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The Drivers of Mass Displacement: Ukraine and Beyond

Nyakaar abandoned her home in South Sudan when armed conflict threatened her village. She found safety in the Bentiu Protection of Civilians camp, a U.N.-run camp for internally displaced South Sudanese people where World Relief operates health and nutrition programming. Shortly after arriving, Nyakaar gave birth to her son, Bone.

In the world today, a record-breaking 117.2 million people have been forced to flee their homes. That’s about 1 in every 78 people that live across the globe.*

While many of us think of refugees when we hear the words “mass displacement,” the majority of displaced people worldwide are actually internally displaced people like Nyakaar and Bone.

The causes of mass displacement are many, and the repercussions reach far and wide. Today, we’re taking a bird’s eye view of the topic of mass displacement to help you understand what causes people to leave their homes, who is fleeing and how people across the globe are joining World Relief to address the drivers of mass displacement and care for those who are displaced.

*These numbers reflect the latest estimates from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. This blog was originally written May 10, 2022 and updated on April 11th, 2023.

What causes mass displacement?

People are displaced from their homes for myriad reasons — persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations and climate-related factors to name a few. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been the most recent example of how war can force millions of people to flee their homes. However, there are many other conflicts and crises occurring in the world which are also causing people to flee their homes. 

For example, violence in the Darfur region of Sudan has caused many to flee in search of a safe place to live, farm and raise their children. Some of these families remain internally displaced while others have fled across international borders into Chad and other surrounding countries.  Apart from the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, 68% of the world’s refugees have come from the following five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. Though crises like these have received varying levels of media attention, the needs of the displaced remain critical

Refugees, Asylum Seekers and IDPs

Many times, displaced people flee to regions or countries surrounding their home region, while a smaller percentage relocate to a more distant country. A displaced person can fall under several categories:

  • Internally Displaced People
  • Refugees
  • Asylum Seekers

Internally Displaced People make up the largest category. These are people who have been displaced within their own country. They have been forced to flee their home and region, and have resettled in a different part of the same country in which they already lived.  Currently, 61.2 million people are classed as Internally Displaced People. 

Refugees make up the next largest group of displaced people. These are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country. It’s likely that you’ve read stories of refugees like Bohdan, Abdinasir and Amira — all people who left their home countries due to conflict or persecution, applied for refugee status and were resettled right here in the United States.  

Today, there are about 29.3 million people with refugee status in the world

In 2022, the U.S. has agreed to resettle up to 125,000 refugees plus an additional 100,000 Ukrainians who have fled the Russian invasion. As is evident, there are far more refugees in the world than can be resettled even in a country as large and as resourced as the U.S. 

Asylum seekers make up the third and smallest category of displaced people. These are people who have fled to another country, but who have not yet been granted official refugee status. These women, men and children may have to wait years to receive an official status. 

Currently, there are about 5.6 million asylum seekers living around the world today.

Host Communities

One final impacted group remains to be identified, and these are the host communities. 

Host communities have not been displaced from their homes, but the swift influx of refugees into their communities severely impacts those who already lived in the region. Often host community members need the same support that refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people typically receive.

A large number of refugees can mean reduced access to land and water and can cause a scarcity in resources. For example, in Sudan, conflicts have broken out over land usage, as host communities and displaced people seek to utilize the scarce land and water resources available in the host community area. 

World Relief works within these communities to increase access to clean water as well as facilitate peace committees to solve interpersonal conflicts before they grow.

What else is World Relief doing to help?

After a person is displaced, they can either choose to return to their home, or they can resettle in a new location. However, for many, the option to return home is not a viable one, as drivers of displacement often last for generations. World Relief is currently serving displaced people across the globe in several ways:

  1. In DR Congo, a country that’s facing one of the world’s worst hunger crises, World Relief works with host communities and with displaced people who have returned home by providing agricultural training and farming supplies to help families grow crops to feed their families and sell the surplus in local markets to earn an income. 
  1. Globally, World Relief serves refugees who have crossed the border into our international countries of operation, working with local partners to provide emergency aid to families living in temporary shelters.
  1. In the U.S., World Relief partners with the U.S. government to resettle refugees. We also serve asylum seekers and other immigrants by providing community connections, legal services and other vital services like ESL classes, job training and more.
  1. In Sudan, South Sudan and DRC, World Relief serves internally displaced people by equipping local village peace committees and providing health, nutrition, WASH, education, agricultural programming and more. 
  1. World Relief also advocates for the vulnerable when injustice occurs. We believe speaking up along with the poor and oppressed is an important witness to a watching world about the character of Jesus.

Mass displacement remains one of the largest and most challenging crises of our time — a truth that will take intentional coordination and investment between local and international communities, churches, governments and non-profit organizations to address.  

At World Relief, we believe Jesus came to earth to love the vulnerable.  Jesus didn’t bring hope and salvation from a distance. Instead, he came to us, showed us love and suffered with us. Whether we are welcoming refugees and asylum seekers into our own communities or providing relief to those displaced overseas, we get to be the hands of feet of Jesus, sharing his love to a world in need. 

To learn more about how you can help refugees and displaced people in the U.S., visit our private sponsorship page.

Lydia Dawson served as World Relief’s Humanitarian and Disaster Response Unit Program Officer in Sudan, and in disaster response worldwide. Prior to joining World Relief, Lydia worked in homeless services and community development in Oregon and California. She is passionate about equity and honor for underrepresented groups, both locally and internationally.

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