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Afghanistan

How many years do refugees stay in exile?

Xavier Devictor's picture
"The average length of time that refugees spend in camps is 17 years." This cruel statistic has been quoted many times, influencing our perception of refugee crises as never-ending events which are spinning out of control. It has significant implications when deciding the type of aid that is needed, the combination of humanitarian and development support, and the possible responses to the crisis.

But is it true? Not so.

In fact, the "17 year" statistic comes from a 2004 internal UNHCR report, and it was accompanied by many caveats which have been lost along the way. The statistic does not refer to camps, since the overwhelming majority of refugees live outside camps. It is limited to situations of five years or more, so it is an average duration of the longest situations, not of all situations. Most importantly, it refers to the duration of situations, not to the time people have stayed in exile.

Take the situation of Somali refugees in Kenya. Refugees started to arrive massively around 1993, about 23 years ago. Their number now stands at 418,000. But can we say that all 418,000 have been in exile for 23 years?

In fact, forced displacement situations are inherently dynamic. As we see in Figure 1, numbers vary every year: they reflect political and military developments in the country of origin. In fact, a large part of the current total could not have arrived before 2008, i.e. about 6 or 7 years ago.
 
 

Figure 1 Number of Somali refugees in Kenya (UNHCR data)

Along these lines, and using data published by UNHCR as of end-2015, we re-calculated the earliest date at which various cohorts of refugees could have arrived in each situation (see working paper). We then aggregated all situations into a single "global refugee population" and calculated global averages and median durations.

So what are the results?

When we look at the "global refugee population" (See Figure 2), we can now distinguish several distinct episodes of displacement.
 


Figure 2 Number of refugees by year of exile

There is a large cohort of about 8.9 million "recent refugees," who arrived over the last four years. This includes about 4.8 million Syrians, as well as people fleeing from South Sudan (0.7 million), Afghanistan (0.3 million), Ukraine (0.3 million), the Central African Republic (0.3 million), and Pakistan (0.2 million).

Another large cohort, of about 2.2 million, has spent between 5 and 9 years in exile. It includes refugees from Afghanistan (0.5 million), the bulk of the current Somali refugees (0.4 million), and people fleeing from Colombia (0.3 million) and Myanmar (0.2 million).

About 2 million people have been in exile between 10 and 34 years. This includes years during which numbers are relatively low, and two episodes where they are higher, around 14 years ago, with the arrival of about 0.2 million Sudanese refugees, and around 24 and 25 years ago, with the arrival of about 0.1 million Somalis and 0.1 million Eritreans.

Lastly, a large group of refugees has been in exile for 35 to 37 years: these 2.2 million refugees include mainly Afghans, but also about 0.3 million ethnic Chinese who fled into China during the 1979 war with Vietnam. Finally, there are few very protracted situations, up to 55 years, including mainly Western Sahara.

We can now turn to average durations. As of end-2015, the median duration of exile stands at 4 years, i.e. half of the refugees worldwide have spent 4 years or less in exile. The median has fluctuated widely since the end of the Cold War, in 1991, between 4 and 14 years, and it is now at a historical low. By contrast, the mean duration stands at 10.3 years, and has been relatively stable since the late 1990s, between 10 and 15 years.

But this leads to another important finding: trends can be counter-intuitive. In fact, a decline in the average duration of exile is typically not an improvement, but rather the consequence of a degradation of the global situation. The averages increase in years when there are relatively few new refugees, and they drop when large numbers of people flow in, for example in 1993-1994 (with conflicts in Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda), in 1997-1999 (with conflicts in DRC and other parts of Africa), after 2003 (with conflict in Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan), and since 2013 (with the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic).

We also looked at the number of people who have spent more than five years in exile. As of end-2015, this number stands at 6.6 million, and it has been remarkably stable since 1991, at 5 to 7 million throughout most of the period.  For this group, however, the average duration of exile increases over time – largely because of the unresolved situation of Afghan refugees which pushes averages up. It is now well over 20 years.

This short analysis of UNHCR data shows that available refugee data can be used to clarify some important parts of the policy debate. It is important to ensure that this debate is informed by evidence, which can help provide a more nuanced perspective of a complex issue.

How much of China’s apparel production can South Asia capture?

