Over the past year, phrases like ‘refugee crisis’ and ‘forced migration’ have become political buzzwords — used during election campaigns to make a point, to sway voters, or to illustrate a wider worldview about who does and does not belong.
These statements rarely focus on the lives of the people affected, and instead hinge on what their existence means for the rest of the world. It is therefore more critical than ever that we look closely at the facts of the global displacement crisis and consider those affected: not as political buzzwords or threats, but as people with lives, dreams, talents, and hope.
At the end of 2018, according to the UNHCR, 70.8 million people around the world had been forced from their homes by conflict, persecution, violence, or human rights violations. Another way of putting this is that every two seconds, someone in the world is forcibly displaced.
Experts continue to warn that even these shockingly high numbers should be considered underestimates. In 2018, for instance, the official figure for unaccompanied or separated children seeking asylum was 138,600, but on-the-ground reports suggest that this figure is much higher. What is clear is that almost 60% of the world’s refugees come from three enduringly unstable countries, where the obstacles to returning home are dangerously high: Syria, South Sudan, and Afghanistan.
There are 41.3 million internally displaced people and, of that number, only 2.3 million have been able to return to their homes. The average stay in a refugee camp is now 17 years, and with less than 1% of refugee youth having access to higher education, it is justifiable to state the obvious: the world is losing an entire generation.
As alarming as these trends are, there have been several heartening developments as both the public and the private sector devise ever-more creative and holistic ways of meeting the growing scale and duration of the crisis. The Global Compact on Refugees, the historic agreement to forge a stronger response to large refugee movements and situations of prolonged displacement, has focused on fostering self-reliance in a way that eases pressure on both refugees and their host communities. Private sector engagement in humanitarian action has similarly indicated a profound shift in attitude, with a growing number of multi-nationals actively employing and training refugees. High HR retention and innovation improvements are among the most cited benefits.
Globally, treating refugees as ‘burdens’ or ‘objects of care’ is slowly giving way to an understanding that refugees have an extraordinary wealth of talent and a desire to rebuild their lives. In most cases they want to participate in and contribute to their host communities: to work, build networks, and establish independence. Giving them a chance to do so would reduce aid dependence, while simultaneously raising national productivity and GDP levels, economists argue.
It is undeniable that the global displacement crisis has reached proportions that would have seemed unimaginable a generation ago. The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is now greater than the population of Thailand; with intensifying geopolitical conflict and ‘forever wars’ now a fact of life, it is easy to become pessimistic. Global citizenship seems a long way off. However, developments of the past year have shown that, while some see threats emanating from refugees and forced migration, others are actively working to create meaningful, productive long-term solutions.
Henley & Partners actively supports the Andan Foundation, a Swiss non-profit dedicated to refugee self-reliance through private sector and technology driven interventions. Find out more at www.andan.org
UNHCR. 2018. Global Compact on Refugees. December 17.
UNHCR. 2019. The Global Report. June 20.
UNHCR. 2018. ‘States reach historic deal for refugees and commit to more effective, fairer response’. December 17.