Earlier this year, UNHCR announced13 that the number of people forced to flee was estimated to have reached 100 million. Based on more comprehensive statistics compiled at mid-2022, an estimated 103 million people have been forcibly displaced by persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing public order.14 Compared to the end of 2021, this is an increase of 13.6 million (+15 per cent) – more than the entire populations of Belgium, Burundi or Cuba – and is the largest ever increase between years according to UNHCR’s statistics on forced displacement. The continued increase has led to 1 in 77 people worldwide remaining forcibly displaced in mid-2022, more than twice as many as a decade ago (1 in 167 in 2012). UNHCR’s assessment indicates that forced displacement will continue to rise during the remainder of 2022.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created the fastest and one of the largest displacements of people since the second world war.16 As the front lines shifted over time, there have been waves of displacements and returns, including pendular movements, but at mid-2022, 6.3 million Ukrainians remained displaced within their country. In the initial days of the war, more than 200,000 refugees a day crossed into neighbouring countries. Some 5.4 million Ukrainian refugees remained displaced at mid-2022, finding protection primarily in nearby European countries that showed an unprecedented solidarity by providing emergency humanitarian support to refugees leaving Ukraine. In Germany, the number of refugees from Ukraine exceeded Syrian refugees for the first time. The global refugee population under UNHCR’s mandate increased by 25 per cent (+5.3 million) in 2022 compared to the previous year, reaching 26.7 million. This is the biggest proportional increase between years since 1979-1980 when millions of Afghans and Ethiopians were forced to flee to neighbouring countries.
While temporary protection was rapidly granted by European Union Member States and several other countries to refugees from Ukraine who had been forced to flee across international borders,17 access to asylum systems continues to be critical for millions of people around the world. In the first six months of 2022, 1.1 million new asylum applications were lodged in 144 different countries. This represents an 89 per cent increase compared to the same period in the previous year, and surpassed the number of applications filed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. +22 per cent compared to the same period in 2019). More than 2 in 5 applications (41 per cent) were made by nationals of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, notably Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Honduras and Colombia, as conditions in many countries in the region deteriorated during the first six months of 2022. By mid-2022, there were also 5.3 million other people in need of international protection, predominately from Venezuela, an increase of 21 per cent or 935,600 from the end of 2021.
More than 9.6 million new internal displacements were reported by UNHCR in the first six months of the year, more than double the same period in 2021. Most of the new displacements – at least 7 million – were in Ukraine.18 As the war is still ongoing and the situation remains highly volatile with waves of displacement, these estimates should be considered preliminary and likely undercount the reality on the ground. In other countries intensifying violence led to significant displacement.
Despite a ceasefire in March 2022, the Tigray region in Ethiopia saw a further 853,700 new internal displacements, even while nearly 21,300 primarily Somali and South Sudanese refugees also sought safety in the country in the first six months of 2022. In Myanmar, the military takeover in February 2021 continued to ignite violence, with more than half a million new displacements during the first six months of 2022. Other countries reporting significant new internal displacement in 2022 included Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
UNHCR noted that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on opportunities for durable solutions has greatly diminished. Refugee returns, naturalizations and resettlement all increased in the first six months of 2022 compared to the same period in the previous year, also exceeding pre-pandemic levels in the first six months of 2019. Nevertheless, given the sheer volume of new displacements around the world, these solutions continue to remain available to very few people. For example, in each of the previous five years, for every refugee able to return to their home country, which remains the preferred option for most refugees,19 there have been between 2 and 9 times more newly recognized refugees during the same year. In the first six months of 2022, this gap widened further and stood at 1:37 as new displacement grew and the opportunity for refugees to return and rebuild their lives in safety and dignity proved elusive.
Opportunities for local integration and socio-economic inclusion differ substantially between refugee-hosting countries. For refugees from Ukraine, while the potential duration of their stay in European countries remains uncertain, many are seeking to work during their stay, which also benefits their host countries.
Refugees from Ukraine will boost the labour force in Europe by an estimated 0.5 per cent by the end of 2022, notably in Czechia, Poland and Estonia.
The majority of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people originated from 60 fragile states, creating complex challenges.23 Even prior to 2022, fragility in these states had already increased between 2020 and 2021. In 2022, it is estimated that the number of people who are, or who are at high risk of being, acutely food insecure has reached at least 345 million.24 This is an increase of more than 200 million compared to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. Almost a quarter of this increase – 47 million people globally – is as a direct result of the international armed conflict in Ukraine as increasing food, fuel and fertilizer prices, reduces peoples’ access to food. This impact is felt most in countries that were already weakened by violent conflicts – for example in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, nearly 1 million people are projected to face catastrophic food insecurity if no action is taken. This is an increase of more than 10 times compared to five years prior.
Countries around the world have acted swiftly, efficiently and with compassion to help those displaced by the war in Ukraine. In fact, this type of response should be the standard. The international community must demonstrate solidarity to all people forced to flee, or who are stateless, as well as lend support to the countries that welcome them.
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees