The 10 Refugee Crises to Follow in 2020

January 8, 2020
Photo by Abir Abdullah/ Concern Worldwide

According to a 2019 United Nations report, the global refugee population is at the highest ever recorded, and has nearly doubled since 2012. Here are 10 of the largest refugee crises and situations based on the UN’s data.

In the past decade, global refugee population has more than doubled, with more than 25 million refugees living in host communities around the world. We are now at the highest population on record, with 67% of the world’s refugees come from just 5 countries. 

A quick note that we’re focusing specifically on refugees and listing them by country of origin for this accounting. You can check out our breakdown of migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally-displaced for the key differences. 

10. Burundi

With 343,000 people living as refugees, Burundi is one of  the least-funded refugee crises. Almost all of them live in neighboring countries like Tanzania (221,400 refugees), Rwanda (68,300), the Democratic Republic of Congo (43,000), Uganda (32,500), Kenya (4,900) and Zambia (4,500). 

Many of these refugees fled the country in the wake of violent political unrest that began in 2015. While security has improved over the last five years, further instability has been fueled by an economic downturn and extreme food insecurity. Roughly 80% of Burundians live in extreme poverty, and the country is one of the worst places to have a child, based on maternal mortality rates. 

Concern has operated in Burundi since 1997 with work focusing on livelihoods, nutrition, and health — with a special focus on community-based health and nutrition interventions that support those who have been excluded from the health system. This work around nutrition (as well as livelihoods and education) has extended to several Burundian refugee populations living in host communities such as Rwanda

9. Eritrea

Refugees from the small East African country of Eritrea increased in 2018 compared to the previous year, surpassing the 500,000 mark. Nearly 12% of the country’s population has been uprooted due to social and political instability and violence. It’s hard to gauge humanitarian need within the country — Eritrea remains one of the countries that Concern struggles to get complete data on for our annual Global Hunger Index

Nearly 12% of Eritreans have been uprooted due to social and political instability.

Over half of the Eritrean refugee population is currently being hosted in Ethiopia (174,000) and Sudan (114,500), two countries where Concern has kept a decades-long presence, and face numerous challenges (including the ongoing effects of drought in the Horn of Africa region). More have found protection in countries like Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom.  

8. Central African Republic

Since late 2012, the people of Central African Republic have suffered bouts of sectarian violence that have displaced over 1 million people. As of October, 2019, that includes over 593,000 refugees (up by nearly 50,000 compared to 2017). 

This escalation in violence (which has been ongoing since CAR gained independence from France in 1960) has made it increasingly dangerous for citizens to live in the country — and for humanitarian organizations to work in the country. This instability and violence has also led to the CAR being the hungriest country in the world, year-over-year. 

According to the United Nations, 50% of CAR refugees are living in Cameroon. Other major hosts of Central Africans include the DRC, Chad, Congo, and Sudan. Concern has been operational in CAR since 2014, with the main goals of providing humanitarian assistance and building the resilience of communities affected by ongoing conflict. 

Central African Republic

The Zoumati family stands outside their makeshift shelter in the Mpoko displacement camp near the airport in Bangui, Central African Republic. Photo by Crystal Wells/Concern Worldwide

7. Democratic Republic of Congo

Like the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo remains one of the world’s largest “forgotten crises.” The ongoing Ebola outbreak in the DRC, history’s second-largest, has only worsened the situation over the last year. Nearly 7887,000 Congolese refugees were recorded at the end of July, 2019, with most seeking safety  in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Zambia. Others can be found in Angola, South Sudan, Congo, South Africa, Kenya, and France. 

The number of Congolese refugees doesn’t factor in the 4.5 million Congolese displaced within their home country, a pace that the United Nations describes as “worrying” as ongoing violence in the Kasai, Tanganyika, Ituri, and Kivu regions intensifies. Concern has been in the DRC for over 25 years, with emergency response among our top priorities. We work in partnership with the UNICEF RRMP (Rapid Response to Population Movement), the country’s largest emergency response program. 

6. Sudan

In Sudan, as with the DRC and other countries on this list, we can see one of the complications that has grown out of the global refugee crisis: While Sudan is the fourth largest country of asylum for refugees (including the largest population of refugees from South Sudan),  it’s also a country that’s producing an increasing number of refugees — 724,800 by the end of 2018. Many Sudanese are fleeing protracted violence or climate change-induced drought and famine, with nearly 270,000 taking refuge in South Sudan (the site of ongoing conflict and food insecurity). 

Sudan is the fourth largest host country for refugees — but it’s also the sixth largest country producing refugees.

Over 46.5% of Sudan’s population live below the poverty line. Concern has been in the country for more than 34 years, maintaining a steady response to emergencies while working to improve livelihoods and health and nutritional outcomes. We also work to support the areas of Sudan that function as host communities for the 1.1 million foreign refugees living in the country. 

5. Somalia

In both 2018 and 2017, over two-thirds of the world’s refugees come from just 5 countries, beginning with Somalia. The good news is that the number of Somali refugees around the world has, for the last several years, been on a slow decline. At the end of 2017, there were over 986,000. One year later, that number had gone down to just over 949,000.

Displaced families collect SIM cards for emergency cash phone transfers from Concern Worldwide at a displacement camp in Mogadishu, Somalia. The programme is funded by DIFD. Numbers of people being displaced by drought and hunger are increasing steadily

Like other countries in the Horn of Africa, Somalia has been plagued by droughts and other effects of climate change that challenge resilience and coping mechanisms. Between 2016 and 2018, four successive below-average rainy seasons led to crop failure, livestock deaths, and a loss of assets. An armed conflict in the country that has stretched into nearly 25 years has exacerbated the problem, with many Somali refugees fleeing to Ethiopia, Kenya, and even Yemen as safer alternatives.  

