The world's ten most neglected displacement crises

Millions of people fleeing their homes suffer unnecessarily because of a lack of political will and humanitarian assistance.

Every year, the Norwegian Refugee Council launches a list of forced displacement crises that have been failed by the world. It is based on a set of criteria that places these crises precisely at the top of the list of the neglected displacement crises. All the criteria may not be applicable for each of the crises on the list, but they all contribute to the neglect and to forgetting the people in forced displacement.


Lack of political will

People who are forced to flee experience in many places that the governments or armed groups refuse to acknowledge their desperate situation, and prevent humanitarian actors from coming through with help to those who need it. This criterion also includes major powers that lack the political willingness to find a solution to the crisis, because it does not fit into their political agenda.

Lack of financial support

Every year, the UN and humanitarian affiliates send out appeals where they estimate how much money is needed to provide good help to all those affected by humanitarian crises. The neglected crises are often prolonged, and previous experiences show the willingness to allocate money decreases as time passes.

Insufficient media coverage

The media prefers to write about daily news and dramatic events, and therefore lack interest for crises that last over time.

Little or no humanitarian actors

The absence of humanitarian help is often caused by the lack of financing, a difficult security situation that limits the access to the victims of the conflict and a general lack of awareness about the situation.

Lasting crisis

When a crisis is prolonged, it becomes harder to find a solution to the conflict and to acquire money for the humanitarian work. Consequently, the suffering increases and hope for the future decreases for people who are forced to flee.



The world’s largest interconnecting crisis area

Armed conflicts, extreme poverty, terrorist groups, organised crime, large refugee- and migration flows and chronic food shortages have affected this vast area for years. As well as weak state institutions, porous borders, strong population growth and climate changes. The sum of all these causal explanations makes the situation immensely complex and challenging. Increased awareness of the crisis in the Sahel will be crucial both to save lives and to prevent states from collapsing.  


One region – common problems 

The Sahel is a vast region, stretching across almost the entire African continent. It holds several of the world’s absolute poorest and most vulnerable countries. The borders drawn with a ruler by European colonists are so porous that they practically barely matter. Terrorist groups and criminal networks have few problems to operate across these borders.  

For large parts of the population in the Sahel, ethnical and religious bindings mean far more than their national identity. The region has been a meeting point between North Africa’s around 500 million Muslims and the 500 million Christians south to Sahara. Throughout many centuries, these groups lived in peaceful coexistence.  

But the marginalisation, poverty and life without hope for the future has for decades been the reality of the majority of the population in the Sahel. This is exploited by the militant groups, without them in the slightest being an answer to their problems. 


Humanitarian crisis 

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Work, OCHA, 23.5 million people in the Sahel region will suffer from food shortages in 2016, despite better crops last year. 5.9 million children are suffering from serious malnourishment, 70 per cent of them are in Chad, Mali and Niger. The cause is, first and foremost, the expansion of the armed conflicts, especially in the areas around the Lake Chad where the situation is very serious. Boko Haram threatens the stability in the entire region. This affects 30 million people in the poorest areas in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.  

More frequent droughts, sometimes followed by floodsmake the population and states even more vulnerable. The battle for continuously fewer resources leads to tensions between the nomads (Muslims) and resident farmers (often other ethnical groups and, in some places, Christians). This is exploited by groups to create discord by religious divisions. This shows how parallel and ongoing crises interact and reinforce each other.  

Escalating conflicts have led to tripling numbers of people in forced displacement, in less than two years. In December 2015, 4.5 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes.

Sahel at the bottom

Every year, the UN creates a humanitarian development index that measures the living conditions in 188 countries. The index is based on the average living age, opportunities for education and the gross domestic product. 

Norway stands out as number one. We must go far down the list to find the nine countries in the Sahel: 

  • 152 Nigeria 
  • 153 Cameroon 
  • 156 Mauritania 
  • 170 Senegal 
  • 175 Gambia 
  • 179 Mali 
  • 183 Burkina Faso 
  • 185 Chad 
  • 188 Niger 
Source: United Nations Development Programme
30,000,000 Boko Haram threatens the stability of 30 million people in the poorest areas in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

Lack of humanitarian resources 

The rise of terrorist networks, large refugee- and migration flows through the Sahara, toward the Mediterranean, and acute humanitarian crises, have forced forward an international interest for the development in the Sahel. This has led to the military interventions in Mali and in the Central African Republic, located in the fringe of the Sahel beltHowever, military interventions are tools that only provide short term solutions. The deeper causes must be resolved at the political level. 


