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In the past decade, the global refugee population has more than doubled, reaching more than 36.4 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 October 2023.
By the UNHCR’s calculations, Chad is the tenth-largest host community for refugees, with more than 762,731 refugees recorded in 2023 — 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.
Lebanon has the highest per capita refugee population in the world, at a time hosting over one million refugees, almost all of them fleeing the Syrian conflict. Currently, 795,300 refugees hosted in Lebanon are Syrian, but given the size and relatively small population of the country, that still means one refugee for every four Lebanese nationals.
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.
Sitting at the crossroads of several of the world’s largest refugee crises, Ethiopia is host to over 921,822 refugees. Most have escaped conflict in nearby South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea. The true number, however, is much higher, with the UNHCR reporting 3.6 million people protected or assisted by the UNHCR. Over two million of these people are internally-displaced Ethiopians.
While Sudan is the eighth largest country of asylum for refugees, it’s also a country that’s producing an increasing number of refugees. The country is host to the 926,433 refugees, but nearly 1 million Sudanese people have become refugees themselves due to ongoing violence, drought, and famine. With the outbreak of Sudan war in April 2023, a further 240,700 Sudanese people fled their country.
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” over 3 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 refugee s and host communities.
Nearly all of the 961,801 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.
As a country that shares a border with Ukraine, Poland has taken in the greatest number of Ukrainian refugees since the outbreak of war in February 2022. It has accommodated nearly 60 percent of all refugees from Ukraine, and is host to 989,877 refugees in total. Other asylum-seekers come from Russia and Belarus.
Policymakers in Uganda have shaped and reshaped policy in recent years around providing safe and dignified shelter for an increasingly large refugee population. In 2023, the country recorded 1.6 million people of concern, including 1.5 million refugees. It’s a major host for refugees from the DRC and has large populations of Burundian, Somali, and Rwandan refugees.
Pakistan has a refugee population of 2.1 million, hosting 90% of Afghanistan’s refugees. 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.
Latin American and Carribean refugees accounted for one third of new asylum application globally. At the end of 2022, Colombia was hosting 2.5 million Venezuelans who fled their country due to political turmoil, instability, and lack of essential resources in the largest forced displacement crisis ever seen in Latin America. Additionally, individuals across Latin America seeking asylum in the United States often pass through Colombia, travelling a dangerous route through the Darien jungle that separates Colombia and Panama
Of the 12 countries that take in the most refugees, Germany is the only high-income country, and the only one not neighbouring the countries most represented within the refugee community. It hosts 2.5 million refugees, including 96,000 Ukranians and over 692,000 Syrians.
Iran is host to 3.4 million refugees, of the majority 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.
Over 3.4 million refugees are currently being hosted in Turkiye including 3.3 million Syrians, referred to in-country as “Syrians under temporary protection” by the government. A strong government response following the earthquake in February 2023 has meant that most Syrians in Turkey are living in host communities instead of informal tented communities, although many are still living at bare-minimum conditions. The government, international NGOS, and civil society organisations have implemented programmes to facilitate the integration of refugees into society.
“A large number of already vulnerable refugees and host communities households lost their financial means and will require assistance to stabilise again. Continuing International support remains essential in order to find sustainable solutions," says Concern Turkey Country Director Shahzad Jamil. “Concern responds to these needs with the support of EU-Funding, through sanitation work, in kind assistance as well as education and psychological support services.”
A large number of already vulnerable refugees and host communities households lost their financial means... Continuing International support remains essential in order to find sustainable solutions.
Concern's work with refugees
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:
- Easing pressure on countries that welcome and host refugees
- Building self-reliance of refugees
- Expanding access to resettlement of refugees in third countries or offering other complementary pathways
- Fostering conditions that enable refugees to voluntarily return to their home countries
In 2022, we responded to 76 emergencies in 23 countries, reaching 16 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.