It’s not just Syria: Refugee crisis is 60 million and growing

October 1, 2015

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The UNHCR released their latest report on global displacement on June 20, 2016. There are now 65.3 million refugees or displaced people worldwide, a nearly 10 percent increase over the past year.

Right now, there are nearly 65.3 million refugees or displaced people worldwide, according to the latest UNHCR report. If all of the world’s refugees were the population of a country, it would be the 24th largest in the world, just after Italy.

Half of the world’s refugees are children, growing up far from home without consistent education, safety or emotional support.

Where do these displaced people live? Where do the go? We know that a huge proportion of the world’s refugees are fleeing war-torn Syria, but other people around the world are forced from their homes every day for a variety of reasons — violence, natural disaster or economic collapse.

Below, get the facts about the some of the world’s refugees, and learn what we’re doing to help them.


Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

The facts: 11 million people — half the country’s pre-war population — have either died or fled their homes.

The war in Syria has been raging for more than four years, and there is no end in sight. Since it began in 2011, more than 11 million people — half the country’s pre-war population — have either died or been forced from their homes. Some remain trapped inside the country, while others have fled to neighboring countries in search of safety.

Inside Syria, the needs are severe. Safety is a constant concern, as the violence continues to spread, and other basics — food, water, safe shelter — are often out of reach entirely.

Mercy Corps’ role: Our work in the region is currently helping nearly 4 million people meet those basic needs.

Inside Syria alone, we are delivering humanitarian aid to roughly 500,000 people every month. We also work with adolescents at youth centers to provide emotional support and help them cope with the trauma they’ve experienced. Read our report from inside Syria ▸

“The sheer number of people in need is staggering, their needs grow ever greater and more desperate by the day, and there is still no end in sight,” said Michael Bowers, Mercy Corps’ vice president for humanitarian leadership and response.


Photo: Sumaya Agha for Mercy Corps

The facts: Home to 600,000+ Syrian refugees.

Neighboring Syria to the south, Jordan is host to more than 600,000 Syrian refugees. The arid nation is already the second-most water-poor in the world, and the huge influx of refugees continues to strain resources.

Jordan offers safety for many Syrian refugees, and it’s home to the sprawling Zaatari refugee camp. Roughly 80,000 people live at the camp — making it the country’s fourth-largest city. But many refugees feel trapped in camps like Zaatari, so they seek shelter in Jordan’s towns and villages.

There, they have more freedom, but tensions are common between refugees and their Jordanian neighbors. And because working is illegal for Syrian refugees in Jordan, paying any rent at all can be impossible.

Mercy Corps’ role: In Jordan, our work provides emergency relief for both Syrian families living in camps and those living in host communities.

“Everything is hard. I spend most of my day standing in line and going to get water,” said 18-year-old Rodayna, a refugee living at Zaatari camp. “I miss my own bedroom and a bathroom. I just hope to go back home and get married and raise a family in Syria.”

In Zaatari camp, we have 13 places designated specifically for youth living in the camp so they can play, learn and express themselves. In communities, we are helping Syrians and Jordanians learn how to work together and resolve tension through conflict management training.

We are also working with the government to bring clean water to 500,000 people in the area. Read: What you need to know about water scarcity in Jordan ▸


Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

The facts: Home to 1.1 million Syrian refugees.

Lebanon, a tiny country just west of Syria, has taken in a staggering number of refugees for its small borders — it’s smaller than the U.S. state of Connecticut. With more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees, one in every five people in Lebanon is a now a refugee.

There are no official camps in Lebanon, so refugees are scattered throughout the country, often living in makeshift tent camps that they’ve built themselves. Because the country is so crowded, others find shelter in unexpected places, like abandoned buildings or even cowsheds. One family's story of life in crowded Lebanon ▸

Refugees in Lebanon aren’t allowed to work, so it’s difficult for many families to meet their basic needs for food, water and shelter.

Mercy Corps’ role: Our work in Lebanon focuses on helping the most vulnerable refugees meet those needs.

“I didn’t know how to live in a tent,” said Mariam, a Syrian refugee now living in Lebanon. “I used to live in a nice house. But we came here because we didn’t have any choice.”

