The most urgent refugee crises around the world

Mar 06, 2021
In the past decade, refugee crises claimed headlines on a daily basis. Millions of people have fled their homes to find safety and a future. Situations like the Syrian civil conflict and the Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh are just two examples.

Over the past few years, news coverage of refugees hasn’t been as prevalent. However, refugee crises around the world continue to be a major concern. In fact, the number of refugees and internally displaced people doubled in 2019 when compared to the figures in 2010. There are currently more than 80 million displaced people around the globe, of those, 30-34 million are children. This means that one in every 97 people in the world is now forcibly displaced. 

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has become even more dire. Below, read the main facts and figures of the most pressing refugee crises in 2021. They are listed by the country and region from which the refugees and migrants originate. 

You will notice that we use terms such as ‘refugees’, ‘internally displaced people’, ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘migrants’. To get a better understanding of what each term means, check out our article “What is a refugee? Facts and how to help”. 

  • Number of refugees: 5.5 million 
  • Number of internally displaced people: 6 million
Since 2011, Syria has been engulfed in a civil war that has left the country in shambles. According to the UN Refugee Agency, to date, more than 12 million people have been displaced. Approximately 13.1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. As of October 2020, there were about 2.6 million Syrian children living as refugees and about 2.5 million children living as internally displaced people. 

Syrians who fled the conflict are currently living in more than 125 countries, but most are sheltering in neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. It is estimated that eight per cent of all Syrian refugees live in camps such as Zaatari and Azraq in Jordan, while the other 92 per cent live in urban and rural areas. 

Learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis and what World Vision is doing.

Two Syrian girls wearing bright-coloured sweaters stand side by side, smiling and looking at the camera.
Syrian children living in a refugee settlement in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Photo: Maria Bou Chaaya

  • Number of refugees and migrants: 4.6 million  
  • Number of people in transit: 400,000
The Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis is one of the largest displacement crises in the world. While other refugee crises have been triggered by conflict and war, the Venezuelan situation is different. To date, about 4.6 million Venezuelans have left the country as a result of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis fomented by years of economic hardship and political instability. While most are considered migrants, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognizes 143,665 refugees and over 800,000 asylum seekers. 

A collapsed economy, shortages of food and medicine, and lack of security are some of the main reasons millions of Venezuelans have left their homes. Most of the migrants go to nearby countries, including Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador. With no proper documentation, thousands are struggling to establish themselves in host countries, becoming vulnerable to labour and sexual exploitation, trafficking, violence, discrimination and xenophobia. 

Learn more about the Venezuelan migrant crisis and what World Vision is doing.

World Vision staff hand out hygiene items to a group of migrant women living in tents in a migrant settlement.
World Vision staff deliver hygiene kits to Venezuelan migrant families sheltering on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia. Photo: Sebastian Portilla

  • Number of refugees: 2.7 million 
  • Number of internally displaced people: 2.5 million
Afghanistan has endured a two-decade conflict, economic hardship and climate-related challenges. As a result, more than 2.7 million people have fled the country, with most going to Iran, Pakistan and countries in Europe. The situation in Afghanistan is so dire that in 2020 it was ranked the least peaceful country in the world by the Global Peace Index.

Afghans have also been forced to leave their homes due to harsh climate conditions, which exposed the country’s poor infrastructure. In 2018 and 2019, the country experienced its worst drought in the past decade, leaving more than 14 million people food insecure. The drought also displaced an estimated 260,000 people.

Learn more about World Vision’s work in Afghanistan.

South Sudan
  • Number of refugees: 2.3 million 
  • Number of internally displaced people: 1.87 million
Established in 2011, South Sudan is the world’s newest country. However, in 2013, conflict broke out, sending the country into a downward spiral of violence, economic crisis, hunger and disease. As a result, millions of South Sudanese have fled their homes, creating the largest refugee crisis in Africa

Of the 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees, over 80 per cent are women and children. It is estimated that of the total refugee population from South Sudan, 63 per cent are children. Most of this population is being hosted in neighbouring countries, including Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Learn more about the South Sudan refugee crisis and what World Vision is doing.

