On World Refugee Day, visualising the flow of 35 million refugees

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Visualising the global flow of 35 million refugees.

By the end of 2022, the number of refugees globally stood at 35.3 million, an increase of more than eight million from the year before, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

More than half (52 percent) of all refugees came from just three countries: Syria (6.5 million), Ukraine (5.7 million) and Afghanistan (5.7 million).

Under international law, refugees are people who are forced to flee their home countries to escape persecution or a serious threat to their life, physical integrity or freedom.

To raise awareness about the situation of refugees worldwide, the UN designated June 20 each year as World Refugee Day.

Visualising 70 years of refugee journeys

In 1951, the UN established the Refugee Convention to protect the rights of refugees in Europe in the aftermath of World War II. In 1967, the convention was expanded to address displacement across the rest of the world.

The number of refugees has more than doubled over the past decade from 15 million in 2011.

The infographic below highlights more than 70 years of refugee journeys by country of origin from 1951 to 2022.

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When the Refugee Convention was born, there were 2.1 million refugees. The plight of Palestinians has been the longest ongoing displacement. From 1947 to 1949, at least 750,000 Palestinians were expelled by Zionist forces, an event Palestinians call the Nakba, which means “catastrophe”.

“When I was young, I was one of the people who ran to the site of the Nakba, and the site was chilling,” Khalil Sarsour, a Palestinian refugee, told Al Jazeera.

“Perhaps I will return to Jaffa or to our homes in Lydd, perhaps my grandchildren or my children, but we will definitely return, but when and how, only God knows that.”

By 1980, the number of refugees recorded by the UN surpassed 10 million for the first time. Wars in Afghanistan and Ethiopia during the 1980s caused the number of refugees to double to 20 million by 1990.

The number of refugees remained fairly consistent over the next two decades.

However, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, together with the civil wars in South Sudan and Syria, resulted in refugee numbers exceeding 30 million by the end of 2021.

One-third of Ukrainians displaced

The war in Ukraine, led to the fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II with 5.7 million people forced to flee Ukraine in less than a year. It took Syria four years to reach the same level of displacement.

An additional six million are internally displaced within Ukraine.

Kateryna Miakutikova, 34, from Kyiv fled to Poland days after the war began. She now lives in west London, where she regularly visits the Ukrainian Social Club with her two children.

One year on: Ukraine’s refugees reflect on their journeys to safety
Kateryna fled Ukraine in March 2022. She holds a piece of a Russian missile her daughter picked up in Ukraine [Giorgia Tobiolo/Al Jazeera]

“You go because you need to go somewhere. In Lviv, I heard my first siren, and I didn’t know what to do.”

BY KATERYNA MIAKUTIKOVA, 34

One year on from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Al Jazeera spoke to five Ukrainians who fled the war. You can read their stories and what they took with them when they escaped here.

Where do refugees settle?

Turkey currently hosts the largest refugee population in the world with nearly 3.6 million individuals seeking shelter there. Iran hosts the second highest number of refugees at 3.4 million, followed by Jordan with three million.

Of the total number of refugees and people in need of international protection, 76 percent are taken in by low- and middle-income states and 70 percent are hosted by neighbouring countries.

“The prevailing rhetoric is still that all the refugees go to the rich countries. This is actually wrong. It’s quite the opposite,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.

According to the UN, relative to their national populations, the island of Aruba (1 in 6) and Lebanon (1 in 7) hosted the largest number of refugees and other people in need of international protection, followed by Curaçao (1 in 14), Jordan (1 in 16) and Montenegro (1 in 19).

When taking into account the registration of 487,300 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and 2.4 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan with UNRWA, the ratios in Lebanon and Jordan rise to one out of every four individuals.

Impact of Turkey-Syria quakes on refugees

In February, Turkey and Syria suffered two devastating earthquakes leading to the further internal displacement of refugees who had fled Syria and neighbouring countries.

According to government estimates, more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees lived in the 10 southern Turkish provinces devastated by the earthquakes.

Ahmad al-Rifai, 21, says the current situation reminds him of the evacuation days in his hometown of Aleppo in 2016, when thousands of people inundated the streets leaving en masse
Ahmad al-Rifai, 21, says the situation after the earthquakes reminds him of the evacuation of his hometown of Aleppo in 2016 when thousands of people inundated the streets as they left en masse during the siege of the city and its eventual capture by government forces [Abdulsalam Jarroud/Al Jazeera]

“We thought that living on the other side of the border would bring us to safety, but we found ourselves reliving past traumas.”

BY AHMAD AL-RIFAI, 21, FROM ALEPPO

After the quakes, Al Jazeera visited northwest Syria to tell the stories of those people hit hardest.

The infographic below highlights more than 70 years of refugee journeys by country of asylum, from 1951 to 2022.

INTERACTIVE Stream Graph Asylum -1-1687177027TESTTEST

More than 110 million displaced

In addition to the 35 million refugees, nearly 75 million others have also been forced to flee their homes, including:

  • 62.5 million internally displaced people
  • 5.4 million asylum seekers
  • 5.2 million in need of international protection

The total number of forcibly displaced people worldwide has since risen to at least 110 million, mostly due to Sudan’s eight-week-old conflict.

To put that in context, if forcibly displaced people formed a country, it would be the 14th most populated in the world.

INTERACTIVE refugees 110 million forcefully displaced people 2023-1686720905
(Al Jazeera)
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

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