70.8 million displaced people
Here are the crises that forced the most people to flee in 2018
The fisherman Suleiman (45) and his granddaughter Retag (3) are internally displaced people in Aden, Yemen. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun / NRC
The fisherman Suleiman (45) and his granddaughter Retag (3) are internally displaced people in Aden, Yemen. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun / NRC
million people were displaced worldwide as of January 2019. These are people who have fled from persecution, violence and armed conflict. That’s 2.3 million more than 2017. It is the seventh year in a row that the number of displaced people has increased.
Here, you can learn more about the crises that are forcing people to flee all over the world.
The numbers are dramatic and the highest ever recorded. This uninterrupted negative trend over such a long period is a major setback for the international community. In 2018 alone, 10.8 million people were displaced in their own country because of conflicts and human rights violations, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).
A lack of political will and insufficient diplomacy have forced millions of people from their homes and into an uncertain future. These people lack food, water, education and – not least – protection. In addition, the gap between needs and funding for emergency aid has increased. Over the past five years, only around 60 per cent of humanitarian appeals have received funding. Between 2007 and 2009, the figure was 72 per cent. Instead of politicians and the international community stepping up as problems escalate, we are seeing the opposite.
In addition, the gap between needs and funding for emergency aid has increased. Over the past five years, only around 60 per cent of humanitarian appeals have received funding. Between 2007 and 2009, the figure was 72 per cent. Instead of politicians and the international community stepping up as problems escalate, we are seeing the opposite.
In addition, the gap between needs and funding for emergency aid has increased. Over the past five years, only around 60 per cent of humanitarian appeals have received funding.
Between 2007 and 2009, the figure was 72 per cent. Instead of politicians and the international community stepping up as problems escalate, we are seeing the opposite.
Inequality creates conflicts
Inequality and marginalisation are two important factors that trigger conflicts. This is a global phenomenon occurring in such diverse geographical areas as Myanmar, Afghanistan, much of the Middle East, the Sahel belt in Africa, and Colombia. It is particularly threatening when inequality runs along ethnic and religious divides and the authorities do not have the political will or ability to address the situation before it becomes violent. This type of conflict, where an entire group is defined as “the enemy”, hits the civilian population particularly hard. The driving forces behind organised violence can include armed groups, criminal gangs or elites who resort to violence to promote their own interests.
More than half of all refugees
More than half of the world’s refugees and displaced people are children. Today’s armed conflicts are increasingly affecting cities and densely populated areas, which puts children at particular risk. In many places, such as Syria and Yemen, we are seeing that schools and hospitals have become targets for attacks. The children receive no education or healthcare, and don’t have enough to eat.
An entire life of displacement
Many conflicts last not just years, but decades. Palestinians who were children in the 1960s have now become grandparents and their families are still displaced from their homeland. The danger of long-standing conflicts is that they come to be considered the “normal state” of a country, which in turn leads to donor apathy and thus to less money for humanitarian aid work.
Seen from a global perspective, it is the developments in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East that have given the greatest cause for concern in recent years. In sub-Saharan Africa, 7.4 million people were displaced within their own country due to conflict and violence in 2018. In 2017, the corresponding figure was 5.5 million. In 2018, 670,000 Africans fled to other countries.
"If the suffering ends, I would like to thank God for the people who helped me." Marie Bukumba, 70, DR Congo. Photo: Aléxis Huguet / NRC
Africa is being neglected
The clear pattern in recent years has seen African refugee crises dominate NRC’s annual list of neglected crises. Seven out of ten countries and the first four on this year’s list are African nations.
One reason is the continuation of prolonged conflicts such as those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Mali. But at the same time, several new local conflicts have emerged in countries such as Cameroon and Ethiopia. The Democratic Republic of the Congo topped the NRC’s list of the world’s ten most neglected crises in 2018 and is number two on this year’s list.
When Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace agreement in July 2018, it sparked hope of positive progress throughout the Horn of Africa, one of the continent’s most conflict-filled regions. The border war between the two countries started in 1998 and cost at least 80,000 people their lives. It may seem like a paradox that, despite many positive political changes in Ethiopia and the conclusion of a peace agreement with Eritrea, the country had the world’s highest number of new internally displaced people last year. A shocking 2.9 million were displaced from their homes in 2018 alone. Local and ethnic conflicts have spread to new areas. Drought has also been an important factor, increasing the competition for soil and scarce resources. Ethiopia also hosts nearly 1 million refugees from elsewhere, mainly the neighbouring countries of Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan.
Crisis in the Sahel
In the Sahel belt, an area that stretches across the African continent south of the Sahara, millions of people have been displaced in some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable states. This not only creates massive humanitarian crises, but also hinders development in much of the region. The EU and the international community have largely focused on security measures to stop the flow of migrants to Europe without contributing enough funding to meet the enormous humanitarian needs underlying it. In 2018, only 58 per cent of the UN’s emergency aid appeal for the region was raised. This means that many people in great need did not receive adequate help, while others received no help at all.
NRC has provided support to Shubo Bekso, 45, and her husband Ayele, to construct their home. They were displaced by conflict and violence in their home country of Ethiopia.Photo: Nashon Tado / NRC
The conflicts in Nigeria and Mali are spreading
The conflict in Mali, which broke out in 2012, is causing major repercussions for several countries in the Sahel region. The security situation in the country deteriorated further in 2018, and violence has spread from the north to more central parts of the country. In the five short months from January to May 2019, 133,000 people were displaced from their homes as a result of violence and military operations. There is a great risk that the conflict will intensify in 2019. The situation also has major negative humanitarian and security implications for neighbouring Burkina Faso.
The armed conflict in north-east Nigeria continues to affect all the countries around Lake Chad. Attacks by the Nigerian armed group Boko Haram have hit Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and there is a fear that the violence in the region will spread to new areas.
Increasing violence in Cameroon
In 2018, violence and political unrest increased dramatically in the English-speaking provinces of Cameroon. Demonstrations and protests against the authorities in 2016 led to clashes and later to armed conflict. There are currently half a million people displaced in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon and an estimated additional 250,000 people internally displaced in the Far North region of the country, along with 79,000 refugees from Nigeria. Cameroon is also home to over 250,000 refugees from the Central African Republic, who have been living in the East, North and Adamawa regions of the country since 2014.
Rufas Bida Mukain, 14, attends Jejira Primary School in Yei, South Sudan. The school provides training for children displaced by conflict, who have come to Yei for security. NRC has built the school and runs the education program with support from ECHO. Photo: Tiril Skarstein / NRC
The Central African Republic and South Sudan are plagued by uncertainty
The Central African Republic was the world’s third worst humanitarian crisis in 2018, after Yemen and Syria, measured by the proportion of the population dependent on humanitarian aid. One in four people have been displaced from their homes. Last year, donor countries contributed less than half of the funds needed to meet the humanitarian needs of the country. The government signed a peace agreement with 14 armed groups in the country in February 2019. This is the seventh peace agreement since 2012.
At the start of 2019, there were 1.9 million internally displaced people in South Sudan, and 2.3 million people had sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The parties to the conflict signed a peace agreement in September 2018, but have failed to form a transitional government. Although the fighting has lessened, violence continues in several parts of the country. Meanwhile, aid is critically underfunded and the humanitarian situation is getting worse, with millions of people facing a growing hunger crisis.
Danger of prolonged war in Libya
In North Africa, the situation in Libya deteriorated sharply in 2018. At least 70,000 people were driven from their homes because of violence and conflict that year, more than twice as many as the year before. Hostilities in and around cities have destroyed infrastructure and access to basic services. The spring of 2019 has seen renewed fighting in the capital Tripoli.