A group of five children sitting outside a mud hut sing and motion with their hands.
South Sudanese children in the Maaji III refugee settlement sing and play. Photo: Aggrey Nyondwa

Myanmar (Rohingya)
  • Number of refugees: 1 million 
The Rohingya people are an ethnic minority group in Myanmar. Since the early 1990s, they have faced discrimination and violence, forcing many to flee the country. Myanmar’s government considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Most recently, in August 2017, more than 720,000 Rohingya refugees fled escalating violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The vast majority settled in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. 

One of the camps, Kutupalong, is the largest refugee settlement in the world, hosting over 600,000 people in an area of about 13 square kilometres. The majority of the Rohingya refugees are women and children – 40 per cent are children under 12. 

In 2018, even though an agreement was reached for the Rohingya to return home, none did. The refugees don’t want to go back until they have the guarantee of safety and citizenship. Most recently, in December 2020, the Bangladeshi government started relocating groups of Rohingya refugees to settlements on an island in the Bay of Bengal. They claimed that the move would offer the families better quality of life and security as they await repatriation to Myanmar. 

Learn more about the Rohingya refugee crisis and what World Vision is doing.

A man squatting over a dirty floor washes his hands by pouring water from a kettle.
In the Rohingya refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, basic hygiene practices such as hand washing are an everyday challenge. Photo: Xavier Sku

Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Number of refugees: 918,000 
  • Number of internally displaced people: 5.01 million
Between 2017 and 2019, the complex humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo was made worse by waves of unrest. During that period, it is estimated that 5 million people became internally displaced, and over 918,000 people fled to neighbouring countries including Angola, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. 

The ongoing conflict in the DRC has been full of atrocities and human rights violations such as physical mutilation, sexual violence and detention in inhumane conditions. It is reported that people who have managed to return home have found their communities in ruins. 

Although thousands have fled the DRC, the country is also hosting over 500,000 refugees from nearby countries including Burundi, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. 

Learn more about the DR Congo refugee crisis and what World Vision is doing.

Central Sahel
  • Number of refugees: 868,893
  • Number of internally displaced people: 2 million
The Sahel encompasses the semi-arid region of Africa separating the Sahara to the north and tropical savannas to the south. The crisis in the region is concentrated in the central Sahel, which includes Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Armed conflict, food insecurity and climate-related challenges, coupled with the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, have created a severe humanitarian crisis. It’s led many to leave their homes to survive. Currently, an estimated 13.4 million people, of which five million are children, are in need of assistance. 

People have been fleeing the central Sahel region since 2011, when violence escalated in northern Mali. Over the years, violence has increased and today the situation is considered one of the fastest growing displacement crises in the world. In the past two years, there was a nearly twentyfold increase in the number of internally displaced people (from 70,000 to 1.5 million) in the region. 

The central Sahel crisis has begun affecting neighboring Chad and Mauritania and may start impacting coastal countries, including Benin, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo. 

A man cuts a bush in arid terrain while several people watch.
Ibrahim Moussa cuts a thorn bush in Chadakori refugee settlement in Niger. He fled his village with his family due to escalating violence. Photo: Ibrahim Mohamed Samna, Joelma Pereira

  • Number of refugees: 750,000 
  • Number of internally displaced people: 2.6 million
The refugee crisis in Somalia dates back 30 years. Political instability and the civil war that started in the 1990s have driven hundreds of thousands of Somalis from their homes. Extreme weather conditions, such as drought in the north and abnormally high rainfall in the south and central regions, have also significantly impacted the ability of Somalis to secure their livelihoods. 

The crisis has been exacerbated by episodes of famine and ongoing conflict. Between 2010 and 2012, a severe famine claimed the lives of nearly 260,000 people – of those,    133,000 were children under five. Most recently, in the first eight months of 2020 alone, serious flash floods displaced an estimated 650,000 Somalis. 

Currently, there are more than 750,000 refugees living in neighbouring countries (Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia), and over 2.6 million people are internally displaced in the country. 

