Major source countries of refugees

Major source countries of refugees

Around the world, 70.8 million people have been forcibly displaced. That’s the most since World War II, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Most people remain displaced within their home countries, but about 25.9 million people worldwide have fled to other countries as refugees. More than half of refugees are children. In 2018, 13.6 million people were newly displaced, either as refugees or IDPs (internally displaced people).

Refugee population end 2018 map

Refugees from the top 10 countries of origin accounted for 82 per cent of refugees (16.6 million) in 2018, similar to 2017. As in 2017, over two thirds of the world’s refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

SYRIA - 6.7 million refugees

The Syria crisis has accelerated more dramatically than any crisis on earth, and Syrians continue to be the largest forcibly displaced population in the world. After war erupted in March 2011, it took two years for 1 million people to be displaced.

Another million were displaced within six months. Now eight years on, more than half of the pre-war population has been internally displaced or forced to seek safety in neighbouring countries. That’s more than 11 million people on the run, including some 6.7 million people who have escaped across the borders.

As has been the case since 2014, the main country of origin for refugees in 2018 was Syria, with 6.7 million at the end of the year, an increase over the 6.3 million from a year earlier.17 While these refugees were hosted by 127 countries on six continents, the vast majority (85 per cent) remained in countries in the region. Turkey continued to host the largest population of Syrian refugees, increasing throughout 2018 through both new registrations and births to reach 3,622,400 by the end of the year.

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa with significant numbers of Syrian refugees included Lebanon (944,200), Jordan (676,300), Iraq (252,500) and Egypt (132,900). Outside the region, countries with large Syrian refugee populations included Germany (532,100), Sweden (109,300), Sudan (93,500), Austria (49,200), the Netherlands (32,100), Greece (23,900), Denmark (19,700), Bulgaria (17,200), Switzerland (16,600), France (15,800), Armenia (14,700), Norway (13,900) and Spain (13,800).

Major source countries of refugees | end-2017 to end-2018

Major source countries of refugees UNHCR

AFGHANISTAN - 2.7 million refugees

Years of unemployment, insecurity and political instability have led to a massive migration from Afghanistan. Over one million people are estimated to be living in new and prolonged displacement, while nearly 2.7 million people have been forced to leave the country to Iran, Pakistan or Europe.

The United Nations estimates that an average 1,100 people a day — mostly women and children — were forcibly displaced by violence in 2017. Today, over half of people displaced by conflict in Afghanistan have been displaced at least twice, compared to just 7 percent five years ago.

Refugees from Afghanistan were the second largest group by country of origin, in what has remained a significant population since the 1980s. At the end of 2018, there were 2.7 million Afghan refugees, compared with 2.6 million a year earlier, mainly due to births during the year. Pakistan continued to host the largest Afghan refugee population with 1,403,500 people at the end of 2018. The Islamic Republic of Iran reported hosting 951,100 Afghan refugees.18 In Germany, the number grew to 126,000 by the end of 2018, with other Afghan refugee populations hosted in Austria (33,100), Sweden (28,200), France (18,500), Italy (16,900), Switzerland (12,300) and Australia (11,900). In 2018, over 88 per cent of Afghan refugees were hosted by neighbouring Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

SOUTH SUDAN - 2.3 million refugees

The situation in South Sudan is dire, and the largest refugee crisis in Africa. More than 4 million people have been uprooted from their homes since the start of a brutal civil war in 2013, including about 2.3 million people who have been forced to cross into neighbouring countries, the majority of them women and children.

Ongoing warfare, flooding and drought continue to worsen what is already a dangerous humanitarian crisis. There are massive needs for clean water, health care, sanitation, food, shelter, and protection across the country, and millions of people now require urgent support to survive.

While the South Sudanese refugee population declined in 2018 from 2.4 million to 2.3 million people, it remained the third most common country of origin. Much of this decline was accounted for by the adjustment of the figures in Uganda following verification (which reduced the population by 300,000); overall in 2018, there were 179,200 new refugee registrations. Following the reduction in the number of refugees hosted in Uganda to 788,800 at the end of 2018, Sudan became the country hosting the largest population of South Sudanese with 852,100 people. This was followed by Ethiopia (422,100), Kenya (115,200) and DRC (95,700).

Altogether, neighbouring countries hosted nearly all refugees from South Sudan.

MYANMAR - 1.1 million refugees

Since violence broke out in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State in August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh. Before the crisis began, Bangladesh was already grappling with its own humanitarian challenges, and hosting some 212,000 Rohingya who had escaped Myanmar during earlier periods of violence and persecution.

The speed and scale of the influx over the course of a three-month period last fall has placed tremendous strain on host communities and Bangladesh as a whole, making it one of the world’s largest and worst refugee crises.