The Qansaxley settlement for internally displaced people, located near the border to Ethiopia. Many families have fled here from the drought. Photo: Christian Jepsen / NRC
Conflict and drought in Somalia
The humanitarian crisis in Somalia has been going on for decades. The combination of conflict and drought continues to force hundreds of thousands of people to flee every year. Over 578.000 people were displaced inside Somalia as a result of conflict and insecurity last year. This is an increase of 50 per cent compared to 2017. During the first three months of 2019 alone, more than 137,000 people fled their homes because of conflict or drought, according to UNHCR. As with several other African crises, reduced funding for humanitarian aid work in Somalia has led to cuts in basic aid such as food, water, health and education for displaced people.
Less support for African host countries
In East Africa, support for humanitarian aid work in important host countries for refugees such as Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania was cut sharply in 2018. Tanzania currently houses 318,000 refugees, mainly from DR Congo and Burundi. Only 27 per cent of the appeal for emergency aid for 2018 was raised. Rich countries, which are implementing increasingly restrictive refugee policies, are providing less support to those countries that are still receiving a large number of displaced people. The East African region is home to about two million refugees, at the same time as the total number of people arriving in Europe is dropping dramatically.
No political solution in sight for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
It is over 70 years since the establishment of the State of Israel and the subsequent displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. There are still 4.8 million Palestinians living in uncertainty in the occupied areas – and half of them need humanitarian aid.
Despite the fact that violations of international law are regularly discussed in the international media, there is little action at the political level and a solution seems to be further away than ever. In 2018, the US authorities announced that they would cut bilateral aid to Palestine by USD 200 million at a time when conditions were becoming increasingly difficult for Palestinians.
The UN’s emergency aid appeal for 2018 received only 45.7 per cent of the money needed to help the 2.5 million Palestinians in need.
The three sister Omia Ziara, Qamar and Heba returning from theirschools in Al Shaaf neighborhood in eastern Gaza Strip. Photo: Wissam Nassar / NRC
Massive recovery awaits in Syria and Iraq
The Syrian government reclaimed an increasing number of areas of the country in 2018. In the spring of 2019, non-state armed groups still hold areas in the north-west of the country, while Kurdish-led forces control areas in the north-east. Over half of Syria’s population has been displaced in the conflict, and 11.7 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. The conflict in Syria has led to the greatest refugee crisis of our time. A total of 6.5 million Syrians have fled the country, while 6.2 million have been displaced inside its borders. Many families have been forced to flee several times. Between 2016 and April 2019, 166,800 refugees returned to Syria of their own accord, according to the UN. Lack of safety, ongoing violence and complicated regional politics mean that there is great uncertainty about what will happen through 2019. The only way that more people can return home safely is if the parties can arrive at a sustainable political solution and if the services and protection afforded to refugees in the region continue.
Syrian neighbourhood in ruins. Photo: Karl Schembri / NRC
Almost a million internally displaced Iraqis returned home in 2018. The number of people who were displaced decreased by 813,156, and by early 2018, the number of returnees exceeded the number of displaced Iraqis for the first time since the beginning of the conflict with IS group in 2014. As of June 2019, although more than four million Iraqis have been able to return home, many face dire conditions in their area of origin with some living literally in the ruins of their houses. The pace of reconstruction must speed up. Several hundred thousand Yazidis, who were systematically attacked and displaced by IS, have still not returned home. Missing documentation is one of the main barriers preventing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from moving back. More than 45,000 undocumented children in camps are being deprived of their rights as Iraqi citizens, unable to leave their camps, register in school or receive healthcare. Together with reconstruction and reconciliation efforts, this issue must be prioritised in 2019 to ensure all displaced Iraqis have conducive conditions to returning and that Iraq stays on the path of recovery.
"I would love to go back to my village but we can’t, it's dangerous. Also there is no water there, the village is destroyed and so is the school," says Raziya, 10-year-old Yazidi girl. Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa / NRC
Yemen – the world’s worst humanitarian crisis
2018 was a disastrous year for Yemen. About 80 per cent of the country’s population of 24 million people need humanitarian aid. In the autumn of 2018, the population faced one of the worst hunger disasters we have ever seen. A blockade of sea, land and air transport during the year left millions of Yemenis teetering on the brink of catastrophe. After a ceasefire was signed in the port city of Hodeidah on 18 December 2018, the number of civilians killed by air strikes declined.
