In the past decade, the global refugee population has more than doubled. According to the UNHCR, over 84 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are over 26.6 million refugees, the highest population on record. 68% of the world’s refugees come from just 5 countries.
Note: These numbers are from the end of 2021 and do not account for the Ukrainian crisis, although the rest of this list has been updated to reflect what is now the largest displacement crisis in Europe since World War II.
Since we began keeping track of the world’s largest refugee crises last year, the number of people forcibly displaced around the world has continued to grow at an alarming rate. 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.
More than 10% of the population of Eritrea — over 492,000 — now live as refugees due to social and political instability and violence. It’s hard to gauge humanitarian need within the small East African country — Eritrea remains one of the countries that Concern struggles to get complete data on for our annual Global Hunger Index.
9. 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 December, 2021, that includes over 713,000 refugees — an increase of over 100,000 compared to 2020.
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. 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.
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. Now at the end of 2020, there are an estimated 790,000.
Like other countries in the Horn of Africa, Somalia has been plagued by droughts and other effects of climate change. Between 2016 and 2018, four successive below-average rainy seasons led to crop failure, livestock deaths, and a loss of assets. A 25-year armed conflict exacerbated the problem. Many Somali refugees have found Ethiopia, Kenya, and even Yemen to be safer alternatives.
One key program that is of use for Somali refugees is Concern’s Somali Cash Consortium. We’ve distributed over $16 million to over over 300,000 people in displacement, allowing them the autonomy and dignity of being able to financially prioritize their own needs.
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 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 805,000 as of December 2021. Many Sudanese are fleeing protracted violence or climate change-induced drought and famine.
Sudan is the fifth largest host country for refugees — but it’s also the sixth largest country producing refugees.
Concern has been in the country 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
Like the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo remains one of the world’s largest “forgotten crises.” Its displacement numbers are now the largest in Africa. Over 864,000 Congolese refugees were recorded in 2021. This does not include over 4.5 million Congolese displaced within their own country due to violence in the Kasai, Tanganyika, Ituri, and Kivu regions. Amid all of this, the DRC is also a large host community for refugees from neighboring countries, as we’ll see throughout this list.
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.
5. The Rohingya Crisis
Since August 25, 2017, over 1.1 million Rohingya refugees have fled ongoing violence in Myanmar. Many of the stateless Rohingya have wound up in what is known as the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
Together with UN agencies, over 130 local, national, and international nonprofits (including Concern) have supported the Government of Bangladesh adjust to this increase in capacity. Safety and security remain serious concerns for the Rohingya living in Cox’s Bazar, especially in the wake of COVID-19 (which reached the camp this summer).
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.
4. South Sudan
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. Approximately 2.6 million South Sudanese live in host communities abroad, including areas of Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the DRC.
Concern has been in South Sudan since it gained independence in 2011. There, we work 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.
Afghanistan continues to be one of the top countries of origin for refugees. Roughly 1 in 10 — that is, 2.6 million — refugees are Afghan by birth, and this number has fluctuated steadily over the last four decades. More than 88% of Afghan refugees are hosted in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.
Today, one in 10 refugees comes from Afghanistan.
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, 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 and recently became the UN’s chosen partner for the emergency response to displacement in the northeastern part of the country.
In less than a month, a crisis in Ukraine has made the country the second-largest country of origin for the global refugee population. As of April 25, 2022, over 5.2 million Ukrainians have fled the country, with nearly 3 million taking shelter just across the border in Poland. This has exceeded the UNHCR’s initial estimate that 4 million Ukrainians — nearly 10% of the country’s population — would be displaced internationally as a result of conflict. In all likelihood, the global refugee population has reached a new high in 2022, surpassing 30 million people.
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 2021, 6.7 million Syrians have sought refuge, primarily in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey (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 Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
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:
- Easing pressure on countries that welcome and host refugees
- Building self-reliance of refugees
- Expanding access to resettlement of refugees in third countries or offering other complementary pathways
- Fostering conditions that enable refugees to voluntarily return to their home countries
Last year, Concern responded to 78 emergencies in 23 countries, reaching 17.9 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.