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Forcibly Displaced : Toward a Development Approach Supporting Refugees, the Internally Displaced, and Their Hosts – An Extract

How Severe is the Crisis?

The forced displacement crisis is largely rooted in a relatively small number of conflicts, which have been going on for years or even decades. It primarily affects developing countries: about 10 countries in protracted conflict and about 15 of their neighbors. The “global” forced displacement crisis is in fact a juxtaposition of local and regional crises, each with its distinct features, and each calling for a distinct response.

The understanding of each forced displacement crisis is often incomplete. For example, the average duration of exile is shorter than that is commonly reported; there is no evidence that internally displaced persons (IDPs) eventually become refugees; and the overwhelming majority of forcibly displaced persons live outside camps, often in urban settings.

About 65 million people were living in forced displacement at the end of 2015, or almost one percent of the world’s population. If all forcibly displaced persons formed a single country, it would be the 21st largest in the world, on a par with Thailand or the United Kingdom.

Three distinct groups of people are included in this total: about 16 million refugees (and an additional 3 million asylum-seekers); about 5 million Palestinian refugees; and about 41 million IDPs4.

The number of refugees is currently at its second-highest level since 1951: it peaked at the end of the Cold War, at about 10 percent above current levels. The number of Palestinian refugees is steadily increasing, as a result of demographic growth. The number of IDPs has increased very rapidly over the last few years, in part due to the war in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Historical comparisons should be drawn very carefully, since reliable long-term time series do not exist. Refugee numbers were focused on people of European descent and Palestinians until the late 1970s. IDP statistics have only been available since 1979, and significant methodological changes were introduced in 1993. In absolute terms, today’s total of forcibly displaced exceeds population movements in the aftermath of World War II (30 million people) or of the 1947 Partition in South Asia (14 million people). It may be comparable to that in 1971, when the war of independence for Bangladesh generated an estimated 10 million refugees and 30 million IDPs, while the Vietnam War and other conflicts were also raging on.

Forced displacement is part of a wider trend. Mobility has been a characteristic of human societies since the dawn of history. It has yielded countless benefits across the globe and has shaped the world in which we live. Today is no different: mobility is a critical feature of our globalized world and it contributes significantly to global welfare.

The overwhelming majority of migrants leave their places of origin voluntarily in search of economic opportunities, and they move to places where they expect to find demand for their skills. Such movements dwarf the numbers of forcibly displaced persons: as of end-2015, there were an estimated 250 million international migrants, about 3.5 percent of the global population, against about 24 million refugees and asylum seekers; there were also an estimated 740 million internal migrants (when people move within their own country), about 11 percent of the global population, against some 41 million IDPs.

Conflating conflict-induced forced displacement with economic migration and other forms of human mobility is generating some confusion, which can make it difficult to design adequate development responses. That people move for different reasons and under different circumstances (box 1.2) has consequences for their ability to engage in economic activity, escape poverty, build independent futures, and contribute to the communities they live in. It also implies that they have distinct needs for support, including legal protection and development assistance.

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Extract reproduced under Creative Commons License: “World Bank. 2016. Forcibly Displaced : Toward a Development Approach Supporting Refugees, the Internally Displaced, and Their Hosts. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/25016 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”

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