79.5 million people displaced
Sources of refugee numbers
Figures for refugees who have crossed a national border are based on statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The figures are from the beginning of 2020.
Since 2010, asylum seekers who have not yet received a final decision on their asylum application have also been included in the refugee figures, on the recommendation of UNHCR. The reason is that for some asylum countries, a large number of people are registered as asylum seekers. In other countries, these asylum seekers would have been considered part of the refugee population.
This means that the total number of refugees contains some asylum seekers who will be refused asylum, and who will thus fall out of the statistics at a later date. The figures before and after 2010 are therefore not directly comparable. The number of asylum seekers awaiting a decision at the end of 2019 was 4.1 million.
The figures for new refugees in 2019 show those refugees who have been granted protection. For countries that deal with asylum applications on an individual basis, these refugees will often have arrived and applied for asylum before 2019. The reception of resettlement refugees is included in the figures for new refugees broken down by recipient country. Asylum seekers waiting to have their application processed are not included.
Statistics from UNHCR are based on updated figures from 11 June 2020.
A total of 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country due to the difficult conditions in their homeland. Only 93,000 have so far been granted refugee status, while 795,000 are waiting to have their asylum application processed. The remaining 3,582,000 are living in neighbouring countries without being formally registered as refugees or asylum seekers.
In 2018, UNHCR chose not to include this last group in the total number of people fleeing globally, while for 2019 they have decided to include them. This explains some of the large increase in the number of Venezuelan refugees in this year’s statistics. If the same criteria had been applied for 2018, the total figure then would have been 2.6 million higher.
However, Venezuelan refugees are the most rapidly growing refugee group in the world in 2019, even allowing for this new method of calculation. The real increase in the number of refugees from Venezuela is 1.4 million.
The change in the method of calculation is also reflected in the large increase in the number of refugees in recipient countries such as Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile.
Incomplete or uncertain refugee numbers
Lack of registration or access to information may explain the low refugee figures given by UNHCR for certain countries. One example is refugees from North Korea, where the figure is far lower than that given by other sources, partly because UNHCR is denied access to North Korean refugees in China. In addition, North Korean refugees in South Korea are automatically granted citizenship and are therefore not registered as refugees. There is a similar situation in Israel, where Jewish people from all countries can freely immigrate to Israel, and therefore are not registered as refugees, even though some of them have left their former homeland because of persecution.
In other cases, the figures may be adjusted from one year to another based on changes to reporting methods by UNHCR or the authorities of the recipient countries, as this year’s figures for Venezuela illustrate.
Different methods of calculation
The UNHCR figures for the refugee populations of individual countries are based on somewhat different criteria for different parts of the world. The reason is that the numbers show people who are believed to still be in need of protection. The figures therefore do not necessarily show the true distribution of responsibilities between countries receiving refugees. In most industrialised countries, refugees are removed from the statistics ten years after they are granted residence, while in most developing countries, all refugees are included in the statistics, regardless of how long it has been since they fled.
Some countries offer refugees protection on humanitarian grounds. What is meant by this term varies between countries. For some countries, including Norway, people who have been granted residence on a humanitarian basis are not included in the statistics because UNHCR considers that they have not been granted residence primarily due to a protection need.
Resettlement refugees are also not included in the refugee populations. A total of 27 countries received resettlement refugees in 2019, mainly countries in North America and Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand. For some of these countries, refugee numbers would be significantly higher if resettlement refugees were included.
Family reunification with refugees who have been already granted protection is also not included in the total figures for refugees in industrialised countries, although a large proportion of people who are reunited with their families are themselves refugees.
UNRWA changed its registration method for refugees from 2010 to 2011, and now separates out people who receive support from UNRWA without having refugee status. Previously, these were included in the total number of refugees. Due to this change, the number of Palestinian refugees under the UNRWA mandate is lower than it would have been if the pre-2011 calculation method was used.
Internally displaced people
The figures for people forced to flee within their own country come from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), which is the Norwegian Refugee Council’s centre for mapping and reporting on the situation of internally displaced people. The figures include displacement due to armed conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations. There are significant challenges in producing these statistics: it can be difficult to access the areas where internally displaced people reside, and there are issues related to formal registration. In many cases, the national authorities also have an interest in keeping information about internally displaced people hidden.
There is no international organisation mandated to register internally displaced people in the way that UNHCR registers refugees who have crossed a national border. IDMC data is therefore often based on secondary sources and national authorities’ own figures.
For some countries, the total number has been revised by the authorities in the country, without this being due to any new displacements or returns. Further information is available on the IDMC website.
New internally displaced people are those who have been displaced at some point during the year, regardless of whether they are still displaced at the end of the year. Displacement due to disasters is not included in the figures for internally displaced people. However, IDMC and NRC present an overview each year of the number of people displaced by disasters. In 2019, 24.9 million were displaced due to disasters.