The independent resource on global security

7. Coping with crises: forced displacement in fragile contexts


Overview, Lina Grip

I. Introduction, Lina Grip

II. Displacement dangers, Lina Grip

III. Crises of forced displacement in fragile contexts: key developments in 2016, Lina Grip

IV. United Nations and regional responses to displacement crises, Lina Grip

V. Conclusions, Lina Grip

In 2016 forced displacement continued to be a major challenge to human security, most notably in the Middle East and Africa, which together currently host over two-thirds of the world’s displaced population. In recent years the number of forcefully displaced persons—over 60 million—has increased significantly in comparison with, for example, population growth or general migration. This rise has been caused by new displacement crises (such as those in Yemen and South Sudan) coupled with protracted crises (such as those in Syria and Afghanistan) and the low number of returnees. The clear majority of these displacement crises were generated primarily by armed conflicts.

The challenges are particularly pronounced due to the concentration of forcefully displaced persons in confined geographical spaces—in a city, at a border, in a camp or along a narrow transit route—and, above all, across a small number of countries. This concentration leads to coping crises, overcrowding and associated problems, most notably inadequate physical protection, health care issues, increased resource constraints, and loss of livelihood and educational opportunities.

State-centric structures for addressing forced displacement and the lack of a commonly agreed international legal framework are serious obstacles to successfully addressing both short-term human security needs and long-term challenges, such as the legal status of displaced persons in a host country and the consequences this has for livelihoods and other opportunities. While existing international law offers protection to those fleeing their home country and seeking protection in other states, most major refugee-hosting countries have not signed the United Nations Convention on Refugees. In any case, the convention does not apply to internally displaced persons—the group that makes up the vast majority of those forcefully displaced.

The most useful way to understand current displacement dangers, and therefore better address them, is through their shared context of large-scale displacement in fragile, violent situations. While fragility refers to societies’ heightened exposure to risks combined with a low capacity to mitigate or absorb them, violent conflicts were also closely associated with all the major displacement crises in 2016.

The depth and breadth of the ongoing displacements may have spillover effects on other societies and countries. Regional and international processes have been initiated to address the humanitarian challenges of displacement and the concerns of refugee-hosting and other states. In 2016 the UN General Assembly, for example, took the first step towards a political process to design an international framework on safe migration, including more equitable burden sharing in hosting and supporting refugees. However, some processes risk undermining the international legal framework that is currently protecting refugees. For example, on at least two occasions in 2016, the European Union sought to reach political solutions with major refugee-hosting states that had no written or legal basis.