Global Refugee Trends

At the end of 2013, there were more than 50 million displaced people globally, the highest number since WW2. I’m working on another post on how these experiences may impact biology and health, particularly for children. In the meantime, this UNHCR video shows some of the places that are most affected by forced displacement.

“Displacement is brutal. Many children stumble into exile barely alive after weeks in the bush.”


2 thoughts on “Global Refugee Trends

  1. Yes, Patrick, the number of refugees/displaced does seem to be constantly subject to inflation. The problems that cause this situation should not be minimised. After 19 years with UNHCR however, I feel a need to put statistics into context and perspective. Part of the increase is simply a reflection that things have got better rather than worse. This may sound a bit ‘Irish’ but it must be said that the world is now better organised to cope with the problems that create recognised refugees ~partly at least because of the UN and particularly UNHCR. To give one example from history: during the period of US bombing in Laos (early 1960s-1973) over one quarter of the population of Laos was internally displaced (often deliberately by a US-supported army and cared for largely by USAID rather than the UN). Following the change of regime in 1975, up to 10% of the population of Laos left the country as refugees. The 25% internally displaced prior to 1975 has a obvious relevance to the 10% exodus that began in 1975, but rarely enters analysis. The 10% were retained in camps in neighbouring countries, which did not grant refugee status. Many were in the camps over a decade before going to the US and other countries. During that time they had good food and medical care and little work. They had children non-stop, which increased the in-camp refugee population by well over 50%.

    Putting things into international perspective today, we have a seeming paradox in that an increased refugee population coexists with a steady global decline in the numbers killed by war and civil strife. Taking all things into consideration, the rise in refugee numbers may not be evidence of a global situation worse today than anytime since WW2. It has other explanations: difficult as it might be to be a refugee, it is better than dying on the spot, and that the world extends help to those in need is surely positive.

    Putting things into a greater perspective, increases (or decreases) in total numbers of refugees is not evidence of any greater or lesser inhumanity of man to man.

    • Hi Robert, these points make sense. I wonder if it is along the lines of a rise in cases of a particular disease or condition. For example, people could not diagnose PTSD before it was actually recognized. The question of the rise in cases of PTSD (or any condition, such as autism) may be an actual increase, or a rise in diagnoses.

      I don’t doubt that some people are better off leaving the situation and that international aid can really help alleviate suffering of people caught in a war. But it’s also true that they’d be better off at home in peace. And there are some places that really don’t seem to want refugees or asylum seekers (the Rohingya in Myanmar, for example, or even Central Americans crossing into the US). If memory serves, Thailand didn’t exactly embrace refugees either.

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