But still, the humanitarian response is far from consistent with the humanitarian needs. In December 2015, the UN and humanitarian affiliates asked for two billion dollars in their humanitarian appeal for the Sahel. On 11 March 2016, six per cent of the amount was received. This shows how the world’s largest interconnected crisis area is neglected, and that the development gives little reason for optimism.  


Terrorism network 

Armed Islamist groups, such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali and Boko Haram in Nigeria, recruit or kidnap indigent local youths across the country borders. To use militant editions of Islam politically is nothing new. Back in the 1800s, jihad-inspired groups fought against the British in South Sudan. But after the cold war, most of the political ideologies disappeared. In the ideological empty space, jihadists find a breeding ground for recruitment. They can recruit a suicide bomber by paying his family 50 euro.  

AQIM, with background from the Islamist insurgents in Algeria in the 1990s, spent years putting down roots in the marginalised northern Mali. The cooperation with criminal smuggler networks provided large incomes, and they built up a strong organisation, nearly without the international community registering it. The worsening security situation in northern Mali, Niger, Mauretania and Nigeria is a consequence of the war against Gaddafi. Libya under Gaddafi had recruited both manpower and soldiers among people from the Sahel region. After the war, many turned home, some with weapons. Many of these have since been recruited by different Islamist groups. The war also removed Gaddafi, Al-Qaeda’s most important opponent in North Africa. Besides, thousands of families in the Sahel lost their incomes when their family members were forced to flee from Libya after Gaddafi’s fall.  

Boko Haram, as opposed to AQIM, has vowed its loyalty to IS and its offspring liein Nigeria’s poorest and most marginalised areas in the northeast. Here, they spent years putting down roots before heading to armed battle in 2009. The attention toward this part of Nigeria, both by national authorities and the international community’s side, emerged as the terror actions started. Today, Boko Haram also carries out attacks within the neighbouring countries Niger, Chad and Cameroon. 

The circle of crises must be broken 

The humanitarian crisis in northeastern Nigeria, in the border areas of several neighbouring countries, in northern Mali and in areas near the Sahel, like Darfur in Sudan, the Central African Republic and Libya has been a reality for many years. The West has, in many places, reacted by showing military muscle. Behind lies the fear of a destabilisation by the oil-rich Nigeria, threats against uranium mines in Niger and a concern that we have only seen the beginning of these refugee and migration flows. This is a scenario Westerners fear. But if the circle of continuously returning crises is to be broken, political solutions and civil societies must be prioritised.  

Within the UN system, there are increasingly more talks about emphasizing the work to prevent displacement and conflict. Too often, we have seen problems build up over time, but the response from the international community’s side, at its best, happens when the crises becomes a fact.  

In the future, the population in the Sahel will be the main agents of change. But now, they need help to keep the hunger away and so the states they live in don’t collapse. Only when refugees can return home and the youths have hope for the future, will people smugglers and terrorist groups lose their market. The Sahel will need help and support over decades. It is crucial to develop comprehensive strategies without renouncing responsibilities and without grey areas between humanitarian assistance and aid. So far, the international community has a long way to go to pass this test. 

23.5 million people in the Sahel region will suffer from food shortages in 2016.
Read caption Yemen: Children flee from the capital, Sanaa, in April 2015, after Saudi Arabian airstrikes. Foto: NTB SCANPIX / REUTERS / Khaled Abdullah


The worst humanitarian crisis

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world, seen in the proportion to the population affected. 21.2 million people, 82 per cent of the population, is in need of humanitarian help.

Yemen has long been the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula and, now, the lack of protection, food, water and medicines are acute. This has particularly affected the people in forced displacement. According to the UN, 14.4 million people lack access to sufficient food. The bad security situation has made it very difficult for humanitarian actors to reach the victims of the conflict with aid. The media coverage and the international community's awareness have not been focused on the country in a long time.

While Americans quintupled and the British doubled the military support against terror fights in Yemen, from 2006 to 2009, the UN's humanitarian appeals for Yemen have not increased in accordance to the needs. In April 2016, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced that only 13 per cent of the necessary funding for 2016 was covered.

