The 10 largest refugee crises to know in 2023

January 13, 2023
Photo by Abir Abdullah/ Concern Worldwide

In 2022, we exceeded 30 million refugees around the world — an escalation of what was already the highest number of refugees on record. Based on UNHCR data, here are the 10 largest refugee crises and situations to follow in 2023.

In the past decade, the global refugee crisis has more than doubled in scope. In 2022, the UNHCR announced that we had surpassed the 100 million mark for total displacement, meaning that over 1.2% of the global population have been forced to leave their homes. Among these people are over 32.5 million refugees. 76% of those refugees come from just six countries. 

Before we look at the world’s largest refugee crises in 2023, a quick note that we’re focusing specifically on refugees and counting them by country of origin for this listing. For more on that distinction, check out our breakdown of refugees versus IDPs — and all of the other classifications for forced migration.

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10.. Eritrea

In 2022, Eritrea crossed the threshold of 501,000 refugees, meaning that nearly 14% of the country’s population have been displaced due to violence and political instability. 

Concern distributes food in a conflict-affected community in Ouaka, Central African Republic. (Photo: Mark Johnson/Concern Worldwide)

9. Central African Republic

The humanitarian crisis in Central African Republic reached its tenth anniversary in 2022, a period marked by bouts of sectarian violence that have displaced over 1 million people. That includes nearly 738,000 refugees. 

This escalation in violence (which has been ongoing since CAR gained independence from France in 1960) has made it increasingly dangerous for Central Africans to live in the country — and for humanitarian organizations to work there. 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. In recent years, however, we have been forced to periodically suspend our work due to safety issues. 

8. Somalia

The good news is that the number of Somali refugees around the world has declined a bit in recent years. At the end of 2017, there were over 986,000 refugees. While the numbers went up a bit in 2022, at just over 799,000 it’s still a significant decrease compared to five years ago. 

However, the situation is nevertheless dire for many. For the last several decades, a cycle of crisis in Somalia has been fuelled by drought, conflict, and hunger. The country is at the epicenter of the current Horn of Africa crisis, which could lead to a new famine being declared in the region. Even if it doesn’t, the UN still estimates that the effects could be similar to the country’s 2011 famine.

Concern has been in Somalia for over 35 years, as well as neighboring countries that serve as some of the largest host communities to Somali refugees. One key program that we run for both refugees and internally-displaced Somalis ais our Cash Consortium, giving people the autonomy and dignity of being able to prioritize their own financial needs with cash transfers. We’ve distributed more than $16 million to over 300,000 people since the launch of the program. 

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

7. Sudan

In Sudan — as with many countries on this list — we can see one of the complications of the current refugee crisis at large: While Sudan is the fifth-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 — over 844,000 as of December 2022, and roughly a 40,000 increase since last year.

Concern has been in Sudan for 35 years. 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.

6. Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo remains one of the world’s largest “forgotten” humanitarian crises, with events in a protracted situation rarely making headlines. Combining refugees and IDPs, its displacement numbers are the highest in Africa. This includes over 909,000 refugees — an increase of 45,000 compared to last year. In tandem with this, the DRC is also a large host community for refugees from neighboring countries.

Concern has been responding to the DRC crisis 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.

Eric Kyugu, 28, Mado Kabulo, 29, a married couple play with their 7 month old baby Bienheureux in the village of Pension, Manono Territory.
Eric and his wife, Mado, were displaced during fighting in 2016 and have struggled ever since. Eric participates in Concern Worldwide’s Graduation program in the region. (Photo: Hugh Kinsella Cunningham/Concern Worldwide)

5. The Rohingya crisis

Beginning in August 2017, over 1.1 million stateless Rohingya fled ongoing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Many are still living in the world’s largest refugee camp, located in nearby Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Together with UN agencies, over 130 local, national, and international nonprofits (including Concern) have supported the Government of Bangladesh to adjust to this increase in capacity. Safety and security remain serious concerns for the Rohingya living in Cox’s Bazar, where their informal housing is often destroyed in seasonal floods and fires. 

Concern has been in Bangladesh for nearly the entire span of our more than 50-year history. This has helped us to respond quickly and agilely to the influx of refugees in Cox’s Bazar, where we continue to work. 

4. South Sudan

The world’s youngest nation is also the site of one of its largest refugee crises, one that entered its tenth year last month. Over 4 million South Sudanese have been forced from their homes, with 2.3 million of those having to leave the country entirely. 

Concern has been in South Sudan since it gained independence in 2011 and works 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.

Shelter Distribution by Concern Worldwide in a POC site in Juba, South Sudan. These distributions take 10 days and reach around 7,000 families. Concern makes assessments around the camp, targeting the most vulnerable, and any people that have spoilt or ripped shelters can attend the distribution. (Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Concern Worldwide)

3. Afghanistan

The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan consistently makes it one of the top countries of origin for refugees. Roughly 1 in 10 — that is, 2.8 million — refugees are Afghan by birth. More than 88% of Afghan refugees are hosted in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

For those Afghans still living in their home country, almost two-thirds are in areas that are directly affected by conflict. This conflict prompts ongoing internal displacement. The problem is compounded by the limited capacity of communities, governments, 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 and recently became the UN’s chosen partner for the emergency response to displacement in the northeastern part of the country. 

2. Ukraine

In February 2022, escalated conflict in Ukraine led to a full humanitarian crisis, including 5.4 million refugees. Over 16% of the current global refugee population is Ukrainian. This exceeded the UNHCR’s initial estimate that  4 million Ukrainians — nearly 10% of the country’s population — would be displaced as a result of conflict. 

Concern began working in Ukraine in 2022, shortly after the beginning of the conflict. After initially working in bordering host communities like Poland and Romania, we switched operations to Ukraine itself where we determined humanitarian need to be greatest. 

Tens of thousands of people evacuating through the train station at Lviv in Ukraine

Tens of thousands of people evacuate Ukraine through the train station at Lviv. (Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide)

1. Syria

Over 25% of the total global refugee population are part of the global diaspora in the wake of the 10-year Syrian crisis. As of late 2022, 6.8 million Syrians have sought refuge, primarily in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Türkiye (which is currently the largest host community for refugees). In Lebanon, there are no formal camps, which leaves its population of over 1 million Syrians living across 2,000 communities, often overcrowded temporary shelters. 

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 this crisis, both locally in Syria, and with refugee communities in Türkiye and Lebanon. In 2019, we also began operating in Iraq.

Team members of Concern distribute soap at an informal tented settlement in north Lebanon. (Photo: Dalia Khamissy)

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

Last year alone, Concern responded to 66 emergencies in 23 countries, reaching 17.8 million people with urgent necessities such as shelter, psychosocial support, healthcare, and food as well as longer-term livelihoods trainings that benefit both displaced and host communities. 

*All numbers are via the UNHCR’s Refugee Statistics Portal and include refugees under UNHCR mandate. For the purposes of this article, we do not include Venezuelans displaced abroad or Palestinians under UNRWA mandate.

Largest Refugee Crises