At the end of 2021, the total number of people worldwide who were forced to flee their homes due to conflicts, violence, fear of persecution and human rights violations was 89.3 million.
This is more than double the 42.7 million people who remained forcibly displaced a decade ago and the most since World War II.
If ongoing conflicts remain unresolved and the risks of new ones erupting are not reined in, one aspect that will define the twenty-first century will be the continuously growing numbers of people forced to flee and the increasingly dire options available to them.
The latest Global Trends report reflects on the period January 2021 to December 2021. However, it is impossible to ignore the developments that have happened in early 2022. Therefore, some data presented in this year’s report are based on information received as of 23 May 2022.
New displacements in 2021
Ongoing and newly developed conflicts have driven the displacement across the globe.
For example, the conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia led to at least 2.5 million more people being displaced within their country, with some 1.5 million of them returning to their homes during the year.
In Afghanistan, the events leading up to the Taliban's takeover of Kabul in August 2021 resulted in displacement within the country as well as into neighbouring countries. The number of people displaced internally rose for the 15th straight year, even as more than 790,000 Afghans returned during the year.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen saw increases of between 100,000 and 500,000 people displaced internally in 2021.
Over the span of the year, the number of refugees worldwide increased from 20.7 in 2020 to 21.3 million at the end of 2021, more than double the 10.5 million a decade ago. The number of Venezuelans displaced abroad also rose, from 3.9 million to 4.4 million, during the same period. Throughout the year, 794,100 people were granted international protection on an individual (494,900) or group (299,200) basis.
Internally Displaced People (IDPs)
People displaced inside their own countries due to armed conflicts, generalized violence or human rights violations continue to constitute the majority of the forcibly displaced population globally. Known as internally displaced people, or IDPs, they account for some 60 per cent of all people displaced. At the end of 2021, Syria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Ethiopia and Afghanistan continued to host the largest IDP populations globally.
More than 100 million people are forcibly displaced
In last year's Global Trends report, UNHCR predicted that "the question is no longer if forced displacement will exceed 100 million people – but rather when". The when is now. With millions of Ukrainians displaced and further displacement elsewhere in 2022, total forced displacement now exceeds 100 million people. This means 1 in every 78 people on earth has been forced to flee – a dramatic milestone that few would have expected a decade ago.
As new refugee situations emerge and intensify, and as existing ones reignite or remain unresolved, there is an acute need for durable solutions at increasing scale. The Global Compact on Refugees notes that one strategic priority for UNHCR and the humanitarian community is to identify and support durable solutions that enable refugees to rebuild their lives and live in safety and dignity.
What direction is the world going to take in the years to come?
If lasting peace were possible for current conflicts, how many refugees and IDPs would return? Return intention surveys, which UNHCR and its partners conduct in many countries globally, help indicate whether refugees wish to return to their countries of origin should the conditions allow. For example, some 7 in 10 Syrians hosted in mostly neighbouring countries hoped to return to Syria in the future.
More commonly, around one-third to one-half of other refugee populations have expressed a willingness to return in the future in similar surveys. If lasting peace were achieved in a few key locations, global refugee figures could halve to around 10 million, where they stood two decades ago. The most common reasons refugees tell us why return is not possible are ongoing insecurity and the lack of livelihoods or housing. But without the political will to make peace, the prospect for large numbers of refugees returning home in the near future will remain out of reach.
The international community can take action, to redouble efforts to share responsibilities and find durable solutions, which could reverse the current trend, bringing displacement levels down significantly. Historically, solutions for outflows from displacement situations have been available, but as new refugee situations intensify and existing ones reignite or remain unresolved, there is an acute and growing need for durable solutions at increasing scale.