aid and housing to Ukrainian refugees, including Ivan and his family. World Vision also supports Ivan’s host, Petru, and other host families with resources to help cover the costs of hosting refugees. (© 2023 World Vision/photo by Laurentia Jora)

Ukrainian refugees and displaced people

World Vision has been responding since the onset of the war in Ukraine in late February 2022. Our dedicated staff in the region swiftly assisted refugees crossing into Romania, offering essentials such as food, shelter, cash assistance, and protection against trafficking. Continuing our response, we’ve partnered with churches and local organizations to support displaced families and their host communities in Romania, Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. We’ve reached over 1.6 million people in the region with crucial resources like emergency food assistance, hygiene kits, child protection programs, and more as of December 31, 2023.

Our support extends beyond immediate relief, including assistance designed to meet long-term needs. For example, our staff are providing psychosocial support and tailored educational programs to address the unique needs of affected children and families.

South Sudanese refugees and displaced people

The ongoing conflict and natural disasters in South Sudan have sparked one of the largest refugee crises in Africa. The situation has only worsened with rising costs and the crisis unfolding in neighboring Sudan. These factors have led to increased levels of food insecurity, malnutrition, and displacement. Since the escalation of conflict in Sudan in April 2023, an influx of people — the majority returning South Sudanese — have crossed into South Sudan. World Vision is committed to supporting impacted communities in South Sudan with essential resources. We supported over 3.2 million people, including 1.3 million children, with vital aid in 2023. This included emergency food aid, health and nutrition support, access to clean water, improved sanitation, educational initiatives, and more. 

Sudanese refugees and displaced people

Since conflict escalated on April 15, 2023, Sudan has faced one of the world’s most rapidly evolving crises. This conflict has led to the loss of thousands of lives and the displacement of over 8.6 million people, including nearly 4 million children. Food insecurity is likely to worsen as violence spreads across Sudan, forcing more people to flee to neighboring countries.

World Vision, one of the largest humanitarian aid organizations in Sudan, has served children, families, and communities in the country from 1983 to 1988 and from 2004 onwards. Since October 2022, we have supported over 1.5 million people with life-saving aid, including food, clean water access, child protection, healthcare, nutrition, sanitation, and hygiene programs.

Refugees and displaced people abroad impacted by the crisis in Venezuela

Since 2014, millions of Venezuelans have left their country seeking food, work, and a better life. World Vision supports affected children and families with food and nutritional assistance, access to clean water, and essential health and education services in nearby countries such as BoliviaBrazilChileColombiaEcuador, Panama, and Peru.

In Venezuela, we’re working with partner organizations to empower families to improve their children’s lives. Our efforts have supported over 2 million people from 2019 to December 2023.

A woman wearing a baseball cap sits at a table in the shade, surrounded by her children. They are all smiling.
(© 2023 World Vision/photo by Edward Felipe Martin Neira)

Jasmina and her family, including her children (shown above), embarked on a years-long journey from Venezuela in search of better living conditions. They traveled hundreds of miles through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, enduring nights of sleeping on the streets. After four years, Jasmina made the difficult decision to return to Venezuela. She expressed heartfelt gratitude for the support from World Vision, who provided her family transportation home, easing their journey and leaving a lasting impact.

“Without that help, the return would have been very difficult,” Jasmina says. “We were already tired and without strength. With World Vision, the burden was significantly reduced.”

Rohingya refugees

Since 2017, the Rohingya people have endured violence, persecution, and human rights violations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, prompting many to seek refuge elsewhere. The majority of Rohingya refugees have crossed the border into neighboring Bangladesh. World Vision has been delivering crucial assistance in Bangladesh since the onset of the crisis. Between 2017 and 2022, we supported 584,724 people living in overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar. Our efforts continue to include the provision of essential aid such as food, clean water, sanitation facilities, and shelter, as well as addressing gender-based violence and child protection. By working in these challenging circumstances, we strive to alleviate suffering and address the ongoing needs of the Rohingya people.

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An instructor smiles as she supervises children during an art activity in a classroom environment.
In Vulcanesti, southern Moldova, a Child-Friendly Space run by World Vision’s local partner, Ave Copiii, provides a safe and nurturing environment for Ukrainian and Moldovan children. Facilitators like Natalia Petrioglo use arts-based activities to help the children express their emotions and develop resilience. The children engage in art projects, read books, and play games, benefiting from psychosocial support and education. (©2023 World Vision/photo by Christopher Lete)

How can I help refugees?

  • Pray for all who have fled unsafe environments — especially children — and who struggle every day to survive as refugees.
  • Give to World Vision’s Refugee Children’s Crisis Fund to support refugee families with life-saving essentials.

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Middle East crisis: Food insecurity, hunger

A dove flies in the foreground as children stand among the debris of houses destroyed in a conflict.

Iraq crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

A girl gives a young boy a sip of water out of a glass. The children smile.

Venezuela crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

A boy smiles and waves at the camera.

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

Two girls smile softly at the camera amid temporary structures. The older girl has her arm around the younger girl.