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Where do refugees come from?


As of the end of 2015, there were approximately 21.3 million refugees in the world. Some of them became refugees within the last two years due to recent war or serious instability (such as refugees from Afghanistan and Syria) while others have been refugees for decades (Palestinians).

Today there are four large countries of origin for refugees that combined account for more than half of the estimated refugees in the world today. The estimated number of refugees from the "big 4" is as follows:

  •      Palestine - 5 million
  •      Syria - 4.9 million
  •      Afghanistan - 2.7 million
  •      Somalia - 1.1 million

While this shows the total amount of refugees from a given country or territory, it does not show how acute the issue is for certain countries as opposed to others. Afghanistan has been a leading country of origin for refugees for more than 30 years due to ongoing political instability and protracted war. Syria, on the other hand, was a host country for refugees for decades, particularly from the Palestinian territories, until the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. In 2015 alone, almost a million people from Syria became new refugees. In Afghanistan, on the other hand, under 10,000 people became new refugees. This doesn’t change the fact that there are still almost 3 million vulnerable Afghans living the incredibly difficult life of a refugee, it just means that the Afghani refugee population is not growing as quickly as the Syrian population is.


Why is understanding the country of origin important?

Understanding where refugees are coming from will help us address the needs that they face. First and foremost, the global community needs to address the underlying causes of people fleeing and becoming refugees. For Syria, ending the brutal civil war is the only way to stem the tide of Syrians fleeing that country. But understanding where refugees are coming from also allows us to respond to the on-the-ground needs of refugees as they migrate. For many Syrians fleeing to Europe, the first European country they reach is Greece. By recognizing this trend, organizations focused on delivering aid and support to refugees can deploy to where they are most needed and deliver services directly to the most vulnerable populations.

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