By Gabriele Koehler
Gabriele Koehler is a development economist affiliated with UNRISD as a Senior Research Associate. She serves on the boards of Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF), the UN Association of Germany (DGVN), and is a member of the UNICEF National Committee, Germany. She is also a Distinguished Fellow of the ICSW.
The enormous challenges of flight
People have been fleeing their home village or home country throughout recent history. Individuals and communities are forced to flee because of political persecution, torture and rape, conflict and war, and because of poverty and social exclusion. These factors are increasingly intertwined with the devastating impacts of climate change.
Three figures make the urgency and the existential brutality of the situation clear: In 2015, the recorded number of internally displaced persons, asylum seekers and refugees reached 66 million, having increased steadily throughout the 1990s. This is the largest number since the end of World War II. 20 new displacements take place every minute. In 2014, at least 21,000 refugees and migrants died worldwide in connection with their displacement (all data in this article from: UNHCR 2017; UNICEF 2017; CARE International 2018, unless otherwise referenced).
Over 22 million persons are currently recognized refugees. Among these international refugees are 5.5 million Syrians, 2.5 million Afghans, 1.5 million South Sudanese and 1 million Somalians. Children make up almost half of the refugee population; in 2016, at least 75000 children were “unaccompanied” – separated from their family and fleeing on their own.
The majority of forcibly displaced persons remain in their country of origin – an estimated 40 million persons live as internally displaced people (IDPs). Others cross into a neighbouring country. An estimated 6 million Syrians live in other regions of their country; 2 million people have fled from Afghanistan to Iran over the past decades. The crises in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Mali and the Lake Chad Basin have driven nearly 1.3 million children, women and men into neighbouring countries.