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Cover of UNHCR Global trends reportUNHCR’s latest Global Trends report highlights that at the end of 2017, global displacement has reached yet another new record high of 68.5 million individuals, an increase of 2.9 million since 2016. Each year, UNHCR releases statistics on the number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict or generalised violence, including refugees, internally displaced people, people seeking asylum and stateless individuals.

Global displacement reaches record high, again

Of the global displaced population, there are 25.4 million who are refugees, an increase in 2.9 million from 2016. This includes 19.9 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, as well as 5.4 million Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate.  The top five countries of origin make up 68% of refugees worldwide:

  • Syria, with 6.3 million
  • Afghanistan, with 2.6 million
  • South Sudan, with 2.4 million
  • Myanmar, with 1.2 million
  • Somalia, with 986,400

Distressingly, children make up an astonishing 52% of the world’s refugees in 2017.

Refugees and people seeking asylum 2017, by country of origin

Column chart showing numbers of refugees, people seeking asylum and people in refugee-like situations by country of origin

Developing countries protecting the majority of refugees

Most refugees reside in poorer countries, which do most of the heavy lifting. In 2017, 85% of the world’s refugees under UNHCR’s mandate were hosted by developing regions neighbouring the conflicts.

With the move towards stricter border controls in Europe, America and Australia, those seeking asylum remain stuck in developing countries, often without legal rights to work, receive an education or access essential services such as healthcare.

Refugees and people seeking asylum 2017, by country of asylum

Bar chart showing refugees and people seeking asylum in 2017 by receiving country

Australia still failing to do its fair share

Australia once again has failed to do its fair share in protecting refugees. Of the 3.5 million refugees who had their status recognised or were successfully resettled in 2017, a mere 23,111 were assisted by Australia (0.65% of total people). On this measure, compared to other countries, Australia was ranked 20th overall, 25th per capita, and 45th relative to total national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These figures are all decreases from Australia’s contribution in 2016, which saw the recognition or resettlement of 34,193 refugees, placing Australia at 16th overall, 18th per capita and 42nd relative to GDP.

 Global totalAustralian totalAustralia’s shareOverall rankPer capitaTo total GDP
Asylum seekers recognised as refugees, 20173,463,1797,9960.23%314266
Refugees resettled from other countries, 2017102,75515,11514.71%322
Refugees recognised or resettled, 20173,565,93423,1110.65%202545
Refugees recognised or resettled, 2008-1719,266,647170,6370.89%263159
Asylum applications received in 20174,345,05336,2450.83%182365
Asylum applications pending, 31 December 20173,090,89847,9781.55%132257
Refugees under UNHCR mandate19,941,34748,4820.24%455791

Recognition and resettlement of refugees 2017, by receiving country

Bar chart showing refugees and people seeking asylum in 2017 by receiving country

Unfortunately, Australia’s historical contribution is not a lot better. As is evident from the graph below, Australia consistently falls outside of the top ten countries that recognise and resettle refugees. In the past decade, we have only managed to resettle 170,637 refugees in total.

Bar chart showing numbers of peope recognised and resettled over time

Global resettlement places failing to meet overwhelming need

By the end of 2017, there had been 102,755 resettlement places offered, which represents a mere 0.51% of the 19 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate. These numbers make clear that the so-called resettlement ‘queue’ is nothing more than a myth.

Within the small number of resettlement places, Australia offered 15,115 resettlement places, which represents less than 15% of permanent global resettlement places but ranks third overall, falling behind the US and Canada. Despite a seemingly commendable effort, Australia has only merely resettled 0.076% of all those that are requiring protection.

Australia must shoulder some of the responsibility of this global crisis as a nation that can do more to resettle refugees. Instead, the Australian government has been responding to the crisis through detention, deterrence and deflection of people seeking our protection.

Refugees resettled in 2017, by receiving country

Refugees resettled by receiving country bar chart