The Refugee Crisis Is Not Going Away

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on June 4, 2018 | Print

It may seem to have slipped from the headlines, but the refugee crisis is not going away.

In fact, it’s getting worse.

Today, there are over 65 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced. In other words, they have been made to leave their homes. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) is the official world body that deals with refugees. Of the 22 million “official refugees,” 17 million are under the mandate of the UNHCR. Another 3 million around the world are asylum seekers and over 40 million are internally displaced.

You may have noticed that the conversation of refugees has a specific language and terms that may be unfamiliar. It’s important to be able to decipher the difference between official refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people if, for no other reason, than to get a truer grasp on the global crisis. So before moving on, let’s define what it is we’re talking about.


“Official refugees” are found on every continent. According to Amnesty International, a refugee is a person who has fled their country of origin and is unable or unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political opinion. On average, it takes 17 years for a person who is displaced to be officially resettled. Just imagine spending 17 years of your life in limbo!


An asylum seeker is different than a refugee. An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualized procedures, an asylum seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker.


The 40 million plus internally displaced people are neither refugees or asylum seekers, but could become one or the other. In most cases, they are people who have been displaced from their homes/places of residence as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, natural disasters, or man-made ones. Most are fairly invisible to the international community, not living in official camps, trying to make do and make a living in hopes of one day soon returning home.


In 2016 (the last year of official statistics), over 10.3 million people were newly displaced. This included 3.4 million new refugees and asylum seekers as well as 6.9 million internally displaced persons.

This meant that for every minute of the year 2016, there were 20 people fleeing their homes somewhere in the world. Tragically, about 51% of all globally displaced are children under the age of 18.

From a total number perspective, more than half the world’s refugees worldwide come from just three countries: Syria (5.5 million), Afghanistan (2.5 million) and South Sudan (1.4 million).

Turkey is the largest host of refugees at 2.9 million people. Pakistan is second with 1.4 million, followed by Lebanon with 1.0 million, Iran with 980 thousand, Uganda with 940 thousand, and Ethiopia with 791 thousand.

The couintry of Lebanon continues to host the largest number of refugees in comparison to the size of its national population. One in six people in Lebanon are refugees.

Clearly, the refugee crisis is not going away.

It is our responsibility to acknowledge the crisis, educate ourselves and remain aware of the millions of people without homes around the world. You can learn more about global refugee numbers and data by visiting the UNHCR’s Global Trends Report for 2016.