Thirteen-year-old Salah fled from his home city of Taiz in Yemen because of the war. Now he lives in a camp for internally displaced people. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun / NRC
However, although civilian losses in Hodeidah have reduced overall, the civilian casualty toll remains high. Violence has escalated in other areas with increased numbers of civilians falling victim to landmines, snipers and improvised explosives. Huge price increases for basic goods and cholera outbreaks have also hit the population hard. Over three million people have been forced to flee from their homes since the escalation of conflict two and a half years ago, including 2 million who remain displaced, according to the UN.
Thirteen-year-old Salah fled from his home city of Taiz in Yemen because of the war. Now he lives in a camp for internally displaced people. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun / NRC
The combination of drought and conflict hit Afghanistan hard
The security situation has worsened in more and more areas of Afghanistan and 2018 was the deadliest year yet for civilians, with 3,800 killed and 7,000 injured. The parliamentary election in October 2018 became one of the nation’s bloodiest. In July 2018, large areas were hit by drought, and by the end of the year a combination of conflict, drought and hunger had forced 807,000 people to flee their homes. Over 371,000 people were displaced within Afghanistan as a direct result of the conflict. In addition, around 3 million are currently living as refugees outside the country, the vast majority in Iran and Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have felt forced to return to the war-torn country from neighbouring states. A report by the Norwegian Refugee Council shows that 7 out of 10 of those who return to Afghanistan are forced to flee again.
NRC distributed tents to displaced families affected by drought in the north-western Badghis province of Afghanistan in November 2018. Photo: Enayatullah Azad / NRC
The world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh
In August 2017, 750,000 of the Muslim minority Rohingya people fled Rakhine State in Myanmar, crossing the border into neighbouring Bangladesh, where they now find themselves in a state of limbo. Denied formal refugee status and any attendant rights by the government of Bangladesh, there is no real prospect of their return to Myanmar, where they fear continued persecution and violence. Despite the efforts of the international community to engage the authorities in Myanmar and Bangladesh in brokering an agreement for the return of Rohingya refugees, progress in ensuring its principled implementation has been slow, and safe, voluntary and sustainable return remains a distant prospect. Nearly one million Rohingya refugees now reside in 34 overcrowded and under-serviced camps along Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar. In the Kutupalong camp alone, the world’s largest, some 632,000 refugees suffer from inadequate access to basic services such as healthcare, education and safe shelter. While Bangladesh continues to offer safe haven and support to this growing caseload, as a result of the rapid influx, the local host community has been severely affected. There is a strain on resources, with inflation and wage suppression attributable to the surplus of cheap labour.
The refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, is built on sandy hills where once were forests. The hilly landscape is a challenging area to house hundreds of thousands of refugees. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun / NRC
Increased violence in Myanmar
Inside Myanmar, attacks by the armed group Arakan Army and counter-attacks by the military have displaced 33,000 people in Rakhine and Chin states during the first four months of 2019. This will further complicate a possible return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. In north-east Myanmar, the ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been temporarily renewed. However, there is still a high risk of new fighting and displacement in the area. Myanmar is also highly vulnerable to natural disasters. In August and September 2018, 150,000 people were displaced from their homes in the south-east of the country because of flooding.
"Please tell my story and share what we have lost: our properties, our farm animals, our houses, our belongings." Labang Lu, 73, fled from her home in Myanmar’s Kachin state. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun / NRC
Big problems for the peace process in Colombia
Almost three years after the Colombian government and the FARC armed group signed a peace agreement, the country’s authorities have been unable to create security in the former guerrilla-controlled areas. The power vacuum that FARC left behind has been exploited by the guerrilla movement ELN and by criminal gangs. Another negative factor is the strong increase in coca production in recent years. At least 460 social leaders and over 130 demobilised FARC soldiers have been killed since December 2016.