We distribute food and basic hygiene kits to families in need, and are currently increasing access to clean water for approximately 95,000 people — both Syrians and Lebanese.

For Syrian refugees who are living in abandoned buildings and makeshift shelters, we help make their new homes more comfortable — repairing any damage and adding heaters, sinks, and new doors.


Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

The facts: 3.1 million Iraqis displaced. Also home to nearly 250,000 Syrian refugees.

As violent conflict continues within Iraq, the country is host to nearly 250,000 Syrian refugees who’ve fled their home country. Those refugees join the 3.1 million Iraqis who’ve been displaced by conflict since 2003.

Most of the refugees in Iraq live outside of camps, sheltering with relatives or in urban host communities. The tumultuous situation in Iraq makes life even more complicated for both Syrians and Iraqis, many of whom have been forced to move several times to escape the spreading violence and the threat of groups like ISIS.

While Syrian refugees in Iraq may have escaped the war at home, Iraq offers less in the way of safety than it once did.

Mercy Corps’ role: We’ve been working in Iraq since 2003, and our current programs support the needs of both Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis.

So far, we’ve reached 230,000 people in Iraq with emergency food, household supplies, and cash transfers that help them survive and take care of their families.

“Now that Syrians in Iraq have been displaced for over a year, they have set up households, but a one-size-fits all approach is not suitable,” explained Elizabeth Hallinan, a Mercy Corps program manager in Iraq. “We believe strongly that cash provides a flexible, dignified alternative to [other] distributions.”


Photo: Courtesy of Ariel Rubin/UNDP

The facts: Home to nearly 2 million Syrian refugees.

An increasing number of Syrian refugees have been fleeing north to Turkey to escape violence. The country now hosts nearly 2 million Syrians, more than any other country. From 2013 to 2015, approximately 900,000 new refugees fled from Syria to Turkey.

An estimated 80 percent of these refugees live outside of camps, mostly in urban areas. The massive influx of new people has caused a serious strain on the country’s resources, and the language barrier between Syrian refugees and Turkish citizens exacerbates tensions between the two populations.

Mercy Corps’ role: More than 1 million refugees in Turkey are youth, so we are providing Turkish, Arabic, and English language classes to young people — giving them the confidence and skills they need to make friends with other refugees and Turkish young people.

We are also reaching thousands of refugee families with cash transfers that help them meet their basic needs of food, water and shelter.


Photo: Karine Aigner for Mercy Corps

The facts: 300,000 refugees, from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries, have landed here on the way to northern Europe in the past year.

As Syria’s neighboring countries become more overwhelmed and strapped for resources, many Syrian refugees see promising opportunities in Europe.

With no end to the war in sight, refugees must build new lives elsewhere. And building a sustainable future for your family is all but impossible in a refugee camp or living in a country where you aren’t allowed to work.

So many refugees are packing up what they can and crossing the Mediterranean in small boats from Turkey to Greece, with hopes of making it to countries in northern Europe. In the past year, 300,000 people have made the journey, and many of those are Syrian refugees.

They arrive in Greece exhausted, hungry and with few supplies to get them through the rest of their long journey.

Mercy Corps' role: We recently sent a team to the Greek island of Lesbos to help new arrivals get the food, water and information they need.

“You have a country, Syria, that is basically disappearing,” said Javier Alvarez, senior team leader for the response. “For a lot of the people making the journey to Europe, it’s a lifesaving trip.” Refugee crisis: What's happening on the ground in Greece ▸

DR Congo

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

The facts: 5 million people killed, 4 million displaced within the country.

A brutal war from 1998 to 2003 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) killed more than five million people and continued fighting has displaced four million others. Despite its rich resources, more than 70 percent of the population of DRC lives below the poverty line.

The city of Goma, which sits at the base of a volcano, has quadrupled its population due to the constant influx of people seeking safety from violence in other parts of the country.

Even there, more than 40 different armed groups roam the countryside. Displacement camps surround the already-crowded city, and even the most basic resource — clean water — is hard to find.

A huge eruption of the volcano in 2002 nearly destroyed the city and much of its aging infrastructure. So now, the normal journey to get water includes an hours-long walk to the nearby lake. But the water isn’t clean, and the women and children who do this backbreaking work are at risk of attack.

