The Syrian Conflict: How a 10-year crisis is felt in 4 countries
March 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of the protracted and multifaceted Syrian conflict. But, a decade in, very little about the crisis is simple.
Read our 2021 annual report
In the past decade, the global refugee population has more than doubled, reaching more than 26 million refugees. A common misconception, however, is where refugees flee to.
In most cases, they aren’t able to make it to Europe or North America, and instead take shelter in neighbouring countries. Often these countries are also dealing with their own crises that displace large portions of their population. We’ll look at how that breaks down in this roundup of the 12 countries that take in the most refugees.
For this list, we’re focusing specifically on refugees and listing them by country of origin for this accounting. We’re also using the UNHCR’s data, recent as of the beginning of 2021.
By the UNHCR’s calculations, Chad is the twelfth-largest host community for refugees, with more than 478,600 refugees recorded in 2020 — a number that’s nearly doubled when you factor in other people of concern including internally-displaced Chadians. Around the remote and insecure Lake Chad Basin, which hosts many refugees, various armed groups remain active and violence is never too far away, making it only a marginally better alternative than the contexts that have uprooted neighbouring refugee populations.
The majority of refugees currently in Chad come from neighbouring Sudan, and are predominantly women and children. This vulnerability, combined with the living conditions in the camps of eastern Chad, means that security — especially against gender-based violence — is a major risk. The country is also the third-largest host community for refugees from the Central African Republic, which shares a southern border with Chad. Both countries are, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, among the worst-scoring countries on the FAO and Fund for Peace Fragile States Index — which has left both as two of the hungriest countries in the world. Hunger and nutrition become even greater concerns in informal refugee communities.
Many countries with the highest refugee populations are also countries that produce high numbers of refugees. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one such country. Its current crisis (which has displaced over 807,000 Congolese) is rooted in the violence that erupted when it became a host community to hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees following the 1994 genocide.
Yet the DRC is also host to over 490,000 refugees. Rwanda remains the biggest contributor to the DRC’s refugee population, accounting for over 213,000 mainly still in the eastern region of Goma. This made 2021’s Mount Nyiragongo eruption an even more dire situation as it uprooted several refugee communities in the area. The DRC is also a major host community for the Central African Republic (175,000), South Sudan (54,000), and Burundi (47,000).
Of Jordan’s population of 702,500 refugees, 94% came from Syria, displaced as part of an increasingly complex conflict. A growing need from both Syrian and non-Syrian refugees, however, has been met with limited funding. According to UNHCR reports, just 57% of the proposed 2020 budget was met, leaving many initiatives half-funded if not abandoned.
Iran is host to 800,000 refugees, 780,000 of which come from Afghanistan. The countries share a border that runs more than 550 miles, which speaks to the larger Afghan population in Iran: In addition to refugees, there are approximately 3.2 million Afghans in the country, an estimated half of whom are undocumented. The numbers and overall situation are expected to change as the crisis in Afghanistan continues to develop.
Sitting at the crossroads of several of the world’s largest refugee crises, Ethiopia is host to over 800,000 refugees. Most have escaped conflict in nearby South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea. The true number, however, is much higher, with the UNHCR reporting 3.5 million people of concern year over year. Over 2 million of these people are internally-displaced Ethiopians.
COVID-19 complicated the support of these refugee and internally-displaced communities, closing access to education for much of 2020 and creating shortages in medical supplies such as medications and diagnostic equipment. COVID closures and unmet funding needs have hit South Sudanese refugee communities in the Gambella region especially hard, straining resources in camps as well as host communities.
Nearly all of the 866,000 refugees currently living in Bangladesh are stateless Rohingya, who began seeking asylum en masse in 2017 after violence broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. This concentration has made the Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazar home to the world’s largest refugee camp.
Bangladesh has also been hit especially hard by climate change, with increasingly severe weather patterns — especially in monsoon season. These risks are magnified among refugee communities, who live in informal housing that is routinely destroyed by flood and fire. The close quarters have also made the transmission of diseases like COVID-19 a major concern.
Concern has been responding to the Rohingya crisis since 2017. Together with UN agencies, over 130 local, national, and international nonprofits (including Concern) have supported the Government of Bangladesh adjust to this increase in capacity. Safety and security remain serious concerns for the Rohingya living in Cox’s Bazar, especially in the wake of COVID-19.
