Protracted Refugee Situations

What is a protracted refugee situation?

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a protracted refugee situation as one in which 25,000 or more refugees from the same nationality have been in exile for five or more years in a given asylum country.

Why are you particularly concerned about protracted refugee situations?

Most refugees, in the world today, are in protracted situations. Protracted refugee situations are some of the most compelling humanitarian challenges confronting governments around the world. People in protracted refugee situations are often deprived of freedom of movement, access to land, and legal employment. UNHCR estimates that the average length of major protracted refugee situations is now 26 years. Twenty-three of the 32 protracted refugee situations at the end of 2015 have lasted for more than 20 years.

How many refugees live in protracted situations?

According to UNHCR’s definition, nearly 6.7 million refugees were considered to be in protracted displacement situations at the end of 2015. Additionally, approximately 5.2 million Palestinian refugees are in a protracted situation. This comes to approximately 300,000 more refugees than the previous year, and represents more than half the refugees in the world.

What causes these protracted situations?

Protracted refugee situations stem from political impasses that prevent conflicts from being resolved and prevent refugees from returning home voluntarily in safety and dignity and from integrating into their countries of asylum. Such situations are the result of political action or inaction that either fails to address the root causes of persecution and violence that led to flight, or fails to accept refugees as full members of their host communities. Most refugees living in protracted situations come from countries where conflict and persecution have persisted for years. Moreover, once refugees have been displaced for six months they have a high-probability of being displaced for at least three years.

What happens to the refugees who live in protracted situations?

Refugees in protracted refugee situations often face protection and human rights challenges, such as restricted movement or confinement in camps, sexual and physical violence, and lack of access to legal employment, police protection, and systems of justice. Due to these restrictions, refugees may be unable to earn livelihoods and achieve self-reliance. Consequently, this may make them dependent on international assistance to fulfill basic needs such as food, potable water, shelter, and health care. Tensions between refugees and their host communities over scarce resources can become a source of insecurity.

What is the solution to this problem?

Resolving protracted situations requires at least one of the three durable solutions for refugees: voluntary return to their home countries in safety and dignity; local integration in their country of asylum; or third-country resettlement. In the absence of durable solutions, opportunities for increasing dignity and opportunities for self-reliance, including through education and legal work, are critical.

How does the United States help refugees in protracted situations?

Ameliorating protracted refugee situations is a U.S. foreign policy goal and a humanitarian priority. The U.S. Government supports international programs that address protracted refugee situations in regions throughout the world.

The Department of State is working to strengthen U.S. diplomatic, assistance, and resettlement efforts. In most situations, making a positive difference means finding durable solutions. Where durable solutions remain elusive, it means enhancing the protection and living conditions of refugees in the countries where they reside.

On September 20, 2016, the United States and cohost nations Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico, and Sweden, hosted the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, culminating a sustained effort to rally nations to step up their efforts in response to the largest mass displacement crisis since the Second World War. Fifty-two countries and international organizations participated in the Summit. These nations announced commitments that cumulatively: (1) Increased total 2016 financial contributions to UN appeals and international humanitarian organizations by approximately $4.5 billion over 2015 levels; (2) Roughly doubled the number of refugees they will resettle or afford other legal channels of admission in 2016; and (3) Created improved access to education for one million refugee children globally; and improved access to lawful work for one million refugees globally.

Global Protracted Refugee Situations Map
[text, larger graphic, and PDF versions]

Date: 12/07/2016 Description: Map of Global Protracted Refugee Situations. Text version is at http://www.state.gov/j/prm/policyissues/issues/protracted/265806.htm. - State Dept Image