Global Mobility Trends: Forced Migration

In attempting to communicate the scale and severity of the global forced displacement crisis, numbers and statistics are the most obvious place to begin. We know that, worldwide, there are currently more than 68.5 million people who have been forcibly displaced by war and internal conflict — slightly more than the population of the UK, and slightly less than the population of Thailand.

According to a report released by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 40 million of those people are internally displaced, while 28.5 million of them have fled their countries. Half of those 28.5 million people are children. Excluding those defined as long-term Palestinian refugees, over two-thirds come from five countries in the world: Somalia, Myanmar, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria. 85% of all forcibly displaced people are being hosted in developing countries such as Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Uganda, and Turkey.

This last statistic is perhaps especially noteworthy, given the occasionally disproportionate attention paid to developed countries’ response to the forced displacement crisis. Every one of the figures surrounding this crisis has the capacity to stop us in our tracks, however: 727,000 Rohingya refugees driven from Myanmar into Bangladesh in 100 days; 2.8 million children displaced within Syria. Among other things, these figures show that we are living through a displacement crisis for which there is no precedent.

Because of conflict, persecution, or generalized violence, 31 people are forced to leave their homes every minute of every day. It is critical to take note of these sobering figures, but it is equally critical to bear in mind that numbers and statistics can only ever provide a partial insight into what forcibly displaced people face, and into what they overcome.

Because of conflict, persecution, or generalized violence, 31 people are forced to leave their homes every single minute of every single day.

For instance, none of these figures tell us what it is like to come to the painful conclusion that you have run out of options, and that there is nothing left to do but leave your home, your town, or even your country. They tell us nothing about what it is like to spend your entire adult life in a camp and to see your imaginative horizons diminishing. They give us no real understanding of what it feels like to leave a country of first asylum, where merely surviving is difficult, and embark on a second migration, a journey that will leave home even further behind.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they tell us nothing about hope. Not the illusory hope offered by empty bromides about the resilience of the human spirit, but the real hope created by meaningful international partnerships, innovation, and constant adaptation. Since 2016, the UN has been appealing to governments, the private sector, and civil society to join hands in a global effort to develop a coordinated approach to migration. On 10 December 2018, the Global Compact for Migration — the first international agreement on the movement of people — was finally signed by 164 nations.

The private sector plays an increasingly prominent role in offering creative solutions to the refugee crisis. In 2015, for instance, entrepreneur Hamdi Ulukaya spearheaded a collaboration among 100 international brands in offering employment to over 200,000 refugees. Technology, too, is playing an instrumental role. From the employment of refugees within the digital industry, to training programs in coding schools, to the stunning efforts to digitize personal documentation through blockchain applications, we are witnessing remarkable examples of how humanitarian efforts are changing to meet the complex demands of the 21st century. As long as we are willing to do what we can to expand our understanding, there is always hope.

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