Concern’s emergency response in Somalia predates the country’s current conflict and droughts.  Today, one key pillar is the Somali Cash Consortium, which has distributed more than $16 million to over over 300,000 beneficiaries. We also are working with families displaced within the country, ensuring that they have the necessities to build a shelter, feed their families, maintain their health and hygiene, and continue their children’s education. 

4. The Rohingya Crisis

Since August 25, 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled ongoing violence in Myanmar, one of several waves of displacement that began in the early 1990s. Many of the stateless Rohingya have wound up in what is known as the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

While UN agencies and over 130 local, national, and international nonprofits (including Concern) have supported the Government of Bangladesh to provide lifesaving assistance, these refugees require more beyond basic support and are striving for dignity in Cox’s Bazar. Safety and security remain serious concerns. 

Concern has been in Bangladesh for nearly the entire span of our more than 50-year history. This helped us to respond quickly and agilely to the influx of refugees in Cox’s Bazar. In 2018 alone, we held monthly screenings for 49,500 children under the age of 5 in order to spot signs of severe acute malnutrition. We admitted over 6,140 children to our outpatient clinics and, through a combination of RUTF and CMAM, achieved a cure rate of 97%. 

A young child is screened for malnutrition in Bangladesh.

Concern’s Abida Suldana carries out screening for malnutrition in Moynadhona refugee camp for Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Kieran McConville

3. South Sudan

Year over year, the South Sudanese refugee population has held third-place, making it one of the largest ongoing refugee crises, with 2.3 million South Sudanese living in host communities abroad. The majority of South Sudanese refugees are living in Sudan (852,100), Uganda (788,800), Ethiopia (422,100), Kenya (115,200) and the DRC (95,700). Since December 2013, conflict in the burgeoning nation of South Sudan has driven nearly 4 million people from their homes — with more than half being forced to leave the country entirely. 

Concern has been in the country for the last 8 years (since it gained independence in July 2011), working to address the ongoing humanitarian needs and the pressure generated by widespread displacement. In addition to working with the nearly 2 million internally displaced South Sudanese (many of whom live in Protection of Civilian Sites), we also have a presence in many of the host communities for South Sudanese refugees, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the DRC. 

Nyakoun with her son Thujin

South Sudanese refugee Nyakoun with her one-year-old son, Thujin. Photo: Jennifer Nolan

2. Afghanistan

Afghanistan continues to face an extremely complex humanitarian challenge, with factors like prolonged poverty, environmental disasters, conflict, and insecurity contributing to the world’s second-largest refugee crisis. By the end of 2018, the number of Afghan refugees exceeded 2.7 million, with over 88% of those refugees being hosted in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. This number has fluctuated steadily over the last four decades, with nearly 4 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan by the end of 1980. Today, one in 10 refugees comes from Afghanistan. 

Today, one in 10 refugees comes from Afghanistan.

For those Afghans still living in their home country, almost two-thirds are in areas directly affected by conflict that prompts ongoing internal displacement. This problem is compounded by the limited capacity of communities, government and humanitarian actors to withstand the impact of repeated natural disasters including floods, landslides, earthquakes and drought.

Concern has been in Afghanistan for over 20 years, initially responding to a major earthquake in 1998. We recently became the UN’s chosen partner for the emergency response to displacement in the northeastern part of the country. In addition to advocating for a resilience-based approach to development work in the country, we also work in the largest host country for Afghan refugees, Pakistan

1. Syria

As we’ve previously mentioned, more than 67% of all refugees worldwide come from just 5 countries. Of that 67%, more than half — over 25% of the total global refugee population — come from Syria. A protracted and multifaceted conflict in the country has led to an ongoing diaspora. In 2018 alone, more than half a million refugees sought asylum in neighboring countries (primarily Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt).

3.6 million Syrians currently live in  Turkey, and Lebanon hosts nearly 1 million Syrian refugees. In Lebanon, there are no formal camps which leaves its population of asylum-seeking Syrians living in over 2,000 communities, often in overcrowded temporary shelters that are ill-suited to the elements. 

Syrian child stands alone in an informal settlement in Laebanon

A Syrian child living in an informal refugee settlement in Lebanon.

The number of Syrians displaced within their own country matches the number of refugees, with conflicts driving over 6.6 million people from their homes and forcing them to resettle. 2.98 million still remain in hard-to-reach and besieged areas. 

Since 2013, Concern has responded to the Syrian crisis in Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon, providing relief and cash transfers to those still living within Syria’s borders, and supporting the host communities in Turkey and Lebanon so that both refugees and locals can build sustainable livelihoods, receive necessary psycho-social support, and adjust to the new (but hopefully temporary) reality. 

In Turkey, Concern is distributing food and other aid items to Syrian refugees.

Distributing food and other aid items to Syrian refugees in Turkey. Photo: Caroline Gluck/EU/ECHO

Concern’s work with refugees

Concern’s response to the world’s displacement crisis is in keeping with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, approved by all 193 Member States of the United Nations in September, 2016. 

The CRRF gives a set of guidelines for approaching the predictable aspects of these crises. This includes: 

  1. Easing pressure on countries that welcome and host refugees
  2. Building self-reliance of refugees
  3. Expanding access to resettlement of refugees in third countries or offering other complementary pathways
  4. Fostering conditions that enable refugees to voluntarily return to their home countries

In 2018 alone, Concern responded to 66 emergencies in 20 countries, reaching 11.6 million people with urgent necessities such as shelter, healthcare, and food as well as longer-term livelihoods trainings that benefit both displaced and host communities.

Find out more about our work