June 21, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: The Unprecedented Scope of the Refugee Crisis

• A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report released on June 20 showed the highest ever documented number of refugees: 65.3 million people

• The number includes refugees who have fled their home countries, internally displaced persons forced from their homes, and those claiming asylum 

• One out of every 113 people on Earth have been forced their homes; such statistics fail to quantify the scope of tragedy and instability stemming from the crisis

• Only 201,400 refugees returned to their home countries in 2015—a highly discouraging sign. 


The scale of the global refugee crisis defies comprehension. However, a report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reveals just how massive the problem has become. The UNHCR report entitled ‘Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015’ showed that 65.3 million people—approximately equivalent to the population of France—have been forced from their homes by ‘persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations.’ This is the first time the total has ever exceeded 60 million—a sign of the international community’s utter inability to resolve the numerous persistent conflicts that are driving the crisis.

The 65.3 million include those refugees who have left their home countries, internally displaced persons (IDPs) who remain in their countries but have been forced from their homes, and those claiming asylum. Of those three categories, IDPs comprise the largest percentage—an estimated 40.8 million people. This number indicates that as bad as the refugee crisis hitting Europe has been, it can get much worse if these IDPs are forced to leave their home countries altogether. The current repercussions of the refugee crisis already include political upheavals across Europe, including in Britain and Germany; the-long term impacts will be significant.

While the scale of the crisis is global, only a handful of countries are driving the exodus. More than half of the refugees in 2015 came from Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Likewise, the burden of caring for these unprecedented numbers of refugees is concentrated; Turkey, Pakistan, and Lebanon bear most of the burden. Pakistan and Lebanon have dealt with massive numbers of refugees for decades, while Turkey’s experience is more recent and stems from the Syrian civil war. Per capita, Lebanon houses the most refugees by far: 183 refugees per 1,000 residents. The scale of the refugee crisis in Europe is enormous and destabilizing, but it pales in comparison to the endless crisis in the Middle East and parts of Africa.

From a geopolitical standpoint, the UNHCR statistic that only 201,400 refugees returned to their home countries in 2015 will have the longest impact; essentially, the vast majority of refugees never return home. Europe is hoping that the current crisis is temporary, but history suggests the problem will be a lasting one. Of the 201,400 refugees who returned home in 2015, 64,100 returned to Afghanistan. Many of these returning Afghan refugees had fled to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion, and others had fled the ongoing war with the Taliban. 

The Syrian War has played an incalculable role in producing the current refugee and IDP crises. The war has produced 4.9 million refugees and 6.6 million IDPs. Given both the continued flighting and the country’s utter devastation, these people will not be returning home any time soon. As the conflict continues with no end in sight, more of the 6.6 million IDPs will be forced to flee, adding to the growing numbers that Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are straining to house and care for. The conflicts in Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan are unlikely to be resolved in 2016—next year’s report may reveal an even larger increase.



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