Ukraine Crisis

The war in Ukraine is bad news for the world’s refugees

Even before the war in Ukraine, there were over 82 million people in the world who had been forced to flee war and conflict. A large proportion of these people depend on humanitarian aid to survive. Now, the crisis in Ukraine could lead to their lives becoming even more difficult.

As we scale up our aid to millions of Ukrainians in desperate need, we also need to avoid that people fleeing elsewhere will become less visible and receive less help. Because their needs are also increasing.

“Ukraine is the latest terrifying conflict on a long list of emergencies that immediately need a scaled-up humanitarian response and conflict resolution effort,” says Jan Egeland, the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council. “Protracted crises in Syria, Yemen, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel are worsening while the horrors in Ukraine are getting our attention. Humanitarian relief can help mitigate the effects of these crises on vulnerable communities, but ultimately, inclusive political solutions are needed to end them.”

Here are four reasons why the war in Ukraine will also affect other refugees and displaced people worldwide:

YEMEN. Fadhl Bakar, 13 years, is carrying firewood back to his tent. He was displaced in 2016. He is not attending school and spends most of his time supporting his family by doing daily work. Photo: Mahmoud Al-Filastini/ Norwegian Refugee Council

#1: Less money

Even before the war in Ukraine, the UN struggled to raise the money needed to provide all the humanitarian aid the world requires. In its humanitarian appeal for 2021, the UN received less than half of the funding it requested. In the last ten years, the gap between humanitarian needs and the funding given to humanitarian response has widened dramatically.

A recent example of this underfunding is the international donors' conference for Yemen that took place this month. The UN asked for 4.2 billion US dollars this year to support more than 23.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid. But world leaders were only willing to give less than a third of what the UN asked for.

“People in Yemen deserve the same life-saving support and solidarity as people in Ukraine,” says Egeland. “Especially since the crisis in Europe will dramatically affect Yemenis' access to food and fuel and make an already serious situation even worse.”

SOUT SUDAN. Regina, 37, and her granddaughter, Flavia, have spent another night in the church in Ezo, South Sudan. They are among many millions who are displaced in neglected refugee crisis. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

#2: More neglect

Millions of children, women and men are trapped in neglected refugee crises around the world. We neither see nor hear about them. International politicians are passively on the side lines, international media are absent, and families forced to flee are left without emergency aid and access to basic services.

Although the distribution of emergency aid should be based on needs alone, some crises receive more attention and support than others. We fear that the war in Ukraine and the large influx of refugees in Europe will exacerbate this imbalance.

“Leaders need to break the deadlock of indifference towards conflicts in other parts of the world,” says Egeland. “The speed at which the EU, the United Nations and other international partners acted in response to the war in Ukraine should trigger the same urgency for solutions to the neglected crises of our time.”

SOUTH SUDAN. In March 2017 NRC in cooperation with WFP distributed food (maize, lentils, oil and corn soya blend) to more than 7,100 people in Ngop, Unity State, South Sudan. Now hunger are threatening millions of people at the Horn of Africa and other places at the same time as WFP has to cut food rations. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran / NRC

#3: Food shortages

Before the war, Russia and Ukraine provided a large portion of the world’s food. The two countries alone account for nearly 30 per cent of the world's exports of wheat and barley, 20 per cent of all corn and 76 per cent of the world's sunflower oil, according to the World Food Programme (WFP)

Multiple protracted conflicts, climate change, two years of a pandemic and high energy prices had already before the war in Ukraine led to the highest food prices since 2011.

According to the WFP, the war in Ukraine could have catastrophic consequences for millions of people in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. And those who will be the hardest hit are those who have been forced to flee their homes.

WFP has already had to reduce the amount of food provided to refugees and other vulnerable people across East Africa and the Middle East. This includes Yemen, where 16.2 million people do not know where their next meal will come from.

The UN Security Council meets on threats to international peace and security on March 18, 2022, in New York. Photo: Timothy A. Clary / AFP / NTB

#4: More difficult to find peaceful political solutions

As relations between Russia and other countries becoming increasingly cold, peace diplomacy may become paralysed, making it more difficult to find political and peaceful solutions in Africa, South America, Asia and not least in the Middle East.

The UN Security Council may be less able to prevent and resolve armed conflicts. This in turn would mean that it could be more difficult to resolve deadlocked and long-lasting refugee crises – and that new ones may arise.