On 16 June, the United Nations Human Rights Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) released its Global Trends Report 2021, reporting on forced displacement worldwide for the year 2021. UNHCR reports that 89.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2021; this figure includes refugees, internally displaced people, asylum seekers, and Venezuelans displaced abroad.
While conflict is not the only driver of forced displacement, the report notes that increases in displacement over the past decade have been driven, in part, by new and escalating conflicts around the world. Large numbers of people have been displaced by escalating conflict as a result of, for example, the military takeover in Myanmar in February 2021, the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Afghanistan, in August 2021, and an insurgency in the Equatoria region of South Sudan during 2021. (Myanmar, Afghanistan, and South Sudan were all major countries of origin for forcibly displaced persons in 2020 as well; but as UNHCR notes, developments in 2021 have exacerbated existing issues, resulting in increasing numbers of forcible displacements.)
The Global Trends Report sounds the alarm on several key factors that will cause these numbers to rise significantly in 2022, including the conflict in Ukraine and further displacement in Burkina Faso and Myanmar. They note that, since the end of 2021, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide has crossed 100 million, meaning that now 1 in 78 people worldwide is forcibly displaced. They also note that many people in the coming years will be displaced by climate change, though they caution that these numbers are difficult to predict, given the extremely complex relationship between climate change and human movement.
People Displaced across Borders
In 2021, the number of people displaced across borders – referring to refugees, people in refugee-like situations, and Venezuelans displaced abroad – rose to 25.7 million. Of these, 69% originate from five countries: the Syrian Arab Republic is the country of origin for the largest group, with 6.8 million people from Syria forcibly displaced; this is followed by Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar.
UNHCR notes that low- and middle-income countries host 83% of people forcibly displaced across borders. (Ireland and many other European countries are classified as high-income.) Türkiye – classified as an upper-middle-income country – hosts the single largest population globally, accounting for more than 3.7 million people displaced across borders. According to the UNHCR Refugee Data Finder, Ireland hosted 9,571 refugees at the end of 2021. (There were no Venezuelans displaced abroad reported in Ireland.)
Internally Displaced People
At 51.3 million people, internally displaced people – that is, people forcibly displaced within the borders of their country of origin – account for about 60% of the global displaced population.
UNHCR reports that more than 75% of all new internal displacements in 2021 occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the largest population by far coming from the East and Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region (more than 4 million new internal displacements in 2021). The largest populations of internally displaced people were found in Syria, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan. 6.9 million people are internally displaced in Syria (slightly greater than the 6.8 million people from Syria displaced abroad), meaning that at the end of 2021 more than 1 in 3 people remaining in Syria were internally displaced.
UNHCR reports 1.7 million registered asylum applications in 155 countries in 2021. They note that this is still below pre-pandemic levels (2.2 million in 2019 and 2.1 million 2018), though greater than the number registered in 2020. The United States received the most applications in 2021, at 188,900 (slightly more than 10% of the global total). Germany received the second-highest number of applications, at 148,200. Statistics from the International Protection Office show that Ireland received 2,649 asylum applications in 2021.
The five countries of origin accounting for the largest numbers of asylum applicants globally in 2021 were (in descending order) Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Syria, Venezuela, and Haiti. Comparatively, in 2021 in Ireland the five most common countries of origin among asylum applicants were (in descending order) Nigeria, Georgia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Zimbabwe.
UNHCR includes an important note regarding the figures in the Global Trends Report: “The figures in this report are based on data reported by governments, non-governmental organizations and UNHCR. Numbers are rounded to the closest hundred or thousand. As some adjustments may appear later in the year in the Refugee Data Finder, figures contained in this report should be considered as provisional and subject to change. Unless otherwise specified, the report does not refer to events occurring after 31 December 2021.”
For more information, see:
UNHCR Refugee Data Finder Methodology (includes explanations of the terminology used in the report)