Explainer: Forcibly displaced people surpass 100 million for the first time

June 3, 2022

Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, announced that the total number of people forcibly displaced has surpassed 100 million for the first time on record. This number includes those “forced to flee conflict violence, human rights violations and persecution” and includes refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people. These 100 million people represent 1% of the global population and would make up the 14th most populous nation in the world. 

The number of displaced people has risen dramatically in the last decade from 45.2 million in 2012 to a staggering 100 million today. This massive increase can be attributed to increased conflict in countries such as “Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo” as well as the war in Ukraine. Since the war in Ukraine began, more than 8 million people have been internally displaced, and 6 million have fled as refugees.

According to the European Commission, 87% of refugees are hosted in developing countries and face severe challenges in accessing shelter, food, and other basic necessities. They also face high rates of poverty, violence, abuse, and exploitation. Once displaced, it is often difficult for these people to find places of permanence, with displacements lasting “20 years on average for refugees and more than 10 years for most internally displaced people (IDPs).”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Flippo Grandi, said of this milestone that “This must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution, and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes.” He continued stating, “To reverse this trend, the only answer is peace and stability so that innocent people are not forced to gamble between acute danger at home or precarious flight and exile.”

How can the U.S. respond? 

The response to a humanitarian crisis as massive and complex as this requires a nuanced and multifaceted political response from the United States and global community. 

A key component of our nation’s response is the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). A refugee is defined as someone who “has experienced past persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” and currently resides outside of the United States. These individuals must register with UNHCR and go through extensive vetting and security checks before being considered for resettlement in the United States. 

Unfortunately, in recent years, the USRAP has been devastated, along with the network of nonprofits and service providers that support resettlement. The U.S. has largely abdicated its role as a refuge to the vulnerable at this time of historic levels of refugees and internationally displaced people worldwide, admitting just 11,411 refugees in the last fiscal year. The ERLC is deeply engaged in advocating for the rebuilding of this safe and legal program to restore our country’s legacy as a beacon of hope to those fleeing persecution.

Another avenue for displaced people to seek refuge in the United States is through seeking asylum. Asylees are similar in definition to refugees but must be physically present in the United States to apply. Because of the severe backlogs in the USRAP program, some displaced people choose to physically present themself at the United States’ borders. However, because of Title 42, the public health order that requires immediate expulsion of most immigrants arriving to the U.S.-Mexico border, very few individuals are able to cross into the United States and request asylum, despite their legal right to do so. The ERLC is advocating for protections for these asylum seekers and policies that safely, fairly, and compassionately allow them due process and protection from harm.

A third component of our response to this humanitarian crisis must be addressing the root issues that are forcibly displacing these people. The ERLC has long advocated for addressing these “root causes” of migration—poverty, violence, and corruption—in Central America and around the world. Additionally, the ERLC has extensively worked to support religious freedom and human rights for all of our neighbors around the world. 

In the face of this crisis, we as Christians cannot look away. While there can be good-faith disagreements on immigration policy, international aid, and foreign policy, the Bible demands that we see the dignity of these displaced individuals made in God’s image and care for their well-being in the midst of their immense personal tragedies. Indifference is not an option afforded to believers. We must commit to fervent prayer on behalf of those who are displaced and seek out ways to serve and welcome them into our communities.

Hannah Daniel

Hannah Daniel serves as Policy Manager in the Washington, D.C. office. She graduated with a degree in Economics from Union University in 2020. She lives in Washington, D.C., and is a member of King’s Church. Read More by this Author