Resilience, Peace and Security

Child refugee numbers have soared, according to a new Unicef report

Syrian refugee girl Nur El-Huda, 9, shows a drawing of her home in Syria, in her classroom in Yayladagi refugee camp in Hatay province near the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey, December 16, 2015.

The figures mean that 1 in 200 children in the world is a child refugee. Image: © Umit Bektas / Reuters;

Alex Gray
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Resilience, Peace and Security?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Migration is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:


The number of child refugees has grown nearly 80% in just 5 years, according to a new report by Unicef.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of child refugees under UNHCR’s mandate shot up by 77% -- from 5 million to 8 million.

By comparison, the total number of child migrants rose by only 21% during the decade between 2005 and 2015, from 25 million to 31 million.

Image: Uprooted: The Growing Crisis For Refugee And Migrant Children, Unicef

Children represent a disproportionate fraction of the world’s refugees. They made up less than one-third of the global population, but accounted for 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015, says the report.

The figures mean that 1 in every 200 children in the world is a refugee; and nearly 1 in 3 children living outside the country of their birth is a refugee (31 million children live outside their country of birth, 11 million of whom are child refugees and asylum-seekers.)

What has caused the spike in numbers?

In 2015, wars and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since records began, according to a report released by the UN Refugee Agency in June.

In the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited: eight in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and this year in Burundi); three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); one in Europe (Ukraine) and three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan.)

Last year, around 45% of all child refugees under UNHCR’s protection came from Syria and Afghanistan. About three-quarters of all child refugees under UNHCR’s mandate came from only 10 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Eritrea and Colombia.

Image: Uprooted: The Growing Crisis For Refugee And Migrant Children, Unicef

Where do they go?

The 10 countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees are all in Asia and Africa, with Turkey hosting by far the largest total number of refugees. Lebanon and Jordan host the largest number of refugees relative to their populations and the highest density of refugees relative to their territories.

Although not all countries have data on child refugees, for instance Turkey, it is assumed that a high proportion of its refugees are children.

Image: Uprooted: The Growing Crisis For Refugee And Migrant Children, Unicef

The report says that in fact its numbers may well be only a conservative estimate, and calls for concerted action on gathering better data in order to better address the needs of child refugees.

“This report is an effort to bring together the best data that are available, but effectively addressing the rights and needs of children requires concerted action to fill the gaps that remain.”


Child refugees are particularly vulnerable, says the report. They are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children. Even those in school are likely to suffer discrimination, including unfair treatment and bullying.

They are also vulnerable outside the classroom. Often they are not able to access healthcare and other services. In addition, they can become the focus of xenophobic attacks. In Germany alone, authorities tracked 850 attacks against refugee shelters in 2015.

The report calls for urgent action to help protect child refugees. Children belong at the centre of every debate on migration and displacement, it concludes.

Have you read?

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Resilience, Peace and SecurityCivil Society
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Why small island states need scaled finance and amplified action

Jorge Moreira da Silva

May 29, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum