Civil Society

This is why the number of refugees could double in the next decade, according to the head of UNHCR

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi speaks during a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

Filippo Grandi stresses the importance of humanitarian and political investment. Image: REUTERS

Liam Coleman
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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  • We live in a multipolar world, where power is distributed among a number of countries, according to Filippo Grandi, the current United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • Without humanitarian and political investment this could lead to a rise in displaced people, he warns.
  • Here, Grandi talks to Radio Davos about global initiatives that can keep the refugee crisis front of mind and help spark a positive response.

“We have entered a multipolar world where the balance of power is difficult and is still very much a work in progress.”

That’s the assessment of modern global geopolitics by Filippo Grandi, the current United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Grandi was speaking to Radio Davos at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.

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“We went from essentially a bipolar world during the Cold War. It's a bit simplified, but that's what it was: the US and Soviet Union,” he continues. “We went through a phase after the Berlin Wall fell of almost one superpower, the US. And quite quickly we have entered a multipolar world.”

From this backdrop, the world is simultaneously facing up to climate change, global poverty and terrorism, all of which require international collaboration, Grandi says. However, he adds that this need for cooperation is coming at a time of greater fragmentation.

The latest UNHCR Global Trends Report found the largest ever annual increase of forcibly displaced people, and Grandi says one possible outcome of global fragmentation is a continuing increase in this number. This is echoed by the Forum’s latest Global Risks Report, where 1,500 global experts said involuntary migration would be an increasing risk over the next 10 years.

Grandi adds: “[There are] 114 million refugees and displaced people. The main driver of displacement continues to be conflict. So if this fragmentation continues, if the Security Council and other institutions continue to be so unable to solve [the] crises, this number, I bet you, in 10 years will be doubled again.”

People forced to flee, 1993 – 2022
The number of global displaced people has passed 100 million. Image: UNHCR

Here, he explains the importance of keeping the issue of displacement in the public eye and ways for leaders to address its global implications.

What can be done to maximize interest in refugee issues?

“I've worked with humanitarian crises and refugees for almost 40 years and I've seen this issue go in and out of public attention. So it's not a one-way trend. It's a very intermittent trend.

“If we want to forge real responses, and the World Economic Forum has been very good at working on refugee employment [with the Refugee Employment Alliance], for example. There is a big initiative here, we need to ensure that attention is transformed into a more constant focus.

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“For this, I think it is very important to convey one message: that refugee crises are not important only when they happen in rich countries. That was the case of the Ukrainian refugee crisis, mostly in Europe. Same for the Syrian refugee crisis when people came across the Mediterranean into Europe. It's important to convey the sense that the majority of refugees live in countries with few resources – poor or middle-income countries.

Such focus will be key as crises grow. "Think of Sudan: 7 million people forced from their homes in the last year by this war between military groups. Think of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. They've been seven years now in Bangladesh, almost a million of them. And we're losing world attention, which means that we are losing support for humanitarian assistance and for trying to solve this problem in the political domain.

Adds Grandi: "This is a global phenomenon.”

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How is the World Economic Forum supporting refugees?

How can global leaders start tackling humanitarian crises?

“I would say they should start by increasing humanitarian assistance.

“This is my ninth year in this job as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Last year, my eighth year, was the first one in which we received fewer resources than the year before. Therefore we had to reduce our workforce, by a good percentage, at a time when crises are increasing. This is when the world needs strong humanitarian actors. And, unfortunately, humanitarian funding is going in the opposite direction.

“The other appeal is that humanitarian responses are vital, literally, they save lives but they're not the solution. The solution lies in political investment, in unity, in searching for political solutions and making the efforts to reach those solutions, as in the Middle East and everywhere else.”

This interview has been lightly edited.

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Civil SocietyEquity, Diversity and InclusionResilience, Peace and SecurityGlobal Cooperation
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