More people are forcibly displaced than ever before. These are the 5 things refugees need to help them find safety

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Stefan Ellerbeck, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • The number of people forced to flee their homes due to violence or persecution was at an all-time high at the end of 2021, the UN says.
  • But this figure has since risen even higher because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • This year’s World Refugee Day is focusing on how to keep displaced people safe.

The number of people displaced by war, persecution or human rights abuses has increased every year over the past decade and is now at its highest since records began, according to the United Nations.

More than 89 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2021, up by 8% from a year earlier, UN Refugee Agency UNHCR says. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as other crises, notably in Afghanistan and parts of Africa, have since pushed the figure to above 100 million, it estimates.

The UNHCR’s Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2021 report says more than 27 million of these people are refugees, more than double the number a decade ago.

The number of people forcibly displaced is at an all-time high. Image: UNHCR

Protecting the vulnerable

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) defines refugees as people who have crossed an international frontier and are at risk in their country of origin.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are those who have had to flee their homes but have not crossed a border, the ICRC says. However, there is no convention for IDPs equivalent to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or the UNHCR’s mandate, just protections under international human rights law and domestic laws.

World Refugee Day

UN World Refugee Day takes place on 20 June. It aims to build understanding of the experiences refugees are going through, and the theme this year is seeking safety.

Once people fleeing war or persecution are out of harm’s way, they then need opportunities to heal, learn, work and thrive, the UN says. This is in line with the Refugee Convention and the Global Compact on Refugees.

How is the World Economic Forum helping to improve humanitarian assistance?

Fragility and conflict in one country often has consequences around the world. This has been evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous climate emergencies as well as the war in Ukraine and the ensuing refugee crisis. Regions affected by conflict are particularly vulnerable to the devastating impacts of these crises.

Urgent relief, supported by public-private partnerships, remains necessary in acute crises but it is essential those efforts are supplemented by long-term investments that help affected communities recover and rebuild.


The World Economic Forum is working with partners to identify and scale solutions in fragile parts of the world. The Humanitarian and Resilience Investing (HRI) Initiative seeks to unlock private capital so it flows into financially sustainable opportunities that benefit vulnerable communities. The Global Future Council on the New Agenda for Fragility and Resilience provides guidance to humanitarian and development actors as well as the private sector to improve support to local actors and facilitate responses that strengthen community resilience.

To learn more and get involved in initiatives that are improving millions of lives, contact us.

The UN lists five fundamentals for keeping refugees safe. They are:

  • The right to seek asylum: Seeking asylum is a human right. Anyone fleeing persecution, conflict or human rights abuses has a right to seek protection in another country.
  • Safe access: Borders should remain open to all people forced to flee. Restricting access and closing borders can make journeys even more dangerous for people seeking safety.
  • No pushbacks: People can’t be forced to return to a country if their life or freedom would be at risk.
  • No discrimination: All applications for refugee status at borders must be given fair consideration regardless of factors like race, religion, gender and country of origin.
  • Humane treatment: People forced to flee are entitled to respectful and dignified treatment. This means keeping families together, protecting people from traffickers and avoiding arbitrary detention.

Before the war on Ukraine began, around 83% of displaced people originated from just 10 countries, according to the UNHCR.

More than 80% of displaced people originated from just 10 countries in 2021. Image: UNHCR

Lessons to be learned

Speaking at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in May, Christophe Catoir, president of recruitment company Adecco, said that lessons must be learned from the Ukraine crisis to make it easier for refugees to find jobs in host countries.

“Speed is a lesson learned from this crisis: we have to act fast, and we also need to encourage infrastructures permitting [us] to act fast,” he said. “One difference with Ukraine is that the EU Commission gave [refugees] a special status that can allow them to work directly.”

The World Economic Forum’s Refugee Employment and Employability Initiative aims to build on the momentum associated with supporting refugees from Ukraine, creating a basis for system-wide global support for refugees from employers.

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