Raymond Robertson's picture
Clothing Manufacturing
Apparel manufactuaring has the potential to provide much needed jobs to women in South Asia
Photo by: Arne Hoel/World Bank

China now dominates the global apparel market – accounting for 41% of the market, compared with 12% for South Asia. But as wages in China continue to rise, its apparel production is expected to shift toward other developing countries, especially in Asia. How much of China’s apparel production can South Asia capture and therefore how much employment could be created? This is important because apparel is a labor intensive industry that historically employs relatively large numbers of female workers. 
 
In our new report, Stiches to Riches?, we estimate that South Asia could create at least 1.5 million jobs, of which half a million would be for women. Moreover, that is a conservative estimate, given that we are assuming no changes in policies to foster growth in apparel and address existing impediments.

Afghan teen rapper sings and advocates to end child marriage

Bassam Sebti's picture


At first she looks like any bride: wearing a white wedding dress with her face covered with the wedding veil and carrying a bridal bouquet. Except that she is no ordinary bride. She is being sold.

As she removes her veil from her face, her forehead appears marked with a barcode. Her left eye is badly bruised and a big scratch on her cheek is as red as a war wound.

The girl in the music video “Brides for Sale” is portrayed by Sonita Alizadeh, an Afghan teen rapper who sings in the video about the ordeal many girls in Afghanistan go through when are sold by their families to marry at an early age in return of money.

But why is she singing about this issue?

Skiing in Afghanistan

BBC Media Action's picture

Afghanistan’s Bamyan province is best known for its ancient statues of Buddha, destroyed 15 years ago by the Taliban government. Today, its relative security and freezing winters are aiding the growth of a fledgling skiing industry. Mukhtar Yadgar explains how a radio station is helping local people discuss its potential for growth.

Ilyas Tahiri, a Radio Bamyan presenter, skiing.

A five minute drive from the site where the ancient Buddhas of Bamyan once stood, a radio mast sprouts from the ground. It belongs to Radio Bamyan, a local radio station in one of Afghanistan’s most mountainous regions. It’s summer now and wisps of brown dust rise up with the heat, yet in the winter months, Radio Bamyan’s roof is covered with snow.

Bamyan’s frosty winter weather, steep slopes and relative security have popularised skiing in the province. However, there are no ski-lifts, no chalets and certainly no après-ski. In the absence of sporting infrastructure, it was recently announced that two skiers from Bamyan will be representing Afghanistan at the 2018 Pyeongchang‎ Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Bamyan is also the venue for the annual Afghan Ski Challenge – which counts ‘no weapons allowed’ amongst its rules. Yet despite these successes suggesting a potential new ski-tourism destination, most of the local population, a relatively poor community, has had little opportunity to discuss what the growth of the skiing industry would mean for them.

Hope for the world’s poorest springs in Myanmar

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture

Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and minister of foreign affairs for Myanmar, addresses an IDA 18 replenishment meeting on June 21, 2016. © Aung San/World Bank

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor of Myanmar and Nobel Peace Prize winner, told representatives from governments rich and poor at a meeting this week in Myanmar that reducing poverty and ensuring that everyone benefits from economic growth calls for a deep focus on addressing the challenges of fragility and conflict, climate change, gender equality, job creation, and good governance.
 
Suu Kyi was speaking at the opening session of a meeting of the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest, where donors, borrower representatives and World Bank Group leadership are brainstorming ways to achieve these goals. She said that Myanmar’s real riches are its people, and they need to be nurtured in the right way.

Jobs: The fastest road out of poverty

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture

A worker at the E-Power plant in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

For the first time in history, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%. The world has never been as ambitious about development as it is today. After adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and signing the Paris climate deal at the end of 2015, the global community is now looking into the best and most effective ways of reaching these milestones. In this five-part series, I will discuss what the World Bank Group is doing and what we are planning to do in key areas that are critical for ending poverty by 2030:
 good governance, gender equality, conflict and fragility, preventing and adapting to climate change, and, finally, creating jobs.

Good jobs are the surest pathway out of poverty. Research shows that rising wages account for 30 to 50% of the drop in poverty over the last decade. But today, more than 200 million people worldwide are unemployed and looking for work — and many of them are young and/or female. A staggering 2 billion adults, mostly women, remain outside the workforce altogether. In addition, too many people are working in low-paying, low-skilled jobs that contribute little to economic growth. Therefore, to end poverty and promote shared prosperity, we will need not just more jobs, but better jobs that employ workers from all walks of society.


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