The Global Refugee Crisis
Wars, conflicts, and other events have resulted in millions of refugees scattered in camps, makeshift housing, and communities across the globe. According to the UNHCR, as of mid-2021, there are currently over 84 million refugees, 68% of whom originate from only 6 countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Palestine, and Myanmar. Yet despite these enormous numbers, only 142,900 returned to their homes or were resettled in the first half of 2021.
For the most recent numbers, click here.
Who is a refugee?
The UN 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
Refugee Admissions in the US
The United States has a long history of accepting refugees and those fleeing persecution. However, the first concerted effort undertaken by the US government to resettle a large number of refugees was in 1948 when Congress enacted the first legislation allowing hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans to resettle in the United States. Following the Vietnam War in 1975, which resulted in millions of refugees being displaced, the US Congress passed The Refugee Act of 1980. This act systemized refugee resettlement in the US, and allowed for the resettlement of over 3 million refugees since 1975.
Refugees seeking resettlement in the United States undergo a long and arduous process that includes security, health, and other background checks and vetting unlike most other people entering the United States. This includes background checks and screenings by the FBI, Department of State, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), USCIS, and many other governmental agencies and nongovernmental partners.
Why is it so hard for refugees to find refuge?
Refugees flee many different countries on a daily basis. They also face varying levels of hostility and accommodation from their countries of refuge.
The vast majority of refugees are internally displaced or settle in nearby countries, but as those refugee programs are underfunded.
Because resettlement is obligatory and costly to the countries of refuge, they have little investment in ensuring the well-being of refugees on their journeys to safety and many die in transit. Those who do make it are faced with few employment opportunities, hostility, sparse resettlement accommodations provided by their new countries, and other difficulties of transition. This results in many refugees paying smugglers to help them reach other countries in Europe and North America on treacherous journeys across land and sea, where they risk exposure to the elements and more violence such as gang violence, gender based violence, border police brutality and other physical and emotional threats.
The most pressing crises around the world
Afghanistan has experienced a tumultuous recent history with decades of war that has resulted in over 2.6 million refugees and 3.5 million internally displaced Afghans. With the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the refugee crisis there is expected to be exacerbated in the near future, with hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees already evacuated by US and NATO allies.
For more information on the Afghan refugee crisis visit this link.
There are over 300,000 refugees displaced by political violence and economic instability in Burundi. Burundi’s refugees have received the least funding of any refugee situation globally.
- Central African Republic
Almost a third of the Central African Republic’s population has been displaced in recent years as a result of violence and political instability. The vast majority of the country’s refugees have been displaced to neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Chad, and the DRC.
- Central Sahel
The Central Sahel is a region in Africa that includes Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger that is experiencing rampant violence and human rights violations, the consequences of which have resulted in nearly 2 million people being displaced, nearly 1 million of them fled to nearby countries.
For more information about the Central Sahel’s refugee crisis visit this link.
- Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Political turmoil and violence have plagued the DRC since the 1990’s with millions being displaced. As of 2020, there are nearly 1 million refugees being hosted in nearby African countries. Furthermore, according to the UN human rights violations are still rampant, and the risk of many more people being displaced looming large.
- Ethiopia (Tigray)
The refugee crisis in Tigray is unfolding since November of 2021 where recently renewed violence sparked the first wave of displacement with over 46,000 seeking refugee in nearby countries and 1.7 million internally displaced. This region has already been a host to nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees who may be displaced yet another time.
Since 2014, over 250,000 Iraqi refugees have sought refuge in nearby countries and over a million have been internally displaced, mostly to the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
For more information about Iraqi refugees visit this link.
- Myanmar (Rohingya)
Since August of 2017, nearly 1 million Rohingyas have had to flee the State of Rakhine in Myanmar as a result of violence and persecution. It is estimated that over half of these refugees are children. That vast majority of the Rohingya refugees are in nearby Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar region which has one of the largest and most densely populated refugee camps in the world.
Over the last 30 years, hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Somalia as a result of the civil war and political violence. As a result, nearly 1 million Somalis remain displaced in neighboring countries and even more are internally displaced.
- South Sudan
South Sudan is experiencing the largest refugee crisis in Africa, and the third largest in the world. The vast majority of South Sudan refugees are women and children with more than half being children, with 2.2 million refugees and asylum seekers and 4.3 million displaced persons.
Since the onset of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, civilians have fled violence which involves many different warring groups both inside and outside of Syria’s borders.
There 6.6 million refugees and 6.7 million internally displaced people. Syria’s refugees have sought refuge in over 130 countries, however, the vast majority of Syria’s refugees are in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.
For more information on the Syrian refugee crisis visit this link.
Violence, economic turmoil, and food insecurity in Venezuela have resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Over 5.9 million Venezuelans have sought refuge in nearby countries
Since conflict broke out in Yemen in 2015, nearly 4 million Yemenis have been forcibly displaced, with 200,000 seeking refuge in other countries. Yemen also hosts 137,000 refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia. There is a humanitarian catastrophe looming in Yemen with 16 million people suffering from hunger, and 5 million on the brink of a famine. Moreover, superimposed on this reality is a health calamity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreaks of cholera, measles, dengue fever and diphtheria.
For more information on the unfolding humanitarian and refugee crisis in Yemen, visit this link.
“Refugees.” UNHCR News. UNHCR, 2001.
Norton, Ben. “A Guide to the Worst Refugee Crisis since WWII.” Mondoweiss. Mondoweiss, 09 Sept. 2015.
Rodgers, Lucy, David Gritten, James Offer, and Patrick Asare. “Conflict Background.” I Am Syria. BBC News, 9 Oct. 2015.
USA for UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency.