Forced displacement at record levels as a cause and consequence of increased need

More people are displaced now than since the beginning of the century. By September 2023, over 114 million people were estimated to have been forcibly displaced by persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations, with the conflict in Sudan accounting for the largest share of the increase.1 More than 1 in 73 people worldwide remained forcibly displaced with 88 per cent of them in low- and middle-income countries. A decade ago, in 2014, the ratio of forcibly displaced persons was 1 in 124 people i.e., the ratio nearly doubled in ten years. Most people who are forced to flee their homes never cross an international border, with just 10 countries accounting for more than three-quarters of all internally displaced persons (IDPs).2

The number of refugees grew to a record high of 36.4 million by mid-2023.3 More than half of all refugees came from just three countries, Afghanistan (6.1 million people), Syria (6.5 million people) and Ukraine (5.9 million people).4 Forty per cent of all global refugees were children and nearly 2 million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2022. An estimated 23.3 million refugees and other people in need of international protection were living in protracted situations at the end of 2022, 7.1 million more than the previous year.5

People forced to flee worldwide (2010 - mid-2023)

Conflict will continue to be the primary driver of internal displacement. Internal displacement reached its highest ever level at the end of 2022, with 71.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the globe, representing a 20 per cent increase in a year (the largest year-on-year increase since 2013). This includes 62.5 million people displaced by conflict and violence and 8.7 million displaced by natural disasters.6 The current estimates for Sudan – 6.3 million people displaced in 2023 since the conflict that began in April 2023 – have resulted in the largest internal displacement crisis globally.7 Out of this figure, more than 1 million refugees, asylum- seekers and migrant and refugee returnees have crossed the border into neighbouring countries, including Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan.8 With new or resurging conflict in CAR, Mali, DRC and OPT, among others, the number of internally displaced people will no doubt continue to climb in 2024.

The highest number of refugees by country of origin (mid-2023)

Displaced people, especially women and girls, are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse. Forcibly displaced women and girls continue to face a heightened risk of gender-based violence in Ukraine, countries in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and elsewhere. Women and girls represent approximately half of all people displaced across borders. While violence against women and girls occurs at an alarming rate, forcibly displaced women living in humanitarian crisis and armed conflict are at an even more heightened risk: it is estimated that 1 in 5 have been subjected to sexual violence, and that displacement may increase the risk of intimate partner violence by 20 per cent.9 In eastern DRC, displacement, increased food insecurity and lack of basic services is creating an alarming protection crisis. As of September 2023, more than 56,000 cases of GBV have been documented since the beginning of the year.10 In Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger and Yemen, food insecurity increased the risk of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and child and forced marriage.11 In resettlement centers in Mozambique, water scarcity meant that women and girls faced greater risks of sexual violence as they walked long distances in the dark to fetch water.12

The conflict in Sudan is having far reaching consequences – risking a whole generation of children missing out on schooling. Six months after the start of the conflict (October 2023), 19 million children are out of school, the equivalent to 1 in every 3 children in the country. Of this total, 6.5 million have lost access to school due to increased violence and insecurity in their region, with many of them being displaced from their homes, and at least 10,400 schools shuttering in conflict-affected areas. Meanwhile, over 5.5 million children who reside in areas less impacted by war are waiting for local authorities to confirm whether classrooms can be reopened. Even before the conflict erupted in April 2023, nearly 7 million children were already out of school in a country grappling with poverty and instability. If children in Sudan are unable to go back to school, this will leave them exposed to immediate and long-term dangers, including displacement, recruitment by armed groups and sexual violence. For many children, losing access to school also means the loss of other critical services, such as nutrition, healthcare and psychosocial support. In addition to the immediate impact and risk of discontinuing education, the earning loss, if not tackled urgently, could result in a net lifetime loss of US$ 26 billion for this conflict-impacted generation of children.13

Despite some positive progress, durable solutions remain out of reach for the vast majority of people who are displaced – but there are international concerted efforts to improve collective action to reach durable solutions. In 2022, 6 million displaced people returned to their areas or countries of origin, including 5.7 million IDPs and 339,300 refugees and an additional 114,300 refugees were resettled. This is double the figure from the previous year and a return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.14 Following the 2022 launch of the Secretary General’s Action Agenda on Internal Displacement, the Special Adviser on Solutions to Internal Displacement is piloting comprehensive approaches to government- and development-led solutions strategies in 15 focus countries. The Inter-agency Standing Committee (IASC) has commissioned an independent review15 to examine current practice and provide actionable recommendations on how humanitarian responses can best meet and respond to the key needs of IDPs and their host communities.


  • UNHCR, 2023 Mid-year trends report, published October 2023. Figure on refugees includes refugees under UNRWA and UNHCR mandate as well as statistical projections. The most recent breakdown of confirmed figures available was for June 2023, which includes 62.5 million internally displaced persons (per IDMC data as of end 2022), 36.4 million refugees, 6.1 million asylum seekers and 5.3 million other people in need of international protection. Jump to reference 1
  • UNHCR, 2023 Mid-year trends report, published October 2023 Jump to reference 2
  • UNHCR, 2023 Mid-year trends report, published October 2023 Jump to reference 3
  • UNHCR, 2023 Mid-year trends report, published October 2023 Jump to reference 4
  • UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2022, p. 22, Protracted situations are defined as those where more than 25,000 refugees from the same country of origin have been in exile in a given low- or middle-income host country for at least five consecutive years. Jump to reference 5
  • IDMC, Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID) 2023 Jump to reference 6
  • The estimates for Sudan include 5.1 million IDPs since April and 1.2 million refugees (data as of 23 November 2023). UN OCHA, Sudan Humanitarian Update – 23 November 2023; IOM, DTM Sudan Weekly Displacement Snapshot 10, 14 November 2023 Jump to reference 7
  • UNHCR, Sudan Situation – 27 September 2023 update Jump to reference 8
  • World Bank, Forced Displacement and Violence Against Women : A Policy Brief, 12 December 2021 Jump to reference 9
  • OCHA, Democratic Republic of the Congo: Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu - Overview of the humanitarian situation, 30 September 2023 Jump to reference 10
  • Report of the UN Secretary-General on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, S/2023/345, p.7 Jump to reference 11
  • Report of the UN Secretary-General on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, S/2023/345, p.15 Jump to reference 12
  • UNICEF, Save the Children, 19 million children in Sudan out of school as conflict rages on, 9 October 2023 Jump to reference 13
  • UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2022, p. 3 Jump to reference 14
  • The Independent Review of Humanitarian Response to Internal Displacement is expected to be published by the end of 2023. In the meantime, further information can be found in the Background Note.
  • Original article

    Photo: In Bedaka, CAR, Georges has welcomed more than 20 displaced people into his home. Source: Virginie Bero/OCHA.

    • Climate change
    • Destruction of habitat
    • Disaster mitigation
    • Displaced
    • Displacement
    • Dispossession
    • Environment (Sustainable)
    • International
    • Refugees
    • UN system