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UN report exposes dire refugee crisis

11 February 20150 comments
Refugee Camp (Photo: Paskee / Shutterstock)

Refugee Camp (Photo: Paskee / Shutterstock)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Statistical Yearbook provides a snapshot of the grave refugee situation and shows 2013 was the worst year for refugees in more than 60 years.

It says conflicts across the globe resulted in the “massive displacement” of people and widespread economic and emotional suffering. 2013 saw more than 10 million more people forced to leave their homes.

By the end 2013, 51.2 million individualswere forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalised violence, or human rights violations. Some 16.7 million persons were refugees: 11.7 million under UNHCR’s mandate and 5.0 million Palestinian refugees registered by UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The global figure included 33.3 million internally displaced persons and close to 1.2 million asylum seekers. This was the highest recorded level in the post-World War II era. If these 51.2 million persons were a nation, they would make up the 26th largest in the world

An estimated 10.7 millionindividuals were newly displaced due to conflict or persecution in 2013. This includes 8.2 million persons newly displaced within the borders of their own country, the highest figure on record. The other 2.5 million individuals were new refugees – the highest number of new arrivals since 1994.

During 2013, conflict and persecution forced an average of 32,200 individuals per dayto leave their home and seek protection elsewhere, either within the borders of their own country or in other countries. This compares to 23,400 in 2012 and 14,200 in 2011.

There are currently 42.9 million people living in circumstances that are ‘of concern’ to the UNHCR. This includes 11.7 million refugees, 1.2 million asylum seekers, 414,600 refugees repatriated during 2013, 23.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) assisted by UNHCR, 1.4 million IDPs who had returned home and 3.5 stateless persons.


The number of refugees at end-2013 was 11.7 million, including 700,000 individuals considered by UNHCR to be in a refugee-like situation. The previous year, this figure was 10.5 million.

By the end of 2013, developing countries hosted 10.1 million refugees, or 86 per cent of the global refugee population, the highest value for the past 22 years. The Least Developed Countries provided asylum to 2.8 million refugees, or 24 per cent of the total.

Pakistan, with 1.6 million refugees, hosted the highest number of refugees at the end of 2013. Other major countries of asylum included the Islamic Republic of Iran (857,400), Lebanon (856,500), Jordan (641,900), and Turkey (609,900).

More than half (53 per cent) of all refugees worldwide came from just three countries: Afghanistan (2.56 million), the Syrian Arab Republic (2.47 million), and Somalia (1.12 million).

Status determination

Close to 1.1 million individual applicationsfor asylum or refugee status were submitted to governments and UNHCR offices in 167 countries or territories in 2013. This not only constituted a 16 per cent increase compared to the previous year (929,700 claims) but was also the highest level of the past 10 years. UNHCR offices registered a record high of 203,200 or 19 per cent of these claims.

Around 286,500 asylum-seekerswere either recognised as refugees (213,700) or granted a complementary form of protection (72,800) during 2013. This number includes an estimated 20,000 individuals who initially received negative decisions on their asylum claims but which were subsequently overturned at the appeal or review stage.

With 109,600 asylum claims, Germany was for the first time since 1999 the world’s largest recipient of new individual applications. The US received 84,400 applications, South Africa 70,000, France 62,000 and Sweden 54,000.

Refugee status based on the 1951 Convention was granted in 32 per cent of decisionsin 2013. With the addition of complementary forms of protection, 43 per cent of all substantive asylum decisions taken in 2013 were positive. Both figures are significantly higher than the rates in 2012 (30 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively), reflecting a continued increasing demand for international protection throughout the year.

The Syrian Arab Republic was the single largest country of origin for asylum-seekers in 2013, with 64,300 new applications submitted by its nationals during the year – on average, every 14th claim. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was the origin of 60,500 applicants; Myanmar was the origin of 57,400 applicants; Afghanistan 49,000 and Iraq 45,700.

By the end of the year, close to 1.2 million individualswere reported to be awaiting a decision on their asylum claims, the highest number in many years.


The number of internally displaced persons benefiting from UNHCR’s protection and assistance activities, including 267,500in IDP-like situations, stood at 23.9 millionat the end of 2013. This was the highest figure on record, and 6.2 million more than at the start of the year (17.7 million).

In 2013, UNHCR was responsible for leading, coordinating, and supporting assessment and response for 19 protection, eight shelter, and seven camp coordination and camp management clusters or other coordination mechanisms. These actions took place in a total of 19 operations worldwide.

UNHCR’s statistics included IDP populations in 24 countries. Its offices reported some 7.6 million IDPswho were newly displaced in 2013, while 1.4 million IDPs were able to return home during the same period.

Host countries

Pakistan had the largest number of refugees in relation to its economic capacity, hosting 512 refugees per $US1 of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Ethiopia had the second largest number of refugees per $US1 of GDP (336 refugees), followed by Kenya (295 refugees) and Chad (199 refugees). The largest refugee-hosting developed country was Serbia in 44th place, with seven refugees per $US1 of GDP.

Comparing the number of refugees to the national population of its host country shows that Lebanon topped the list with 178 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants. This was the highest relative burden a country had been exposed to since 1980. Jordan (88) and Chad (34) ranked second and third, respectively.

The report reveals Australia is host to 34,503 refugees and 14,223 asylum seekers.

It says that since the UNHCR’s creation in 1951, there has not been a single year in which individuals did not have to flee due to armed conflict, war or persecution.

“UNHCR’s statistics are a sad testimony to these developments. In 2013 alone, the world witnessed continuous conflicts and violence that resulted in the massive displacement of individuals, either within or outside their own borders,” the report said.

“During the year, 10.7 million individuals were newly displaced, including 8.2 million persons within their own borders,” it said.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Senior Journalist