Refugees across the world

The information here is provided by courtesy of the Network's short online course - "An Introduction to Global Health". 




Some Definitions 


At the end of 2019 At least 79.5 million people around the world had been forced to flee their home as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order. Those forced to flee are made up of the following groups.  


  • Internal Displaced People : Around 60% of these were “internally displaced” i.e. have remained in their own country, but will be on the run and remain under the protection of its government, even if that government is the reason for their displacement. They often move to areas where it is difficulty to deliver humanitarian assistance and are thus very vulnerable.
  • Refugees : Around 35% have will have left their country to find safety from conflict or persecution. They are classified as refugees according to rules set out under the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees . Once defined as a refugee, they must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom are at risk. Once a person becomes a refugee, they are likely to remain a refugee for many years.
  • Asylum Seekers : An asylum seekers is someone who is seeking international protection from dangers in his or her own home country, but whose claim for refugee status has not been determined legally.


What is it like to be forcibly displaced?


To develop a small sense of what it is like to be a refugee and the scale of the current problem of forced displacement,

learn what UN High Commission for Refugees report "Global Trends in forced displacement, 2019" says by follow this link


Changes over time 


The number of forcibly displace people has been increasing and at the end of 2019 the UNHCR reported that there were a total of 79.5 million forcibly displace people worldwide. Figure 1 shows the changes in the number of forcibly displaced people between 1990 and 2019, there being an increase ovre the last decade. 


Figure 1



Source : (1) UNHCR Global Trends : Forced Displacement





Once a refugee, many will be displaced for nearly 20 years.


Around 40% of refugees (30 – 40 million) are children below the age of 18 years.


68% of refugees originated from just 5 countries –


  • Syria 6.6 million,
  • Venezuela 3.7 million,
  • Afghanistan 2.7 million,
  • South Sudan 2.2 million
  • Myanmar 1.1 million


Around 84% of the world’s refugees are hosted in Developing countries. The least Developed Countries provided asylum to 27% of the total.


Figure 2 shows where refugees are coming from and going to. 


Figure 2





Where are refugees living?


60% of the refugee population live in cities. Turkey currently hosts the largest urban refugee population with the vast majority living in urban or peri-urban areas.


2.6 million refugees live in refugee camps. Refugee camps are temporary facilities built to provide immediate protection and assistance to people who have been forced to flee due to conflict, violence or persecution. While camps are not intended to provide permanent sustainable solutions, they offer a safe haven for refugees where they receive medical treatment, food, shelter, and other basic services during emergencies.


The largest refugee camps are in


  • Bangladesh (Cox’s Bazar)
  • Uganda (Bidi Bidi)
  • Kenya (Dadaab and Kakuma)
  • Jordan (Azraq and Za’atari)
  • Tanzania (Nyarugusu, Nduta and Mtendeli)
  • Ethiopia (Kebribeyah, Aw-barre and Deder)


To find out more on the detail of the present position, have a look at the UNHCR Report "Global Trends - forced Displacement 2019", which can be found at


Refugees in the UK 


In the UK, a person becomes a refugee when government agrees that an individual who has applied for asylum meets the definition in the Refugee Convention. They will then “recognise” that person as a refugee and issue them with refugee status documentation. Usually refugees in the UK are given five years leave to remain as a refugee. They must then apply for further leave.


Benefits asylum-seekers receive in the UK (Source UNHCR)


In the year ending March 2020, the UK received 35,099 asylum applications from the main applicants only.

According to UNHCR statistics, at the end of 2018 there were  in the UK 


  • 126,720  refugees
  • 45,244 pending asylum cases 
  • 125  stateless persons  in the UK.


The total population of the UK in 2018 was just over 66 million.


The majority of asylum-seekers do not have the right to work in the United Kingdom and so must rely on state support.

Housing is provided, but asylum-seekers cannot choose where it is, and it is often in ‘hard to let’ properties, which Council tenants do not want to live in.


Cash support is available, and is currently (2022) set at £40.55 per person, per week i.e. £5.39 a day for food, sanitation and clothing. (Source: Home Office)




The health problems of refugees in the UK will in part reflect the problems of the country from which they came. They will also include the issues of missed immunisations and interrupted medications for long term condition. However, in addition to these, they could also be dealing with


  • The experience of being tortured
  • Seeing others, perhaps members of their own family, tortured or killed
  • Losing their home and belongings
  • The disorientation of leaving their country
  • Travelling across several countries
  • Experiencing hunger, thirst, cold and heat
  • The continuous uncertainty about the following day
  • Difficulties with language
  • Dealing with border staff part of whose job it is not to be welcoming
  • Dealing with official documentation requirements
  • Surviving in a very low income
  • Being prevented from working, having little social contact and nothing to do
  • The constant uncertainly as to whether they will be returned from whence they came


Mental health problems are, therefore, very common for asylum seekers. Not all healthcare providers are clear as to the entitlements that asylum seekers have. Local voluntary organisations are often their only form of support available to refugees and asylum seekers. Initiatives like Cities of Sanctuary, Universities of Sanctuary, Schools of Sanctuary help to build a climate where they are able to rebuild their lives.


Further Reading


Global Trends: Forced Displacement 2019 UNHCR


The Global Compact for Migration


Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (UNHCR)


Figures at a glance on UNHCR Website


United Nations Refugee Agency


UNHCR What is an Internally Displaced Person?


European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations


United Nations Refugee Agency (Statistics)


City of Sanctuary UK


Refugee Action


Refugee Council


Refugee Health Needs Assessment, Southampton and Portsmouth



Refugees across the world image