A mother feeding her child in a refugee camp

The Global Refugee Crisis: What You Need To Know

What is a refugee?

In its traditional definition, a refugee refers to a person who has been forced to flee their home country and sought safety beyond its borders.

At Action Against Hunger, our programs focus on an even broader definition of displaced people, including refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons (individuals who flee their homes but seek to settle elsewhere within their home country) and stateless people.1

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Why are people displaced from their homes?

Individuals and families seek asylum and safe refuge because they have fled violence, persecution, war, or natural disaster.2 Some refugees have contended with more than one of these factors at once.

Manmade and natural disasters alike can make life extremely unsafe for whole families and communities. Their lives may be at risk, jobs and incomes can be destroyed, food can become scarce or prohibitively expensive, and access to education may be cut off for children. Seeking safety and a more secure life, people become refugees. Many find shelter in large settlements, often called refugee camps, run by the United Nations and humanitarian aid groups.

Refugees and internally displaced people also fall under the umbrella of migrants. Migration is a term that covers a wide variety of movements and situations involving individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life.

As globalization increases, so too does migration—and many instances of migration occur in positive circumstances. However, the IOM—the UN’s Migration Agency—acknowledges that recent years have seen increased migration and displacement due to conflict, persecution, environmental degradation and change, and deficits in human security and opportunity.3

Help Refugees Recover From Crisis

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Key facts about the global refugee crisis

In 2018, the number of people of concern to UNHCR, the UN’s Refugee Agency—refugees, returnees, stateless persons, and internally displaced people—rose 3.5% over the year before, up to 70.8 million people.4

More than half of the world’s refugees came from three countries: Syria (5.5 million), Afghanistan (2.5 million), and South Sudan (2.3 million).5 And most refugees—84% of the ones under UNHCR’s mandate—remain in low- and middle-income countries, close to conflict.6

There were approximately 5.2 million new internal displacements associated with conflict and violence in the first half of 2018, based on data analyzed from the 10 worst-affected countries. There were also about 3.3 million associated with disasters in 110 countries and territories. Sub-Saharan Africa was disproportionately affected by displacement associated with conflict and violence; the region accounts for six of the 10 countries with the highest figures.7

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Spotlight: Our Work with Refugees

An open door in Uganda: More than 1.2 million refugees presently call Uganda home—and an estimated one million of them came to the country just within the past 18 months. Uganda is now the eighth largest refugee-hosting nation in the world, according to the UN. The Ugandan government’s approach to refugee policy is progressive and open-door—it welcomes refugees, provides them with small land plots, helps them become integrated within their new communities, and allows them to start businesses and earn incomes. In Uganda, our programs reached 474,505 people across the country in 2018, most of whom are refugees. Our goal is to help refugees there to rebuild their lives and overcome hunger.

Aiding displaced Syrians: The crisis in Syria has turned 5.6 million of the country’s citizens into refugees. An additional 6.6 million have been forcibly displaced within Syria. In 2017, Action Against Hunger provided aid to more than 3 million people in Syria—and to an additional 299,575 Syrian refugees in Lebanon and 52,805 in Jordan.

How Action Against Hunger assists refugees

Action Against Hunger works with refugees and displaced people—along with the communities hosting them. We are on the front lines of the world’s most serious refugee crises. These include the Syrian crisis, the Rohingya emergency in Bangladesh, and the crisis in South Sudan causing large refugee populations to flee into Uganda and Ethiopia. We are also assisting vulnerable South Sudanese displaced within their home country. Among the other locations where we work with displaced citizens are Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, northeast Nigeria, and Somalia.8

In these locations and more, we:

  • Administer lifesaving treatment to children suffering from malnutrition
  • Provide better access to clean, safe water and to sanitation
  • Increase access to food and income
  • Work with refugees who have experienced trauma to provide counseling and support services

Action Against Hunger is proud to partner with refugees. Refugees are parents and grandparents who risk their lives to protect their children from violence and ensure they are fed. Refugees and displaced people teach us about dignity. They show us the best of humanity. They are innovators, entrepreneurs, leaders, dreamers, friends. They inspire us, each and every day.

For Action. Against Hunger.

Support refugees with clean water, food, and health care.


[1] and [2] UNHCR Website – About: https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/about-us.html

[3] IOM World Migration Report 2018, Chapter 1 Report Overview: https://www.iom.int/wmr/chapter-1

[4] UNHCR Global Report 2017, page 5

[5] UNHCR Global Appeal 2018-2019, page 3

[6] UNHCR Global Report 2017, page 5

[7] Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, Mid-Year Figures (published September 2018), page 1

[8] Action Against Hunger – World Refugee Day 2018: https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/story/world-refugee-day-2018-number-forcibly-displaced-people-reaches-record-high​