• The global number of forcibly displaced people, including refugees, has doubled since 2010, according to the latest report from the UNHCR.
  • More displaced people have fled Syria than any other country.
  • Turkey tops the list of countries taking in refugees.

At the end of 2020, there were 82.4 million forcibly displaced people in the world, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), of which more than a quarter are refugees.

This number has doubled since 2010 and is higher now than it has ever been. That’s despite the impact of the pandemic, which reduced the anticipated number of displaced people by around 1.5 million, writes the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, in the UNHCR Global Trends Forced Displacement in 2020 report.

82.4 million refugees were displaced worldwide in 2020 due to persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations
The state of the global refugee crisis in 2020.
Image: UNHCR

“People were forced to flee their homes throughout the year despite an urgent appeal from the UN Secretary-General on 23 March 2020 calling for a global ceasefire to enable a concerted response to the pandemic,” he says.

“By the end of 2020, the number of people forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, and events seriously disturbing public order, had grown to 82.4 million, the highest number on record according to available data.”

Conflict and displacement

Just five countries produce 68% of all refugees displaced abroad: the Syrian Arab Republic, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar.

The top five host countries, where these displaced people are currently located are: Turkey, Colombia, Germany, Pakistan, and Uganda.

With 3.7 million displaced people now within its borders, Turkey hosts twice as many refugees as Colombia, the next highest host country, with 1.7 million people.

This graph shows the international displacement situation by country of origin, including refugees, asylum seekers and Venezuelans displaced abroad
The countries displaced people are fleeing from in the greatest numbers.
Image: UNHCR

The situation in Turkey illustrates the effects of proximity, as 92% of its refugees have come from neighbouring Syria, where war and armed conflict have now been raging for more than 10 years. It demonstrates that huge numbers of displaced people stay close to their point of origin.

There are more than 48 million internally displaced people – people who have had to flee their homes in search of safety elsewhere within their home nation.

The highest increases in the number of internally displaced people happened in Africa and were provoked by a combination of armed conflict and humanitarian disasters.

Civil war in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most-populated country, has sparked a wave of displacement in a region that was already facing what the UNHCR calls “a full-scale humanitarian crisis.”

All in all, more than a million Ethiopian people had to leave their homes behind last year, the UNHCR says.

This graph shows the global forced displacement situation
The numbers have doubled since 2010.
Image: UNHCR

Return in a time of pandemic

In 2019, 425,000 refugees were able to return to their home country, or found permanent homes in a third country. That fell to below 300,000 in 2020 as the pandemic made travel harder than ever, with lockdowns and border closures taking their toll.

An estimated 251,000 refugees were able to return to 30 countries of origin in 2020, though. “Close to half (122,000) of the returns in 2020 were to South Sudan,” the UNHCR says. Most of those were people returning from Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia. The figures are hard to verify, the report says, as many people choose to return without seeking help from agencies.

Since April 2015, 300,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries. Much of that movement has been attributed to election-related violence, the UNHCR says. Some 40,900 people were able to return to Burundi in 2020, most of whom came from Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Despite the continuing instability of the situation there, 38,600 displaced people were reported to have returned to Syria in 2020. They came mainly from Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.

How has the World Economic Forum helped initiate a more effective response to natural disasters and humanitarian crises?

In 2005, the World Economic Forum helped to establish the Logistics Emergency Teams (LET), a network of representatives from four of the world’s largest logistics and transport companies (Agility, DP World, Maersk and UPS) who work together in partnership with the World Food Programme-led Global Logistics Cluster to deliver free humanitarian assistance.

To date, the LET has responded to more than 20 large-scale natural disasters and humanitarian crises, providing critical logistical support for hurricane victims in Haiti, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, tsunami victims in Indonesia, civilians in war-ravaged Yemen and many more.

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The UNHCR also conducted its sixth annual survey of Syrians’ attitude toward returning. In early 2021, more than 3,200 Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon took part and around 70% said they hoped to return to Syria in the future.

The UNHCR’s Global Trends report also stresses the importance of international cooperation and support – not only in giving sanctuary to refugees, but in offering assistance to those countries that have offered a home to large numbers of displaced people.

“The need for greater solidarity and cooperation to support host countries, communities and refugee populations has been widely acknowledged,” the report says. “Sustaining and enhancing support to host governments and communities remains critical, as does expanding access to resettlement and complementary pathways.”