The 2016 Global Refugee and Displacement Crisis

A Refugees International Year-in-Review

In 2016, the world witnessed a global refugee crisis of historic proportions, with the number of refugees and displaced people reaching 65 million world-wide – the largest number since World War II.  Millions fled their homes and their homelands because of wars and armed conflicts, persecution, and gender-based violence in countries including Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria, Myanmar, and Colombia. Throughout the past year, the international community struggled to establish to meet the humanitarian needs of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children living in refugee camps, in make-shift shelters, in open fields and on city streets.

Through it all, Refugees International (RI) stayed at the forefront of these crises, advocating for the rights and protections of refugees and displaced people.  Whether addressing the needs of those displaced by war, climate change, or ethnic- or gender-based violence, RI traveled to Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America to bear witness to these crises and raise the voices of world’s most vulnerable peoples.

Over the past year, Refugees International achieved the following as a result of our missions around the world:

  • Syria  As conditions in Syria continued to deteriorate throughout 2016 and as the resulting refugee crisis grew, RI pressed the U.S. government to increase its humanitarian assistance to address the Syrian refugee crisis. The United States ultimately pledged an additional $439 million in assistance.
  • Turkey – RI undertook a special mission to investigate the rights of Syrian refugees to access the labor market in Turkey. Our advocacy contributed to the decisions of the Turkish government to approve work permits for thousands of Syrian refugees since January.
  • Iraq  The United States provided nearly $155 million in additional humanitarian assistance to aid the more than 3 million conflict-affected Iraqis displaced within their country. As recommended by RI, this humanitarian assistance focused on areas in southern and central Iraq — and included badly needed food assistance. 
  • Uganda and South Sudan – As 2016 draws to a close and as fears of a potential genocide emerge from South Sudan, RI undertook a mission to northern Uganda to meet with refugees escaping the South Sudan’s violence. RI will issue a report in early 2017, examining the allegations of mass rapes and other violence and detailing the status of South Sudanese refugees now living Uganda.
  • Nigeria – Refugees International released a groundbreaking report on the displaced women and girls affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s Borno State. The report was presented to officials at the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, and to senior staff at the Senate and House foreign affairs committees. In response to the report, the humanitarian community deployed high-level teams to tackle the challenges highlighted by RI. In addition, the U.S. government provided another $41 million in humanitarian aid to people affected by conflict and severe food insecurity.  
  • Burundi – Following the release of Refugees International’s report on unmet and hidden displacement in Burundi, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) began work on a humanitarian response plan for Burundi—a first step towards increasing the humanitarian presence and assistance recommended by RI. In addition, after RI advocacy efforts in Brussels, the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civilian Protection Department (ECHO) pledged €5 million in aid for the Burundi crisis - including, for the first time, "humanitarian protection activities inside Burundi." Prior EU aid packages had only benefited Burundian refugees in neighboring countries. RI raised concerns about conflict-related sexual violence in Burundi with UN Security Council members and senior Burundian officials. In particular, RI called on Burundi to thoroughly investigate allegations of sexual violence and criticized Burundi's public attempts to dismiss allegations and discredit survivors. 
  • Zimbabwe RI highlighted the lack of preparedness for a potential famine, which might unfold during the upcoming dry season in Zimbabwe. Soon after RI released its report, the United States and other donor governments announced an additional $54.5 million in humanitarian funding to help the country through the ongoing drought. As a result of our efforts, additional humanitarian staff has been deployed both in Zimbabwe and across southern Africa to improve coordination and preparedness for the worsening of crisis.
  •  Rwanda  An RI team helped uncover a secret government-supported campaign in Rwanda to arm refugees — including children — in violation of international law. RI shared this information with U.S. officials and the public, rallying the necessary support in Congress and in the Obama administration to levy sanctions against those responsible. As a result, reports of this illegal recruitment have dropped significantly, allowing refugees to live in security. RI’s findings were highlighted in the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Report. 
  • Ukraine OCHA adopted RI’s recommendation for improved assistance for people living in conflict zones and for greater UN advocacy to restore freedom of movement for civilians and goods. Refugees International and other NGOs also urged the Ukrainian government to improve its law covering internally displaced persons (IDPs) to better reflect international guidelines to develop long-range plans for IDPs.  Advocacy by RI and other NGOs made it possible for people displaced by war to register as IDPs and receive assistance. 

  •  Rohingya Refugees  In March, the U.S State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration released funding to assist the persecuted Rohingya community from Myanmar,  supporting education, health, and freedom of movement for Rohingya populations — all areas advocated by RI in 2015 and 2016 following missions in Southeast Asia.
  • Climate Displacement – RI undertook a mission to Myanmar to assess the status of the thousands of people affected by climate displacement. Following RI advocacy on climate displacement issues overall, the U.S. government announced it will join the Platform on Disaster Displacement (Nansen II) Steering Committee.