Current Status + Progress
Refugees and internally displaced persons

Worldwide, nearly 28 million children have been forcibly displaced. This number includes some 10 million child refugees, approximately 1 million asylum-seeking children and an estimated 17 million children displaced within their own countries by violence and conflict. Yet more children have been displaced by natural disasters and other crises, though they are not included in this total.

Overview

In the ten year period between 2005 and 2015, the global number of child refugees under UNHCR’s mandate more than doubled from 4 million to over 8 million. In just the 2010 to 2015 period, the number of child refugees under UNHCR’s mandate shot up by 77 per cent. By comparison, the total number of child migrants rose by only 21 per cent during the decade between 2005 and 2015.

Children are dramatically over-represented among the world’s refugees. Children make up less than one third of the global population, but they were 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015. Today, nearly one-third of children living outside their countries of birth are child refugees; for adults, the proportion is less than 5 per cent.

Nearly one-third of children living outside their country of birth are refugees
Distribution of international migrants under 18 years of age by status, 2005, 2010 and 2015 (in millions)

Note: This figure refers to child refugees under UNHCR’s mandate. If children registered with UNWRA are included there were approximately 10 million child refugees in 2015.

Source: UNICEF analysis based on United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division, Trends in International Migrant Stock: Migrants by Age and Sex, United Nations, New York, 2015 and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015, UNHCR, Geneva, 2016.

 

The age distribution of refugees is markedly different from that of international migrants: the refugee population is much younger than the overall immigrant population. While a clear majority of the world’s migrants are adults, children are roughly half of all refugees. Children’s large and rising share of the refugee population is further evidence of the fact that they continue to bear the burdens of decisions and disasters far beyond their control.

The refugee population is much younger than the overall migrant population
Age distribution of refugees, international migrants and total population, 2015 (percentage)

Note: Refugees under UNHCR’s mandate. An additional 5.2 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UNRWA are not included.

Source: UNICEF analysis based on United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Trends in International Migrant Stock: Migrants by Age and Sex, United Nations, 2015, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, United Nations, New York, 2015 and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015, UNHCR, Geneva, 2016.

 

Where the world’s refugees come from

While planned and voluntary journeys can offer new opportunities to the children and families that undertake them, forced migration often intensifies the vulnerability of children who are already in precarious situations. Violence and conflict are the hallmarks of too many childhoods and are a common denominator in nearly all the countries of origin for large numbers of child refugees. In 2015, just two countries – Syria and Afghanistan – account for nearly half of all child refugees in the world; three-quarters of all child refugees come from only ten countries.

Just two countries account for nearly half of all child refugees in the world
Number of refugees by age and country of origin, 2015 (in millions)

Note: Refugees under UNHCR’s mandate. Additional 5.2 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UNRWA are not included and plotted. Age categories shown for countries with information on age for at least 50 per cent of the population, with the exception of Syria, with information on age for 45 per cent of the population.

Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015. UNHCR, 2016. Unpublished data table, cited with permission.

 

Where the world’s refugees live

Refugees often found asylum in their neighbouring countries. Worldwide, 90 per cent of all refugees find asylum within their own region. The ten largest hosts of the global refugee population are all in Asia and Africa, with Turkey hosting by far the largest total number of refugees. In 2015, one in six of all refugees under UNHCR’s mandate lived in Turkey. Though complete age-disaggregated data are not available for refugees in Turkey, its substantial share of total refugees makes Turkey likely the largest single host of child refugees in the world.

The ten largest hosts of the global refugee population are all in Asia and Africa
Largest refugee populations by country of residence, 2015

Note: Refugees under UNHCR’s mandate. Additional 5.2 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UNRWA in Jordan, Lebanon, State of Palestine and Syria are not included. Age categories shown for countries with information on age for at least 50% of the population.

Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015. UNHCR, 2016. Unpublished data table, cited with permission.

 

By an overwhelming margin, Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees relative to its population and the highest density of refugees relative to its territory. Today, nearly one in five people in Lebanon is a refugee. By comparison, the same ratio for the United Kingdom is 1 in 525; for the United States, it is 1 in 1,200. When the nearly 500,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon are added to this total, Lebanon’s contributions to global refugee responsibility-sharing are even more pronounced.

When considering refugee-host countries by income level, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Pakistan host the highest concentration of refugees relative to their resources. By this same measure, the 20 countries hosting the largest number of refugees relative to their resources are all in Africa and Asia.

Lebanon and Jordan host by far the largest number of refugees relative to their population
Ratio of refugees to 1,000 inhabitants in countries hosting over 10,000 refugees, 2015

Note: Refugees under UNHCR’s mandate. Additional 5.2 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UNRWA in Jordan, Lebanon, State of Palestine and Syria are not included.

Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015. UNHCR, 2016 and United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, United Nations, New York, 2015.

 

Internally displaced persons

Even when children do not cross their national borders in search of safety, they can face tremendous danger while seeking security within their own country. Notably, nearly all people who eventually become refugees begin their journeys with internal displacement.

By the end of 2015, some 41 million people were displaced by violence and conflict within their own countries – nearly 9 million of them displaced last year alone. Disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis, and flooding uprooted another 19 million people within their own borders.  Like many areas of data related to migration and displacement, most information about internal displacements is not broken down by age, making it difficult to provide a reliable estimate about the number of children included within these larger totals.