Today, there are some 932,000 Rohingya seeking refuge in Bangladesh and at least 1.3 million people — Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi host communities — who rely on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. More than half of them are children. These populations live in desperately overcrowded camps and communities, highly vulnerable to oncoming monsoon and cyclone seasons.

Refugees originating from Myanmar represented the fourth largest population group by country of origin. By the end of 2018, this population stood at 1.1 million, about the same as in 2017. Most refugees from Myanmar were hosted by Bangladesh (906,600) at the end of the year, a slight decline from the end of 2017 (932,200) due to improvements in registration methods. Other countries with sizable populations of refugees from Myanmar were Malaysia (114,200), Thailand (97,600) and India (18,800). Most of the refugee population from Myanmar was hosted in Bangladesh and nearly the entirety of refugees from Myanmar were hosted by countries in the region.

SOMALIA - 900,000 refugees

The number of Somali refugees worldwide continued to decline slowly, mainly as a result of verification exercises in and returns from Kenya and – to a lesser extent – from Yemen. At the end of 2017, there were 986,400 Somali refugees, a number that decreased to 949,700 by the end of 2018. As a result of the decline in Kenya, Ethiopia became the largest host of Somali refugees with 257,200 at the end of 2018. This was followed by Kenya (252,500), Yemen (249,000), South Africa (27,100), Germany (23,600), Sweden (21,000), Uganda (18,800), the Netherlands (14,000), Italy (13,400) and Djibouti (12,700). Over 80 per cent of Somali refugees have remained in countries close to Somalia.

SUDAN - 725,000 refugees

More than two decades of ongoing conflict and natural hazards such as prolonged drought and flooding have driven nearly 1 million Somalis to live in destitute refugee camps in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, while some 2.1 million people remain displaced within the country.
Almost half of the country is in need of assistance, and some 2.5 million people are unable to meet daily food needs, including over 300,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition.

The number of registered refugees originating from Sudan reached 724,800 by the end of 2018, up from 694,600 the previous year. Chad continued to host the largest Sudanese refugee population with 336,700, while 269,900 Sudanese refugees were living in South Sudan. Other countries hosting a significant Sudanese refugee population at end-2018 included Ethiopia (44,000), Egypt (19,500) and France (14,700). Neighbouring countries hosted some 93 per cent of Sudanese refugees in 2018.


At the year’s end, DRC was the seventh largest country of origin of refugees, with 720,300 refugees. The majority from DRC (85 per cent) were hosted by neighbouring countries including Uganda with a population of 303,100, Rwanda (77,000), Burundi (70,900), the United Republic of Tanzania (Tanzania) (56,600), Zambia (41,500), Angola (37,100), South Sudan (15,600) and the Republic of the Congo (Congo) (11,300). Substantial refugee populations were also hosted by South Africa (26,300), Kenya (24,600) and France (16,500). Nearly all refugees from DRC (94 per cent) remained in sub-Saharan African countries.


As in 2017, CAR remained the country of origin of the eighth largest refugee population. Violence continued to force people to flee, with refugee numbers increasing from 545,500 to 590,900 during 2018. Virtually all CAR refugees found asylum in neighbouring countries. Cameroon hosted about half with 274,700 at the end of 2018, followed by DRC (172,000), Chad (102,100), Congo (24,700) and Sudan (7,000).

ERITREA - 507,300 refugees

Eritrea remained the ninth largest country of origin with 507,300 refugees at the end of 2018, an increase from end-2017 when this population stood at 486,200. Most Eritrean refugees (57 per cent) were hosted by Ethiopia (174,000) and Sudan (114,500), but many also found protection farther away, such as in Germany (55,300), Switzerland (34,100), Sweden (27,700), Norway (15,200), the Netherlands (14,900), Israel (14,500) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) (13,000).

BURUNDI - 387,900 refugees

The number of refugees from Burundi, the tenth largest refugee-producing country, decreased during 2018 from 439,300 at the start of the year to 387,900 at the end. The decrease was mainly due to returns (45,500) and as a result of verification exercises that often reflect spontaneous departures. Nearly all of these refugees (98 per cent) were located in countries in the region, with Tanzania hosting 221,400 Burundian refugees, followed by Rwanda (68,300), DRC (43,000), Uganda (32,500), Kenya (4,900) and Zambia (4,500).


Other major countries or territories of origin for refugees in 2018 were:

  • Iraq - 372,300 refugees
  • Vietnam - 334,500 refugees
  • Nigeria - 276,900 refugees
  • Rwanda - 247,500 refugees
  • China - 212,100 refugees
  • Mali - 158,300 refugees
  • Colombia - 138,600 refugees
  • Pakistan - 132,300 refugees
  • the Islamic Republic of Iran - 130,000 refugees
  • Sri Lanka - 114,000 refugees


IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons / Mark Knobil from Pittsburgh, USA [CC BY 2.0 (]

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