UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report, which tracks forced displacement worldwide based on data from governments, partners including the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, and the organization’s own reporting, said 65.3 million people were displaced as of the end of 2015, compared to 59.5 million just 12 months earlier. This is the first time that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.
Children constituted 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015 according to the data UNHCR was able to gather (complete demographic data was not available to the report authors). Worryingly, many were separated from their parents or travelling alone. In all there were 98,400 asylum requests from children who were unaccompanied or separated from their families. This is the highest total UNHCR has seen – and a tragic reflection of how global forced displacement is disproportionately affecting young lives.
Unable to go home
While global displacement totals were higher than ever, the number of people able to return to their home or find another solution (local integration in a country of first refuge or resettlement elsewhere) was low. 201,400 refugees were able to return to their countries of origin in 2015 (mainly Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia). This was higher than the total in 2014 (126,800), but still substantially down compared with the peaks of the early 1990s. Some 107,100 refugees were admitted for resettlement in 30 countries in 2015 – representing just 0.66 per cent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate (by comparison, 26 countries admitted 105,200 refugees for resettlement in 2014, representing 0.73 per cent of the refugee population under UNHCR care). At least 32,000 refugees became naturalized over the course of the year, the majority in Canada and with smaller numbers in France, Belgium, Austria and elsewhere.
Displacement in 2015, by region
Middle East and North Africa
Syria’s war remained the world’s leading cause of displacement and associated suffering. By the end of 2015 it had driven at least 4.9 million people into exile as refugees and displaced 6.6 million internally – amounting to around half Syria’s pre-war population.
Iraq’s conflict had by year’s end displaced 4.4 million people internally and created more than a quarter of a million refugees.
Yemen’s civil war, which began in 2015, had by the end of December displaced 2.5 million people – more new displacement than any other conflict globally.
Including the 5.2 million Palestinian refugees under the mandate of UNRWA, the almost half a million Libyans forced to flee their homes and remaining in the country, plus a number of smaller situations, the Middle East and North Africa region accounted for more displacement than any other.
Sub-Saharan Africa had the largest displacement totals in 2015 after the Middle East and North Africa.
Continuing bitter conflict in South Sudan in 2015, as well as in Central African Republic and Somalia, plus new or continuing mass displacement in or from countries including Nigeria, Burundi, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and elsewhere together produced 18.4 million refugees and internally displaced people as of year’s end.
Sub-Saharan Africa meanwhile hosted some 4.4 million refugees in all – more than any other region. Five of the world’s top-10 hosting nations were African countries, led by Ethiopia, and followed by Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad.
Asia and Pacific
The Asia and Pacific region accounted for almost a sixth of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people in 2015, making it the third largest region for displacement overall. One in six of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate were from Afghanistan (2.7 million people) where almost 1.2 million people were internally displaced.
Myanmar was the region’s second largest producer of both refugees and internally displaced people (451,800 and 451,000 respectively). Pakistan (1.5 million) and Islamic Republic of Iran (979,000) remain among the world’s leading refugee hosting countries.
Rising numbers of people fleeing gang and other violence in Central America contributed to a 17 per cent rise in displacement across the wider region. Refugees and asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras together reached 109,800, most coming to Mexico and the United States and representing a more than five-fold increase over three years.
Colombia, a longstanding situation, remained the world’s biggest country for internal displacement (6.9 million).
The situation in Ukraine, Europe’s proximity to Syria and Iraq, plus the arrival of more than a million refugees and migrants via the Mediterranean mostly from the world’s top ten refugee-producing countries, together dominated the region’s displacement picture in 2015.
European countries together produced some 593,000 refugees – most from Ukraine; and hosted 4.4 million – 2.5 million of these in Turkey. Figures provided by the Government of Ukraine list 1.6 million Ukrainians as being displaced there. The Global Trends report lists 441,900 asylum claims in Germany, where the refugee population increased by 46 per cent from its 2014 level to 316,000.