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June 2017

What’s in a number? Unpacking the 65 million-forced displacement crisis

Xavier Devictor's picture
(c) Dorte Verner
Regia, from Somalia, greets her friends and customers in her shop on the main street in the Nakivale refugee settlement, South West Uganda © Dorte Verner


Today on World Refugee Day, we hear once again that the number of people forcibly displaced due to conflict and persecution has increased to 65.6 million by the end of 2016, according to UNHCR’s latest Global Trends report.

These numbers have served to galvanize attention to the severity of this crisis, providing momentum for the global community to take action. At the same time, these numbers have caused anxieties among many hosts, especially in OECD countries. Taking center stage in the political debate, it has raised questions over their ability to support all of those fleeing conflict, at times leading to fear and rising anti-refugee sentiments.

Have we really entered a “new world” where population movements are on a scale never experienced before, calling for extraordinary measures to stop the flow? To answer this question, it’s worth taking a closer look at the numbers.

“Papers please?”: The importance of refugees and other forcibly-displaced persons being able to prove identity

Bronwen Manby's picture
A refugee filling an application at the UNHCR registration center in Tripoli, Lebanon. © Mohamed Azakir / World Bank


If you were forced to run for your life, amidst falling bombs or as a hurricane approaches, what would you grab after your children and loved ones? You would be well advised to make your identity documents one of the first things to pack. Birth certificates, national ID cards, passports, residence permits, even a driver’s license—documents like these will be necessary to prove who you are to the authorities in the country to which you flee, and the authorities in your home country when it is safe to return.