Indigenous people in Colombia struggle to survive years after the peace agreement between FARC and the government in 2016. Photo: Ana Karina Delgado Diaz / NRC
A total of 145,000 people were displaced from their homes due to fighting between armed groups, threats or blackmail in 2018. This is a clear increase from the previous year. At the same time, the resources for assisting displaced people in Colombia are decreasing. The country has the second largest displaced population in the world after Syria and eight out of ten people displaced by Colombia's civil war have not received the promised compensation for crimes committed against them.
A regional crisis in Latin America
The Venezuelan displacement crisis has continued to grow during the first quarter of 2019. In addition to the 500,000 Venezuelans who have applied for asylum in other countries, another 2.6 million have travelled to neighbouring countries without being registered as refugees. The number of Venezuelans in countries across Latin America rose from 700,000 in 2015 to nearly 4 million in June 2019, according to UNHCR. Many face great hurdles as they try to establish a normal life in a new country. The most important challenge is that they often lack a formal status that allows them to get a job, send their children to school and gain access to basic services. Such a status would also put them less at risk to human trafficking and being exploited in the labour market. The large influx of Venezuelans to Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru has overloaded the capacity of these countries to address the challenges. With stretched resources and an increasing number of arrivals, the risks of mounting discrimination and xenophobia are increasing. As of May 2019, only 21 per cent of the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan have been funded to provide humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable populations.
In Central America, tens of thousands are fleeing violence
In Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, known as the North of Central America, mass flight has been taking place for several years. Criminal gangs fighting for control are paralyzing parts of society in all three countries and young people are in a particularly vulnerable situation. The resulting violence terrorizes the population with murders, rapes, threats, blackmail and kidnappings. This context has been likened to a conflict situation.
The inability of the governments in the region to protect people forces many to flee their home countries. From October 2018 to January 2019, around 16,000 people, divided among five caravans, crossed the border between Guatemala and Mexico. Migration has been going on for decades, but these caravans represent something new. Forty-eight per cent came from Honduras and 39 per cent were from El Salvador. Although more and more people are seeking asylum in Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama, for many, these countries remain unsafe because of the widespread networks of the gangs. As a result, many still see the United States as their only option for safety – despite the fact that President Trump has tightened US asylum policy sharply. Many people are returned to their home countries, both from the United States and from other countries in the region.
A group of Venezuelans going through the Andes ride in the back of a truck bound for Bucaramanga, Colombia, February 4, 2019. Photo: NTB / Scanpix (Federico Rios Escobar / New York Times)
Even though more and more people are being sent back from the US and Mexico, this often only leads them to flee again. The mixture of weak state institutions, corruption, organised crime, extreme social inequality and violence that we see in the North of Central America is an explosive cocktail. There are no simple solutions here, and in 2019, the USA and Mexico will play a key role in how people who flee from these conditions will be treated.
The United States is tightening its asylum policy
The US has taken a number of steps to stop illegal immigration since Trump became president. This has also made it much more difficult for refugees with a real need for protection to get asylum. There was a sharp decline in the proportion of asylum seekers from Central American countries who were granted asylum in 2018, after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered that violence by non-governmental groups should no longer be an acceptable basis for protection. However, in December, a US federal court decided that this instruction violated US law.
In April 2019, the courts ruled in favour of the Trump administration, requiring asylum seekers to reside in Mexico while their asylum applications were being processed in the United States, despite the fact that asylum seekers were being abused in Mexican border areas. Due to the lengthy processing times, this means that refugees now have to wait more than a year in Mexico. The Trump administration threat to cut humanitarian and development aid to Central America would seriously damage both US and regional interests.
Children are dying in detention camps
Asylum seekers who have entered the United States are being detained while their asylum application is being processed, and are refused employment. Recently, it was also decided that asylum seekers must pay a fee to apply for asylum in the United States. The US has received massive criticism for its policy of separating children from their parents and placing them in separate detention centres. Several children have also died in detention.