Mercy Corps' role: We’ve worked over the last five years to rebuild Goma’s water infrastructure, bringing clean and safe water to more than 400,000 people.

“I was able to carry only one jerry can. It was impossible to go to the lake twice a day as I was already worn out,” said 22-year-old Kavira about how she used to get water. “With the only one jerry can, each child here could be washed with only a cup of water.”

There are now dozens of tap stands throughout Goma, cutting the walk for most residents, including Kavira, to just a few minutes.

Over the next few years, the new water system will be expanded to serve 1.5 million people in Goma, ensuring they have the water they need to keep their families healthy.


Photo: Tamer Hamam for Mercy Corps

The facts: At least 100,000 people displaced, 80 percent of population needs external assistance.

The Gaza Strip, home to 1.8 million people living in just 139 square miles, has been under a blockade since 2007. This has crippled the local economy and caused severe shortages of food, water, fuel and electricity. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of the population relies on external assistance just to survive.

Residents of Gaza have been displaced countless times because of violence. And in the tiny strip of land that is their home, there is nowhere to run. The most recent conflict, which lasted for 51 days in the summer of 2014, forced at least 100,000 people from their homes.

During the conflict, families sought shelter in United Nations schools and other buildings together, just hoping to survive. When families could finally go home, many of the buildings were completely or partially destroyed.

Mercy Corps’ role: During last year’s conflict, we provided food and emergency supplies to more than 220,000 people.

“We need to give children a protective environment...and find families homes to live in,” said Ismail, a father who was displaced from his home during the fighting.

Now that the fighting has subsided, we are helping families as they work to rebuild their homes and their lives.

Our work is also focused on helping people, particularly children, cope with the trauma they’ve experienced. We offer psychosocial support and help young people learn to express their feelings through art therapy workshops. See photos: Art therapy helps youth heal ▸

South Sudan

Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

The facts: 1.6 million people displaced, 755,000 have left the country.

The world’s youngest nation, South Sudan achieved long-awaited independence in 2011 — but what should have been cause for celebration quickly turned sour. Tensions between political and ethnic groups erupted into violence in that capital of Juba in December 2013.

Since then, the fighting has continued to spread, reaching even some of the most rural areas. Now, the young country is in the grips of a massive humanitarian crisis. More than 1.6 million people are displaced inside South Sudan, and another 755,000 have fled to neighboring countries.

Many people in South Sudan are subsistence farmers, growing just enough food for their families to eat. As the fighting moves from one area to the next, it interrupts the planting and harvesting seasons. In addition, families who have fled their homes no longer have land to farm. As a result, less and less food is being produced, putting 4.6 million people on the edge of starvation.

Six U.N. displacement camps house approximately 200,000 displaced people, and others who’ve fled violence have taken shelter in rural villages or sometimes even in the bush.

Mercy Corps’ role: While the situation in South Sudan remains precarious, we are working to meet the needs of displaced people in camps and those who have fled to rural areas of the country.

“Too many farmers have fled their land, too many traders are scared to bring food to the market, too many fields continue to be destroyed by stampeding troops,” said country director Mohammed Qazilbash. “At times, the urgent needs seem overwhelming, but a better humanitarian response is possible.”

In displacement camps, we are providing desperately-needed latrines, showers, hand-washing stations and clean water to help people stay healthy and prevent disease.

In rural villages, we are improving shelters, building classrooms for children, and helping families farm to improve their food supply and income. Quick facts: What you need to know about the South Sudan crisis ▸


Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

The facts: 1 million people displaced this year.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East — more than half of its population of 16 million people live in poverty. The country imports nearly all of its food and medical supplies, so healthcare and food security are a constant challenge.

Cycles of violence have led to waves of people being forced from their homes. The most recent wave came in March of this year, when violent clashes erupted in the capital of Sana’a and caused 1 million people to flee.

There is not enough food, water or fuel to go around, especially in the aftermath of violence. Families shelter together in crowded buildings, trying to survive and struggling to afford the high prices of food and other basics.

Mercy Corps’ role: Our work in the country focuses on providing food, water and hygiene supplies to vulnerable families in conflict zones.

