The Lowdown Hub

‘Human despair’ as more than 100m forced to flee their homes amid war and violence' Worrying decade


Refugees at Lviv Central railway station CREDIT: Simon Townsley


More than 100 million people were forced to flee their homes last year – a 20 per cent increase on the previous year – according to figures released by the United Nations.

In 2021, 89.3 million fled due to persecution, conflict and violence, taking the global toll to more than 100 million when including displacement caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The UN refugee agency said the data continue “a worrying decade-long rising trend”. At the end of 2020, the figure was 82.4 million. In 2012, it was 42.7 million.

“Every year of the last decade, the numbers have climbed,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner. “We either take action to address this human despair and find lasting solutions, or we keep sprinting towards terrible new landmarks.”

The year was most notable for the “sheer number of existing conflicts that escalated and new conflicts that flared up”, the report added. According to the World Bank, 23 countries hosting a combined population of 850 million people faced high- or medium-intensity conflicts in 2021. More than seven million people are internally displaced within Ukraine and more than six million refugees have left Ukraine since the conflict began in early 2022.

In Afghanistan, more than 900,000 people were displaced after the country fell to the Taliban. The conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia led to at least 2.5 million more people being displaced within their country.


Afghans gather near the the airport in Kabul on August 20 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan CREDIT: Wakil Kohsar /AFP


In South Sudan, an insurgency in the Equatoria region and increasingly lethal inter-communal violence triggered approximately 500,000 new displacements.

People being forced to flee have been heavily impacted by food crises, with 82 per cent of internally displaced people and 67 per cent of refugees and asylum seekers moving from areas experiencing food insecurity.

David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee, said that “catastrophic” displacement figures are now an “annual norm”.

He called on the global community to increase refugee resettlement opportunities. He added that the United States should set refugee admission goals to the tune of 125,000 and double down on resettlement infrastructure.

“For the record number of displaced persons globally, the populations that the IRC and the wider humanitarian sector serves, we need a total system upgrade,” said Mr Miliband.

The UN said resettlement is a crucial solution, but warned the number of places offered by the United States continues to “fall far short of global needs”. In 2021, just four per cent of the estimated 1.4 million refugees in need of resettlement were resettled.


Karen people, who had crossed the Salween river into Thailand to seek refuge after air strikes in eastern Myanmar following the February military coup CREDIT: AFP


Eighty-three per cent of refugees are hosted in low and middle-income countries. The least developed countries provided asylum to 27 per cent of the total.

Turkey hosted nearly 3.8 million refugees, the largest population worldwide. Colombia was second, with more than 1.8 million.

Naturalisation is also possible, the UN said, but administrative and bureaucratic hurdles, and financial restraints, hamper refugees’ acquisition of citizenship.

“Durable solutions have therefore become an option for fewer and fewer refugees and internally displaced people, and are far outpaced by the rising numbers of people forced to flee,” the report concluded.

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