Lebanon has the highest per capita refugee population in the world, at a time hosting over 1 million refugees, almost all of them fleeing the Syrian conflict. Currently, 865,300 refugees hosted in Lebanon are Syrian (an additional 4,000 are from Iraq), but given the size and relatively small population of the country, that still means one refugee for every four Lebanese nationals.
Earlier this year, Concern Lebanon Country Director Anita Shah noted that Lebanon’s own economic and humanitarian crises have resulted in increasing difficulty with being a host community. This year has been marked by increased evictions and tensions, meaning that protection of both vulnerable Syrian refugees and Lebanese is a high priority. This includes ensuring child protection, protection from gender-based violence, psychosocial support, shelter assistance, and access to water and sanitation.
While Sudan is the fifth largest country of asylum for refugees (with 1.04 million registered), it’s also a country that’s producing an increasing number of refugees. The country is host to the 737,000 refugees from South Sudan — but nearly the same amount of Sudanese refugees have fled the country due to ongoing violence, drought, and famine. Because most refugees end up in a neighbouring country, this also means that there are 270,000 Sudanese refugees currently hosted in South Sudan.
Sudan has also become a port-of-call for Ethiopians, Syrians, and Eritreans, and the number of internally-displaced people in the country brings the UNHCR’s total “people of concern” closer to 3.6 million. Concern is active in the area of Darfur, which is host to an overwhelming majority of people forcibly displaced from their homes, and working to support both refugees and host communities.
Of the 12 countries that take in the most refugees, Germany (with a population of 1.2 million refugees) is the only high-income country, and the only one not neighbouring the countries most represented within the refugee community. Over 605,000 Syrian refugees, 147,000 Afghan refugees, and 146,000 Iraqi refugees are currently hosted in Germany.
Policymakers in Uganda have shaped and reshaped policy in recent years around providing safe and dignified shelter for an increasingly large refugee population. In 2018, the UNHCR counted 1.37 million people of concern. That number more than doubled in 2019, reaching nearly 3.69 million. In 2020, the country recorded 3.79 million people of concern, including 1.42 million refugees. In that year, Uganda also surpassed Sudan as the largest host community for South Sudanese refugees, with over 887,000 in the country. It’s also a major host for refugees from the DRC (414,407) and has large populations of Burundian, Somali, and Rwandan refugees.
Pakistan’s refugee population of 1,438,955 is almost entirely from Afghanistan (1,438,432). Many have lived in their host community for decades, initially fleeing the decade-long Soviet-Afghan War. The country experienced a dramatic increase of Afghan refugees in 2001, many settling in the Balochistan province, just across the border. The protracted nature of these displacements means that many refugee families have lived in compromised living circumstances for generations. Climate change and, more recently, COVID-19 have further complicated matters, as the coastal Balochistan province is prone to floods and pandemic-related border closures have affected communities and economies in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Concern has worked in Pakistan since 2001, when we responded to that year’s increase of Afghan refugees. Since then, we’ve developed long-term programs in Balochistan, Punjab, and KPK province aimed at disaster risk reduction, financial security, and water and sanitation.
Over 3.65 million refugees are currently being hosted in Türkiye, including 3.64 million Syrians (the balance largely comes from Iraq and Afghanistan), referred to in-country as “Syrians under temporary protection” by the government. A strong government response has meant that most Syrians in Türkiye are living in host communities instead of informal tented communities, although many are still living at bare-minimum conditions.
“At an overall broader level, I think livelihoods are the biggest challenge for vulnerable families right now,” says Concern Türkiye Country Director Arshad Mohamed, and COVID-19 has only further complicated this challenge. “To have a decent, dignified income… More and more families are not able to meet all their basic needs” due to the lockdowns and social distancing measures of 2020. Concern is responding to these immediate needs, including participating in the world’s largest cash-grant program (supported by EU funding), as well as education and health services."
I think livelihoods are the biggest challenge for vulnerable families right now... More and more families are not able to meet all their basic needs
Concern’s response to the world’s displacement crisis is in keeping with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, approved by all 193 Member States of the United Nations in September 2016.
The CRRF gives a set of guidelines for approaching the predictable aspects of these crises. This includes:
In 2020 alone, Concern responded to 78 emergencies in 23 countries, reaching 17.9 million people with urgent necessities such as shelter, healthcare, and food as well as longer-term livelihoods trainings that benefit both displaced and host communities.