Global Refugees today: 28 million, a tiny fraction permanently resettled

The world promulgated the Convention on refugees in 1951 (in the wake of WW 2) and a Protocol in 1967. These have been the framework ever since. The UN summarizes these agreements “the key legal documents that ….define the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of refugees, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them. The core principle is that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom….This is now considered a rule of customary international law. States are expected to cooperate with us in ensuring that the rights of refugees are respected and protected.”

The agreements do not prescribe the refugee intake process of countries. Thus, the Trump Administration could cut by over 75% the number of refugees admitted (from a prevailing level of about 100,000) without being in technical violation of the agreements.

The UN promulgated a Global Compact in 2018. Summarized by the Migration Policy Institute, the compact has four main objectives—to ease pressure on host (typically emerging) countries, enhance refugees’ self-reliance, expand access to permanent resettlement elsewhere, and support conditions allowing refugees to safely return to their countries of origin.

The global population of refugees grew by 3.5 million between 2016 and 2021, and most had the right to work and freedom of movement in their host countries. But the vast majority of refugees were still being hosted in developing countries, and most refugees lived in poverty even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The total number of displaced persons doubled from the 2000s to 82 million in 2020. Most of them are internally displaced. There now about 28 million outside their country of origin. As I noted here, about 8 million of them are associated with American military interventions.

In 2020, the top countries of residence for refugees and asylum seekers were Turkey (with 3.9 million), Jordan (3 million), Palestine (2.3 million), Colombia (1.8 million), and Germany (1.5 million). These are not permanently resettled figures. The number of permanently resettled persons 2015 – 2020 was only about 400,000, of which the United States was responsible for half. Permanent resettlement can take very long. One milestone is the full entrance of the refugee into the workforce. I’ve been told that it takes seven years for refugees in Sweden to gain full work rights.

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