Assuming that the proportion of children among violence-related IDPs is the same as the proportion of children in the national population, an estimated 17 million children were displaced within their own countries by violence and conflict at the end of 2015. If children are over-represented in internal displacement numbers the same way they are in refugee numbers, that total would be even higher. Including children internally displaced by disasters would send the number higher still.

Conflict displaces even more people within their own borders than beyond them
Number of conflict-related internally displaced persons (IDPs), 2015

Note: Based on IDMC’s annual monitoring of internal displacement, Colombia remains among the five countries with the highest number of people displaced by conflict since 1998. The 2015 estimate of IDPs in Colombia is likely significantly inflated and should be interpreted with caution. The available data reflect all people who were estimated to have been displaced over the course of more than five decades conflict, even if they are deceased or no longer believed to be displaced.

Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Global Internal Displacement Database (GIDD)  2015.

 

Access The Data
Child migrants and refugees (international migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons)Download Data
Recent Resources

A child is a child – Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation

May 18, 2017

Among the millions of children on the move worldwide, many – including hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied children and adolescents – undertake dangerous journeys. This report shows how the lack of safe and legal pathways for refugee and migrant children feeds a booming market for human smuggling and puts them at risk of violence, abuse and exploitation. It presents latest data on the scale of these movements, the major routes taken and the perils experienced by these children on the move in from of trafficking, exploitation and even deaths. Building on recent UNICEF policy proposals, it sets out ways that governments can better protect these vulnerable children.

Download the report | Download the executive summary

Uprooted: The Growing Crisis for Refugee and Migrant Children

Sep 6, 2016

Around the world, nearly 50 million children have migrated across borders or been forcibly displaced – and that’s a conservative estimate. More than half of these boys and girls fled violence and insecurity – 28 million in total. This report presents, for the first time, comprehensive global data about these children – where they are born, where they move, and some of the dangers they face along the way. The report sheds light on the truly global nature of childhood migration and displacement, highlighting major challenges in every region.

Download publication | Download statistical snapshot
Notes on the Data

Definitions

International migrants: Persons living in a country or area other than their country of birth.

Refugees: Person who are outside their country of nationality or habitual residence, who cannot return due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. This number only accounts those who have been recognized as refugees or find themselves in refugee-like situations. Data are presented in thousands.

Asylum seeker: Persons whose application for asylum or refugee status is pending at any stage in the asylum procedure. If granted, persons are regarded as refugees. Data are presented in thousands.

Internal displaced persons: Persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized border. Data presented in this table refer only to persons displaced due to conflict and violence. Data are presented in thousands.

Ratification of legal originating from instruments related to children and international migration: Number of legal instruments related to children and international migration ratified by each country. The legal instruments refer to: (a) the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, (b) Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and Protocol 1967, (c) the 2000 Protocol to Prevent Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (d) the 2000 Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, Air, (e) the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants and Members of Their Families. Data are expressed in numbers.

Sources

Total population of country or area: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, United Nations, New York, 2015.

International migrants by country of destination: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision, United Nations, New York, 2015. Share of under 18 calculated by UNICEF based on United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Trends in International Migrant Stock: Migrants by Age and Sex, United Nations, New York, 2015.

International migrants by country of origin: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Trends in International Migrant Stock: Migrants by Destination and Origin. United Nations, New York, 2015.

Refugees by country of asylum: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015, UNHCR, Geneva, 2016.

Refugees by country of origin: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015. UNHCR, Geneva, 2016. Share of under 18 from UNHCR unpublished data, cited with permission.

Asylum seekers: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015, UNHCR, Geneva, 2016.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs): Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Global Internal Displacement Database (GIDD), IDMC, 2015.

Legal frameworks: United Nations Treaty Collection; see http://treaties.un.org (as of 13 July 2016).

Call for Data

Comparable, reliable, timely, disaggregated and accessible data are essential for understanding and addressing the implications of migration for children and their families. Data need to cover a range of key questions, including who migrants and displaced persons are, how old they are, where they come from, when they move, where they move, why they move and how they fare.

A first step toward closing the data gaps about child migrants and refugees is identifying who and where those children are. Accounting for migrant children – especially refugee children – is fundamental for their protection. Beginning more than a decade ago, UNHCR declared unequivocally that “the registration of children should always be a priority when registering persons of concern to UNHCR”. More consistent efforts to identify the origins and destinations of child refugees are also needed, including through the adoption of consistent and reliable techniques for determining the ages of children who arrive without documentation.  Population registers and censuses are essential tools for closing some of these gaps, particularly for non-refugee migrant children. As the predominant data source on international migration, every census should collect information on the country of birth, the country of citizenship, and the country of previous residence for respondents.

A second and equally important step toward closing data gaps is improving information about the well-being of children impacted by migration and displacement. Outcomes related to water and sanitation, education, gender, child protection, social inclusion and health need to be assessed for migrant and refugee children and considered in relation to the outcomes to native-born children. Data disaggregated by migratory status will be particularly relevant to monitor progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals addressing children and families in vulnerable situations. To bolster the overall quality of information about the well-being and progress of migrant children, pertinent administrative data should be more accessible and household surveys should be adjusted to include relevant migration questions. New technologies and data sources also have tremendous potential to improve current knowledge about migration movements. Data from social media, mobile phones and other sources can provide geo-spatial and temporal information about population movements in real time, facilitating timely and more relevant responses for people on the move. Continued investment in both new and traditional data sources will be essential to effectively meeting the rights and needs of children and families in the years to come.