At the end of 2016, 22.5 million people were classified as refugees, alongside a further 2.8 million who were registered asylum-seekers. The refugee figure includes 5.3 million Palestinians, the people displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, together with their descendants. These Palestinian refugees are under the protection of a dedicated agency, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
The three largest host countries at the end of 2016 were the “front line states” of Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon, each accommodating more than one million refugees. The figure in Turkey was 2.9 million, more than the whole of the European Union.
It is therefore a myth that the majority of refugees are located in developed countries. Few have the means to travel further than the nearest country and 84% of the burden of hosting refugees falls on low or middle-income countries which are least able to cope.
Statistics for refugees reflect only the narrowest definition of forced displacement. A much larger category relates to people who have been forced out of their homes by violent conflict but who remain within their national boundaries.
There were 40.3 million IDPs at the end of 2016, almost double the number of refugees. However, refugee status for the purposes of the 1951 Convention cannot be granted unless a border is crossed. No protection under international law is available to IDPs.
The UN Refugee Agency is alarmed at the trend in aggregate numbers for these various categories of forced displacement brought about by conflict, political oppression and ethnic persecution. The total of 65.6 million at the end of 2016 for refugees, asylum-seekers and IDPs is the highest since records began.
More Migration briefings (updated March 2018)