Refugee or Internally Displaced: What’s the Difference?

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on June 26, 2017 | Print

There are an estimated 60 to 65 million displaced persons in the world today. Only 1/3 of these are considered refugees.

What’s the difference between a refugee and an internally displaced person?

  • Refugee – persons or groups of persons who have been forced to flee, or leave, their homes or places of habitual residence as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, and habitual violations of human rights, as well as natural or man-made disasters involving one or more of these elements, and who have crossed an internationally recognized state border.
  • Internally Displaced Person (IDP) – persons or groups of persons who have been forced to flee, or leave, their homes or places of habitual residence as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, and habitual violations of human rights, as well as natural or man-made disasters involving one or more of these elements, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.

More recently, the global term “forcibly displaced” person has become widely used. This term is encompassing and can refer to those displaced by natural or man-made disasters. Also, it should be noted that there are some other legal definitions and requirements given by international agencies that officially qualify or disqualify people as “refugees.”

At BGR, we simply like to say refugees and displaced people are “people who cannot go home…for whatever reason.”

Where are the refugee/displaced “hotspots” in the world today?

  • Syria/Iraq – Obviously, the most visible place in the world today is the Middle East and more pointedly, Syria and Iraq. It is hard to know exact numbers, but there are around 12 million people displaced because of this ongoing conflict. It is estimated that there are 4 to 5 million who have fled their country(s) and another 7 to 8 million who are internally displaced. This area accounts for 20 to 25% of the world’s current displaced persons.
  • Somalia – Due to two decades of conflict, Somalia accounts for the largest refugee crisis in Africa.  There are close to 1 million refugees that have left Somalia (many are in neighboring countries) and another 1.2 million internally displaced inside their own country.
  • Afghanistan – 2.6 million Afghan citizens live outside of Afghanistan with 1.2 million being internally displaced. This is largely fueled by decades of war, poverty, and hope for a better life economically.
  • Yemen – There are an estimated 2.5 million internally displaced Yemenis.
  • Myanmar – There are 479,000 refugees from Myanmar and another 644,000 internally displaced.
  • Nigeria – Due to armed conflict and drought, there are almost 2.2 million internally displaced people in Nigeria with about 200,000 seeking shelter outside the country.
  • South Sudan – South Sudan has produced 600,000 refugees and has 1.6 million internally displaced persons.
  • Central African Republic (CAR)– There are a total of 471,000 refugees from CAR.
  • Burundi – Conflict in Burundi forced 221,000 people to flee to neighboring countries in 2015.
  • Guatemala/El Salvador/Honduras – Increasing violence and a search for economic betterment has led to over 100,000 pending cases of asylum to other countries.
  • Columbia – Due to various reasons, there are over 6.9 million displaced people in Columbia. This is about the same number as Syria.
  • Ukraine – Due to armed conflict, there are about 1.4 million internally displaced persons in the Ukraine.