UNHCR Reports Forced Displacement at 65.3 Million: But Who Speaks for the Worlds’ 85.4+ Million?

UNHCR’s Global Trends, Forced Displacement in 2015 was published this week in time for Refugee Day. It purports an historical high of 65.3 million refugees and displaced. I use the term “purports,” because it is only part of the story, albeit their part. What follows is a deeper dive into the figures.

Let’s begin by breaking down the 65.3 million figure three ways. The first, 21.3 million people were refugees. The second, 40.8 million were internally displaced persons (IDPs) and third, 3.2 million were asylum seekers.

IDP population figures are determined by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Understandably (or not), the UNHCR limits their reporting to the scope of their mandate, or those …”forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations.”   However, that is not a complete picture.

Twice as many people were forcibly displaced from disasters than conflict in 2015, (19.2 million vs. 8.6 million). That’s an additional 19.2 million “newly displaced” in 2015. Per the IDMC, “There are no figures for the total [historical] number of people displaced… .” However, the IDMC does go on to state…“Over the past eight years, 203.4 million [disaster-related] displacements have been recorded, an average of 25.4 million each year.”

Therefore the most accurate picture puts total refugee and displaced populations at 85.4+ million.  It is generally believed that half of this population is children, over 40 million.

As I write this article, the song “Come a Little Closer” by Cage The Elephant is playing on Pandora. The lyrics go…

Come a little closer, then you’ll see

Come on, come on, come on

Things aren’t always what they seem to be

Do you understand the things that you’ve been seeing

Come on, come on, come on

Do you understand the things that you’ve been dreaming

Come a little closer, then you’ll see

Come a little closer, then you’ll see

Let’s examine a little closer 2015’s 19.2 million disaster related IDPs.   In terms of causes, what are we talking about? The answer is floods, storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, landslides and extreme temperatures. Global warming? You decide. 14.7 million displacements were weather related. This figure (again, not part of UNHCR’s annual figures) averages 21.5 million since 2008. The additional 4.5 million displacements (19.2 million – 14.7 million = 4.5 million) were due to “large-scale geophysical hazards.

IDP Disaster Related IDMC

A final note on what is called “protracted crises.” Per the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG), “More than 80% of refugee crises last for 10 years or more; two in five [40%] last 20 years. Conflict related IDP situations last on average 23 years.

Mark Correnti

Photo: LM Otero Associated Press

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