Central American migrants sit on the sidewalk ready to run, after Mexican immigration agents drove near the train station in Arriaga, Chiapas State, Mexico, early Thursday, April 25, 2019. Photo: NTB / Scanpix (AP Photo / Moises Castillo)
Trump is still proceeding to build a border wall against Mexico, but has not yet managed to get Congress to finance a wall along the entire border. Meanwhile, a large number of soldiers have been deployed to assist border guards both in the United States and in Mexico, and there was a sharp increase in the number of arrests for illegal border crossings in 2018. Trump is threatening Mexico with increased trade tariffs if they don’t help stop the flow of migrants to the US border. He has also stated that he wants to refuse asylum to anyone who has resided in other Central American countries before seeking asylum in the United States.
Canada sends asylum seekers back to the United States
For many years, Canada has regarded the United States as a safe third country, and asylum seekers are therefore rejected on the border between Canada and the United States. Since the new restrictions in US asylum policy were introduced, many believe that this violates the Refugee Convention. However, the Canadian authorities recently won a court decision allowing them to continue the practice. Canada has also begun to return asylum seekers who have entered the country outside of legal border stations.
Migrants and refugees, who spent the night outdoors, are escorted by Slovenian soldiers and police officers as they walk towards a refugee camp after crossing the Croatian-Slovenian border. Photo: NTB / Scanpix (AFP PHOTO STRINGER)
More difficult to get to Europe over the Mediterranean
An EU agreement with Turkey has resulted in a reduction of 90 per cent in the number of people travelling from Turkey to Greece since the peak year 2015. However, it has proved difficult to return asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey. The EU requires Greece to take responsibility for all asylum seekers who arrive in the country, and several countries, including Norway, have started returning asylum seekers to Greece. This has led thousands of people living under reprehensible conditions in congested reception centres. The situation in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek holiday island of Lesbos is particularly serious.
A Libya's coast guard ship with migrants on deck, in Search and Rescue (SAR) zone off Libya's coasts on May 11, 2019, as seen from Germany's Sea-Watch humanitarian organization's Moonbird aircraft. Photo: NTB / Scanpix (Sea-Watch.org / Handout via REUTERS)
Italy has used the agreement with Turkey as a model to prevent refugees from crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya, and is paying the Libyan coastguard to stop refugees and migrants off the coast and send them to detention centres where many are brutally abused. Italy’s Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, has refused to allow boats that have picked up stranded refugees and migrants to land at Italian ports, and is threatening to fine NGOs that violate the ban. These measures have led to a decline of over 80 per cent in the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Italy by sea in 2018, compared to 2017.
Seven per cent lose their lives in the Mediterranean
Since it has become more difficult to get to Italy and Greece, the route from Morocco to Spain has become the most important. In 2018 it saw an increase in crossings of more than 160 per cent from the previous year, with more than ten times as many people using it as in 2015. In total, however, there were 24 per cent fewer people journeying over the Mediterranean in 2018 compared with 2017, and 84 per cent fewer than in 2015. The proportion of people losing their lives during the crossing has gone up because they have to choose more dangerous routes, and the Libyan coastguard, which is now patrolling the coast, lacks the rescue skills of European rescue services. A total of seven percent of all those crossing the Mediterranean in 2018 lost their lives.
Ahmida, a 10-year-old from Afghanistan at the refugee camp on the Aegean island of Samos, Greece. The island holds over 3,000 immigrants, refugees and unaccompanied refugee minors. Photo: NTB / Scanpix (Xinhua / Sipa USA)
The EU and the Arab League met in February 2019 to discuss cooperation related to migration. The EU hoped to reach agreements with countries in North Africa similar to its agreement with Turkey, but the countries concerned and the African Union were all strongly critical of the plan.
Germany accepts the most asylum seekers
Despite the sharp decline in arrivals across the Mediterranean, 580,000 people sought asylum in the EU in 2018, demonstrating that people smugglers find new ways to enter Europe when others are closed. This is a slight decrease from the previous year, and half as many as in 2015 and 2016, but still far higher than the pre-2015 norm.
Germany is the country that welcomes the most asylum seekers. France, Greece and Spain occupy the next three places. The decline is greatest in Scandinavia, which is partly due to border controls making it more difficult to move northwards in Europe. Norway received only 2,655 asylum seekers, the lowest number since the mid-1990s.