Global migration and refugee crisis

SYRIA 2017 © Eddy Van Wessel
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What is the global refugee crisis?

There are now 100 million forcibly displaced people around the world—more than at any time in modern history. These are people who have fled extreme dangers, whether to escape relentless bombing, an invading army, gang violence, or other life-threatening circumstances.

Those who have been uprooted from their homes often face further struggles on their journey to find safety, including lack of access to essential needs like clean water, food, shelter, personal security, and health care.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides medical care to refugees and displaced people all over the world. Increasingly, we see that people on the move are trying to survive not just the harrowing challenges of migration itself, but the harmful deterrence policies put in place by governments trying to keep out migrants and asylum seekers at all costs.

100 million

people displaced worldwide is equivalent to the 14th most populous country in the world 

53+ million

people displaced

inside their borders by conflict

23+ million

people internally displaced due to weather-related events in 2021

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is a person who has crossed a national border to another country to escape conflict or persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group and “is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear” of further persecution or harm. Legal status/rights: Signatories to the Geneva Conventions are obligated to take in refugees who arrive at their borders. They should not be expelled or sent back to their country of origin.

Who is an internally displaced person?

An internally displaced person (IDP) has been forced to flee home for the same reason as a refugee but remains in their own country. Legal status/rights: IDPs are not eligible for protection under international refugee law or eligible to receive many types of aid, since they remain within the jurisdiction of their own national government.

Who is a migrant?

An economic migrant is a person who voluntarily leaves their home country to live in another country with ostensibly better working or living conditions. Legal status/rights: Economic migrants are not eligible for protection under international refugee law or eligible to receive many types of aid because their journeys are considered voluntary.

Who is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is a refugee who seeks longer-term legal harbor in another country, applying for sanctuary (asylum) in hopes that country will grant it. Legal status/rights: Though national laws differ, countries are obligated to review asylum applications in due time—though “due time” is very subjective measurement, and asylum seekers are often held in detention until their applications are reviewed.

What are common problems faced by refugees?

Those who have been uprooted from their homes often face further struggles on their journey to find safety, including lack of access to essential needs like clean water, food, shelter, personal security, and health care.

How does MSF help displaced people?

MSF works in a number of countries that have experienced massive population shifts due to conflict, including Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the UN Refugee Agency, more than 7.3 million people have fled Ukraine as of June 13, 2022. MSF is responding to the needs of Ukrainian refugees in neighboring countries. Our teams are responding to a humanitarian crisis in Central America, providing medical and mental health care to tens of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing extreme violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and in transit through Mexico. And we're caring for large numbers of displaced people in the world’s leading host countries for refugees, including Bangladesh, Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

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We are constantly finding new ways to treat displaced people wherever they are—even while they are on the move. Our focus is on providing vital medical care, including mental health support and treatment for sexual violence.

Under international law, refugees and asylum seekers have the right to protection from violence as well as access to food, shelter, and medical care. Increasingly, governments around the world—from the United States to members of the European Union—are closing their borders and enacting inhumane policies designed to deter refugees from seeking asylum. These policies trap vulnerable people in dangerous conditions and leave them exposed to further violence and persecution.

MSF’s actions are guided by medical ethics, which means that we have a duty to provide care for those who need it, no matter who they are or where they are. Bearing witness and speaking out about extreme needs and unacceptable suffering are at the heart of our mission.

International refugee law

Refugees are protected under international law.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) is responsible for ensuring that refugees have the right to seek asylum, to receive assistance—food, shelter, medical care—to protection from violence, and to bringing about a lasting solution to their situation

For more information on international humanitarian law and refugees, please visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

How you can help

Not everyone can treat patients in the field. But everyone can do something.

Some humanitarian crises make the headlines—others don’t. Unrestricted support from our donors allows us to mobilize quickly and efficiently to provide lifesaving medical care to the people who need it most, whether those needs are in the spotlight or not. And your donation is 100 percent tax-deductible.

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We need your support to continue this lifesaving work

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