“The majority of people, either rural or urban, lack even the most basic things. Water, food, medical supplies,” said a staff member from our Yemen team.

We are also supporting farmers, offering vocational training for young people, and working to improve local infrastructure.


Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

The facts: 2.8 million people displaced after April 2015 earthquake.

In Nepal, people are displaced not because of violence, but because of disaster. Last April’s powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake near Kathmandu killed thousands and destroyed more than 500,000 homes.

The earthquake and strong aftershocks disproportionately affected the country’s poorest citizens, who lived in mud and stone houses that crumbled when the earthquake hit. The families who once lived in those homes are now struggling to rebuild.

While Nepal does not have the added challenge of violent conflict, it is still one of the poorest countries in the world, making both physical and economic recovery more difficult.

Mercy Corps’ role: Our team in Nepal responded immediately after the earthquake to help people who needed emergency supplies and assistance. Since the disaster, we’ve reached more than 135,000 people with emergency supply kits, food, safe water, shelter supplies, and cash.

“They don’t have the money to buy materials to repair their broken homes, so they are trying to fix their homes with whatever they can salvage from the rubble,” said Projan, a shop-owner in Nepal.

That’s why cash assistance is crucial. Some families are saving up to build a new home, some need food, and others need temporary shelter supplies like tin roofing to keep their families safe and dry. With cash in-hand, they can decide how to prioritize their own needs for recovery. See photos: Recovery continues after quake ▸


Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

The facts: 1.1 million people displaced.

Somalia has suffered from both natural and manmade disasters in recent decades, forcing people to flee their homes to displacement camps inside the country or leave the country altogether.

More than two decades of conflict and civil strife have resulted in a population of long-term displaced people who must largely rely on humanitarian assistance to survive. The 2012 Horn of Africa drought and following hunger crisis worsened conditions and the country has yet to fully recover.

Inside Somalia, 1.1 million people are displaced, many residing in displacement camps surrounding Mogadishu. But during the height of Somalia’s civil war, many Somalis fled the violence and ended up in Kenya at the massive Dadaab refugee camp.

It was originally designed to house 90,000 refugees, but now Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world — with 330,000 residents. The refugees there are mostly Somalis, and some have been waiting years, or even decades, for a chance to return to their home country.

Mercy Corps’ role: In the displacement camps, we provide emergency food assistance to families in need and also ensure that they have access to clean water.

Violence has subsided in some areas of the country, giving refugees living in Kenya a chance to come home. To help those people, we run a way-station in Kismayo, which helps families on their journeys back home. At the way-station, they receive a hot meal, information, and an assistance package to help them re-establish a home in Somalia. Story: The long journey home ▸

Central African Republic

Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

The facts: 438,000 people displaced.

The Central African Republic has been trapped in a cycle of conflict for many years, but a violent coup in 2013 made conditions in the poor country even worse. Sectarian violence spread after the coup and, at the height of the crisis in 2014, more than 930,000 people were displaced within the country.

Now, there are approximately 438,000 displaced people in CAR, but the decrease in numbers does not change the harsh reality. Violent clashes are unpredictable, most people live on extremely little, and in such a dangerous environment, women and girls are at high risk of violent attack or rape.

Some displaced people have fled to neighboring countries, but most live in overcrowded and unsanitary displacement camps. People living there are in dire need of food, water and other basic services. During the rainy season, mud, stagnant water, and poor sanitation increase the risk of disease.

Mercy Corps’ role: Clean water is the key to survival, so we are providing safe water and building much-needed latrines, showers and water pumps for people displaced by conflict.

To support local communities and women who have suffered through violence, we operate several “listening centers” throughout CAR. There, people, particularly girls or women who’ve endured attacks or sexual abuse, can seek counseling, information and guidance.

“The presence of organizations like Mercy Corps is really important to communities, because we represent civility,” said Mercy Corps’ senior vice president of programs, Craig Redmond. “When there’s nothing they can rely on, we’re a stability that they otherwise don’t have.”

How you can help

Make a gift to support Mercy Corps' work in some of the world's toughest places. You'll help families survive conflict and disaster and give them the support they need to improve their lives. Donate today ▸