The crisis in Yemen is not new. Since 2004, the fight actions between the Shia Muslim Al-Houthi-movement and government forces have led to a humanitarian crisis in the north of the country. The conflict escalated in the fall of 2014 and, in the spring of 2015, a coalition was initiated, led by Saudi Arabia airstrikes against the rebel movement. In addition, Al-Qaeda and IS continuously carry out attacks within the country and are more present today than ever before.

82 per cent of the population needs humanitarian help.


Chaos prevents aid work 

The political crisis and escalating violence affects the population in Libya increasingly harder. Crimes against human rights are executed on a large scale, and near 2.5 million people are in need of emergency aid and protection. In April 2016, the UN had only covered 12 per cent of the much needed aid money for the country. The lack of resources and a large scale of conflict and violence are preventing the aid work. This affects the access to food, water and health aid for the civilian population, internally displaced, refugees and migrants in the country, waiting to continue their journey toward Europe. The Chaos in Libya has also worsened the security situation in the vulnerable Sahel belt, and in the border areas to Tunisia. The media’s interest in the crisis in Libya has decreased since NATO’s bombing of the country, in 2011.


Libya is still politically important. It lies in the middle of the route of refugees and migrants on their way to Europe, and has strategic importance in the fight against IS’ gaining ground in northern Africa. Therefore, we are more likely to hear more about Libya in the time to come. 

It is estimated that there are between 1,500 and 2,000 armed groups in Libya.


(Myanmar and Bangladesh) 

One of the most persecuted people on Earth

Read caption Myanmar: A Rohingya woman cries after a fire that affected a camp for internally displaced in the Rahikne state, in Myanmar. Foto: NTB SCANPIX / EPA / Nyunt Win

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group living deprived of their citizenship in Myanmar and Bangladesh. They are persecuted, harassed and live almost without protection in Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands Rohingya refugees and Rohingya without documentation are residing. Being in a desperate situation, a large number of Rohingya refugees have travelled by boat to countries in Southeast Asia.  

The Rohingya situation is politically sensitive, and their voices are rarely heard. A positive first step would be for the authorities in Myanmar to oppose religious nationalism and hate speech, as well as improving the situation of the internally displaced. In Bangladesh, the basic needs of refugees and undocumented individuals have to be met – especially the major needs for protection. In 2015, international attention was drawn to the large number of boat refugees going to Thailand and Malaysia, most of whom were Rohingya. Still, many Rohingya refugees are drowning in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. However, the international attention has vanished.  


Many fears that the Rohingya situation will remain neglected after the new democratically elected government has come into place in Myanmar, because the international pressure is likely to decrease.

5. IRAQ 

The most deadly country for civilians

Increased violence between armed groups and government forces has forced over 3.4 million people to flee within Iraq, and more than 10 million people in the country are in need of humanitarian help. Iraq is among the world’s most deadly countries for civilians, and thousands lose their lives as a result of terrorism, violence and armed conflict. The country is considered among the most dangerous in the world for aid workers, and the conflict makes it increasingly hard to reach the civilian population with humanitarian help. The situation has been especially difficult in the partly IS-controlled Anbar province. Transport with food and medicine are unable to reach the civilian population. The UN has warned the international community that the lack of humanitarian financing for Iraq, which in April 2016 only covered 24 per cent of the need, will have catastrophic consequences. 

Read caption Iraq: These two are among the many that fled the fighting in Fallujah, in May 2016. The photo was taken in NRC’s camp in Amiriyat Al-Fallujah. Photo: NRC/Becky Bakr Abdulla
In 2015, over 7,500 people were killed and around 15,000 were injured as a result of terrorism, violence and armed conflict.


A crisis ignored over a long period of time 


Internal conflicts and turmoil in the neighbouring countries, Chad and Sudan, have led to repeated waves of violence in the Central African Republic (CAR). The country is now in a positive development and it is crucial that the international community learns from previous mistakes. The danger is that we, once again, use minimal resources in a country that is an open wound in the heart of Africa. The civilian population in CAR has so many times before received too little, too late. According to OCHA, two million people are affected by food shortages. The amount of chronically malnourished children per resident in the country are today among the highest in the world. The humanitarian aid work is strongly underfinanced, despite the large need within nourishment, health, education and protection of people in forced displacement. CAR is ranged number 187 of 188 on the UN’s development index.  

