The definition of a refugee was forged by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and then adopted by the United Nations General Assembly: A refugee is a person, who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” (Article 1, A, 2)

UNHCR, United Nations’ agency specialized in refugee assistance, describes the present situation with pressing words:

We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

Recent data shows that the average refugee displacement is 10 years, and that after a person has been a refugee for five years, the average duration of displacement is 21 years.

Photo Credit: Simon Rawles OXFAM

Global hosting of displaced people



As the above figure presents, not a single European country is placed on the UNHCR list of top hosting countries for refugees. A relevant 17% of the displaced are hosted in Europe, comparing to 30% hosted in Africa and 26% hosted in the Middle East and North Africa. As previously mentioned, we are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.

UNHCR is the biggest global agency that takes care of refugees and implements global policies towards them. It is, in fact, symbolic that the current Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr António Guterres, formerly hosted a post of UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees for ten years before becoming Secretary General in 2015. According to UNHCR (Global Trends, 2017), migration is “concentrated in the poorer parts of the world. Europe, accounting for more than 20% of global income, has 11% of the world’s refugees. The United States, with 25% of global income, has 1% of the world’s refugees”. 

David Miliband former Head of British Foreign Office and now director of the International Rescue Committee describes it in this manner:

The ‘refugee crisis’ has the following components: record numbers of people are fleeing violence; they are displaced for longer than ever before, they are concentrated in a small number of countries outside the wealthy parts of the world; and they make up a growing proportion of the world’s poor. There is one additional factor: climate change is not just a looming danger; it is part of today’s equation.

Critical numbers call for a critical response from world leaders. As for October 2018, the UN is working on the document called ‘Global Compact’, which “will be the first, intergovernmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner.” The UN started to work on the document in 2016 and is aiming to accept the document – not as a resolution but as a document for further proceedings and negotiations by member states in Marrakesh/Morocco, in December 2018.

Venezuela — Colombia border

Photo Credit: George Castellanos