Central African Republic
  • Number of refugees: 623,400 
  • Number of internally displaced people: 684,004
The humanitarian emergency in the Central African Republic is considered one of the most poorly funded crises in the world. In 2013, violence by armed rebel groups forced thousands to flee their homes. Over 623,400 people are living as refugees in neighbouring countries such as Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Moreover, approximately 684,004 people are internally displaced. The crisis has exacerbated an already poverty-stricken country: as of 2018, 71 per cent of the population was living below the international poverty line (the equivalent of  $2.40 Canadian per day)

Most recently, in December 2021, turbulent elections resulted in conflict that displaced more than 200,000 people in less than two months. 

As of February 2021, Bangui (the capital and country’s largest city) was taken by rebels, who have restricted routes used for delivering supplies. It is reported that displaced families are camping out in buildings like churches, and that they lack essentials such as food and spare clothes. 

Learn more about the Central African Republic crisis and what World Vision is doing.

Five children wearing worn-out clothes stand side by side in a field.
Refugee children from the Central African Republic living in Camp Bili, in the North Ubangi province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Didier Nagifi Sademoke

  • Number of refugees: 312,615 
  • Number of internally displaced people: 104,191
The political crisis that broke out in the wake of the 2015 presidential election put Burundi in a downward spiral of conflict, economic hardship, food insecurity and disease. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to nearby countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country also faces challenges due to climate change, which has forced hundreds of people to leave their homes in search of food and livelihoods. 

The Burundi refugee crisis is the least funded in the world. Refugee camps are full and facilities such as health centres and schools struggle to provide adequate assistance to refugees. Refugees in Burundi run the risk of becoming part of a forgotten crisis

  • Number of refugees: 260,000 
  • Number of internally displaced people: 1.3 million
The Iraq war started in 2003, but the displacement crisis didn’t emerge until 2014, when violence escalated in the northern part of the country. Attacks launched by the Islamic State (ISIL) gave rise to a conflict that forced millions of families to flee their homes and destroyed half of the country’s infrastructure

It is estimated that more than 260,000 people left Iraq and over 1.3 million people are currently displaced inside the country, of which half are children. According to the UNHCR, a significant number of internally displaced people returned to their homes in 2018 but continue to face challenges accessing essential services (such as food, water, sanitation and healthcare) and livelihoods. The agency says there are over 4.1 million Iraqis in need of humanitarian assistance. 

Four Iraqi boys stand side by side. Two of them look at the camera.
Iraqi boys living in settlements for internally displaced people in Salah al-Din, Tikrit, Iraq. Photo: Shayan Nuradeen

Tigray, Ethiopia
  • Number of refugees: 60,000 
  • Number of internally displaced people: 2 million
In November 2020, armed conflict broke out in the northern region of Ethiopia known as Tigray. As the fighting continues, hundreds of thousands of people are being forced to flee their homes, becoming internally displaced – about 2 million. Others are fleeing to nearby Sudan – about 60,000 people. Tigray also hosts thousands of refugees from Eritrea.

The situation has given rise to an alarming humanitarian crisis – around 4.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. The UNHCR reports that more than 3,000 people are leaving Tigray for Sudan every day. The vast majority is sheltering in remote areas that have little infrastructure to help them. The humanitarian response has been slow due to a lack of electricity, as well as poor telecommunications and little access to fuel.

A woman stands and holds a baby while four other children stand around her. There is a crowd behind her.
Tehagos, 34, along with her four children, fled the Tigray crisis and is now at a site for internally displaced people. Photo: Fitalew Bahiru, Kebede Gizachew

  • Number of refugees: 200,000 
  • Number of internally displaced people: 3.6 million
Since conflict erupted in Yemen in 2015, 200,000 people have fled the country and 3.6 million have become internally displaced. More than 24 million people are in need. Yemen is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Even so, the country still hosts more than 200,000 refugees from neighbouring Somalia and Ethiopia. 

Physical danger, food insecurity and inadequate healthcare are the main challenges people from Yemen are facing. According to the UNHCR, almost two-thirds of the population is on the brink of famine. Children are being disproportionality affected. It is estimated that by the end of 2019, more than 360,000 children suffered from acute malnutrition and half of children under five (2.5 million) had stunted growth.