Read caption Photo: NTB SCANPIX/REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra



The UN is shut out 

Prolonged neglect, both humanitarianly and politically, has inflicted great suffering upon the Sahrawian refugees and shattered their hopes for the future. It is unacceptable that the situation remains locked after 40 years with occupation. Refugee camps are isolated out in the desert of the neighbouring country, Algeria. The climatic conditions make refugees completely dependent on international assistance. But the assistance has been unpredictable and decreasing. In January 2016, the EU warned they would reduce the humanitarian aid to refugees significantly.  

In March 2016, during a visit to the refugee camps and the Sahrawi-controlled areas of Western Sahara, UN’s Secretary General, Ban ki-Moon expressed understanding for the refugees’ frustration because of the occupation. This led to strong reactions from Morocco.  

Western Sahara is defined by the UN as a decolonising-question, and the population has the right to decide their own future. But with mighty friends in the back, particularly France, Morocco has managed to forsake the UN. They have expelled UN personnel from the occupied areas and denied UN’s highest leadership and UN’s special envoy access to Western Sahara. The response from UN’s Security Council is total silence. It is all blocked by France, Morocco’s close ally. It is startling that a NATO country, and a self-proclaimed champion of democracy and human rights, through its Security Council seat, prevents UN Operation for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to monitor the human rights in West Sahara. 

After 40 years with occupation, the situation remains locked.


No rights, no help


The humanitarian situation in North Korea has worsened in 2015, and throughout 2016. The drought is just an explanation factor. The most important cause is that the government uses nearly all of the country’s resources on developing mass destructive weapons. The population’s humanitarian needs have been nearly completely ignored by the country’s authorities, and the rights to those fleeing into China, are neglected by Chinese governments. Upon arrest, the North Korean refugees are sent back without the possibility to seek asylum, even though they risk death penalty or many years in labour camps. The absence of international criticism must be viewed in light of China’s growing political and economic muscles.  

It is estimated that 70 per cent of North Korea’s 24.6 million inhabitants are without safe access to food, and 28 per cent are chronically malnourished, which can also lead to impaired growth. Only 36 per cent of the UN’s humanitarian appeal of 117 million American Dollars was acquired by September 2015.

It is estimated that 70 percent of North Korea's 24.6 million inhabitants are without safe access to food.
Read caption : From North to South: The North Korean refugee, Kim Ryen-hi, came to South Korea in 2011, and misses her daughter and parents. In North Korea, most of the country’s resources are spent on mass destructive weapons, and the population suffers increasingly. Photo: NTB Scanpix / New York Times / Jean Chung


Lack of access 

Years of armed conflict makes the humanitarian situation in Sudan increasingly worse. Despite the ongoing peace negotiations in Darfur, violence is increasing and around 2.5 million displaced receive little to no humanitarian help. In parts of Darfur, humanitarian access is near impossible, especially in areas controlled by Sudan’s Liberation Army (SLA). The result is that tens of thousands of people are denied emergency aid, and the scope of people’s needs is unknown. Conflicts are forcing people to flee to other parts of the country too, and in the southern states of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, humanitarian organisations have not had access since 2011. Parts of Sudan are, in addition, hit hard by food shortages and malnutrition due to drought. According to UNHCR, in April 2016, only 8 per cent of the funds needed to meet the humanitarian needs were covered

The UN only covered 8 per cent of the funds needed to meet the humanitarian needs.


Forgotten by all 

The situation in West Papua has, since the area was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969, been very little known to the outside world. Voting as first incorporation was reserved to 1,022 West Papuan leaders, handpicked by Indonesian authorities. The UN accepted the election, despite that the population never got a chance to express their opinion. The Indonesian military dictatorship under President Suharto, let the Indonesian residents settle down in West Papua. Meanwhile, all political activity that was not accepted by the governments was turned down.  

Papuans are a Melanesian ethnic group and many feel more attached to the population of the Pacific islands Vanuatu, Fiji and Papua New-Guinea, both culturally, religiously and through lifestyle, compared to Indonesia.  

The situation escalated to a conflict that, for several decades, has cost thousands of people their lives. Practically, no information has reached the outer world by ear, and little is known today, as journalists and human rights activists are unwanted in West Papua. But refugees that have made it across the border and into the neighbouring country, Papua New-Guinea, claim military operations still forcibly displace people fleeing within West Papua.  

How many there are, no one knows. They have no access to humanitarian help and survive for months in the jungle. Today, an estimated 10,000 refugees from West Papua are staying in Papua New-Guinea.