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World Refugee Day: Global Trends of Forced Displacement

Title page of the UNHCR report.

On today's World Refugee Day, Global2030 summarizes the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):

  • There were about 79.5 million displaced persons in total at the end of 2019, displaced due to persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or serious disturbances of public order (UNHCR 2020, p. 2).
    Poverty and economic hardship are treated in the report solely as indirect causes of displacement (p. 12). All figures relate to the total number of displaced persons who have not returned, i.e. not only those who have been displaced during 2019.
    About 4 out of 10 displaced persons were under 18 years of age (p. 2).
  • Among the displaced persons, the majority were internally displaced people: 45.7 million (i.e. remained within the borders of their country) (p. 2).
  • 33.8 million had left their country as refugees, asylum seekers or as Venezuelans displaced abroad (p. 2). In detail, these comprised according to the categories of the United Nations and public international law:
    • 26.0 million refugees (including 5.6 million Palestine refugees)
    • 4.2 million asylum seekers
    • 3.6 million Venezuelans displaced abroad, who were not covered in previous reports and to a large extent have not yet been supported by national or international mechanisms (pp. 2, 10).

Total Trend

The number of displaced persons has almost doubled in the last decade, also compared to the two decades before. In 1990 there were about 41 million displaced people (p. 8).

Diagramme: Global forced displacement trend 1990-2019.

(UNHCR 2020, p. 2)

Compared to the previous year, the number of displaced persons has increased by 7.2% (excluding the Venezuelans displaced abroad since they were not included in previous years, from 70.8 million in 2018 to 75.9 million in 2019; pp. 2, 7, own calculations).

Since 2010, 3.9 million international refugees have returned to their country of origin, and 31.0 million internally displaced people have returned to their place of residence (p. 4).

Displacement within the Home Country

Most of the 45.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the end of 2019 were in Colombia, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Yemen and Somalia:

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) by country.

(UNHCR 2020, p. 30)

Cross-border Displacements

Some 68% of the world's refugees (including Venezuelans displaced abroad) came from five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Southern Sudan and Myanmar (Burma) (p. 2).

Top international displacement situations by country of origin.

(UNHCR 2020, p. 8)

Most were hosted by Turkey, Colombia, Germany, Pakistan and Uganda:

Top international displacement situations by host country.

(UNHCR 2020, p. 9)

About 73% of the world's refugees at the end of 2019 (including Venezuelans displaced abroad) were living in countries neighbouring their countries of origin (p. 2).

Countries of the Global South hosted 85% of the world's refugees (including Venezuelans displaced abroad). The least developed countries (LDCs) accommodated 27% – almost twice as much as the industrialized countries (p. 2).

In the European Union, border closures in March 2020, as a result of the necessary containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, have reduced the number of asylum applications by 43% compared to the previous month. Refugee registration has also been affected in other regions of the world, although some countries have switched to remote registration (p. 12).


UNHCR 2020 – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Global Trends; Forced Displacement in 2019. Copenhagen, 18 June 2020. (https://www.unhcr.org/5ee200e37.pdf - PDF) (10.2 MB).