Future Projections of Forcibly Displaced People (Chapter 2)

Welcome to the blog for The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis which each week provides a section from the book. One Chapter a week. This week is from Chapter 2 which outlines why people become refugees, the historic data and future projections. I hope you find it of interest.

The previously discussed relationship between low wealth, low growth and civil war is important when considering the probability of refugee volumes in the future. As mentioned, projections suggest that the greatest population growth will come from the poorer nations. Alarmingly it is also the poorer nations that are more likely to fall into civil war. Ultimately this creates the potential for the displacement of very large groups of people in the future.

Not only does this increase the potential number of people that could be displaced, it also increases the number of people in the developing world relative to the developed world. This will proportionally reduce the developed world’s ability to support those in need. According to data from the United Nations Population Division, since 1951 approximately 91% of the world’s population growth has occurred outside the high income countries defined by the World Bank1. This skewed growth has decreased the proportion of the population that lives within high income countries from 32% to 19%.

World population since 1950 (by Country Incomes).
Source Data: “2015 Revision of World Population Prospects” UN Population Division.

This skewed growth reflects a general pattern where the population growth of a country reduces as the average wealth and life expectancy of its people improves. This pattern is explained by the concept of Demographic Transition, which outlines five stages in the transition from high birth rates to low birth rates. It explains that countries generally start with both high birth rates and high mortality rates. As wealth and development improves, both sanitation and medicine improves as well. The mortality rate subsequently drops but the high birth rate persists, rapidly expanding the population. Over time, the improving wealth, urbanisation and education lowers the birth rate and the population stabilises.

Demographic Transition has occurred across Europe, the United States and other parts of the industrialised west over the past 150 years. More recently it has occurred in some countries across Asia (such as Japan, South Korea), South America (such as Brazil, Argentina) and Africa (such as Kenya) as their wealth has increased. The inverse relationship between wealth and fertility rates applies across the world’s major religions of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism2. However, not all religions have the same current TFR. This is discussed in further detail in Chapter 7.

Demographic Transition.
Source: Max Roser, “Our World In Data”, accessed 25 October, 2016.
Many poor and war-ravaged countries have yet to go through the Demographic Transition. As examples, since 2001 the population of Afghanistan has increased by 58%, the Democratic Republic of Congo by 56% and Nigeria by 45%. A key contributing factor in the Demographic Transition is the birth rate, best measured by the Total Fertility Rate (TFR). Previous predictions about the reduction in TFR in Africa have proved to be incorrect, leading to an upward adjustment in regard to the world’s 2100 population estimate by the UN Population Division. Until initiatives to reduce TFR are firmly established in the poor and developing nations the probability of rapid growth remains high. As they are also likely to be impacted by civil war, the probability of the displacement of large amounts of people in these countries also remains high.

The consecutive year count (see Figure below) shows that countries tend to remain as significant sources for refugees for a number of years, and that problems tend to persist. Thus, the most likely refugee Countries or Origin are the countries that are already the primary refugee-producing nations. Only a small percentage of each country’s total population have become refugees or asylum seekers to date, leaving a large future potential population who may still request asylum. Those who are already IDPs would be the most likely to move. The high TFRs indicate that these countries are still growing, very rapidly. Eight of the top ten Countries of Origin for forcibly displaced people in 2014 have fertility rates of four or more (much higher than the worldwide average of 2.4). Thus, even if all of today’s refugees are provided a durable solution, without rectifying the situations within the Countries of Origin, the future numbers of refugees from these countries could be even larger than they are today.

Top 10 Refugee Country of Origin and potential for further refugees.
Source Data: UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2014. (2015)

End Notes:

  1. “2015 Revision of World Population Prospects,” UN Population Division, accessed 10 December, 2016 www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/
  2. Hans Rosling, “Religion and Babies” (Talk presented via TED Tal, April 2012, Doha, Qatar).

This was taken from the 2017 book, The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis. It can be purchased at any book store in Australia and online, including via this link.

The Refugee Journey (Chapter 1)

Welcome to the blog for The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis which each week provides a section from the book. One Chapter a week. This week is from Chapter 1 which outlines the common steps that a refugee goes through from initial disruption through to eventual permanent protection. I hope you find it of interest.


The Refugee Journey
The Refugee Journey


The Refugee Journey is a framework that outlines the unenviable journey a person who becomes a refugee takes from forcible displacement through to a permanent, durable solution. The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis reviews information relevant to each step to ensure a complete coverage of aspects to consider with regard to the refugee situation. In Part 3 the Refugee Journey is also used in the assessment of various Holistic Approach Options for best managing the global crisis.




The Refugee Journey explained

The Refugee Journey is depicted across three steps. Each step contains an ‘event’ and a ‘status’. The event is an occurrence that moves a person out of one status and into a new status. The status reflects the type of protection (or lack of protection) a person is receiving from a state or non-government agency like the UNHCR. The journey is thought to be an extremely long one. Although precise calculations are difficult, the current average time to move through these three stages is estimated to be eighteen years and growing. In 1993 the average was nine years1.


Step 1: Not Protected


Step 1 Event: Disruptive Cause

A Disruptive Cause is an event that results in an individual becoming displaced and, initially at least, unprotected by a state or agency. There are multiple types of Disruptive Causes including: persecution of an individual or group by a government (or another group the government fails to keep in check); war or conflict that places a threat to an individual’s life; and natural disasters such as earthquakes or environmental changes such as rising sea levels.


Step 1 Status: Not Protected (through country nor Refugee Convention)

Individuals who are displaced due to a Disruptive Cause do not perceive themselves to be protected by their home country nor are they protected under the Refugee Convention by an agency such as the UNHCR or another state. It is difficult to get a true measure of the number of people in this status as they do not always identify themselves, often for their own safety. Examples of people in this status include:

  • 2 million IDPs at the end of 2014 as estimated by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre2. This includes people in emergency camps due to conflict or a natural disaster within their home country.
  • People who are in their home country but are persecuted due to their race.
  • People who have left their country due to religious persecution and are travelling (e.g. on foot or on a boat).
  • People who have left their country and now reside in another country illegally without having registered as an asylum seeker.


Step 2: Temporary Protection


Step 2 Event: Provision of Temporary Protection

The provision of temporary protection occurs when an individual moves under the protection of a new country or an organisation such as the UNHCR. An example of this event is when a Syrian asylum seeker arrives at an UNHCR camp in Jordan. Another example is an Afghani arriving in Australia on a boat and requesting asylum.


Step 2 Status: Temporarily Protected

Individuals are protected (as asylum seekers and then as refugees) by a government or agency while a durable solution is sought. Currently the temporary protection across countries varies. Different countries provide variations in the quality of life for the refugees they harbour as well as disparate probabilities and time-lines for a durable solution if the refugees are seeking resettlement into a developed nation.


There were 21.3 million people temporarily protected in 2014 across three categories.

  • 8 million asylum seekers awaiting their status as a refugee to be confirmed or not.
  • 4 million people who have been confirmed as refugees awaiting a durable solution.
  • 1 million Palestinians registered by UNRWA.


Step 3: Permanent Protection


Step 3 Event: Provision of a Durable Solution

The provision of a Durable Solution occurs when an individual moves back home through voluntary repatriation or is provided with permanent protection from a new country. This new country could either be the country of asylum that has provided the temporary protection to the refugee or a country of resettlement not yet inhabited by the refugee. As an example, the 12,000 Syrian refugees Australia volunteered to resettle in 2015 are being provided with durable solutions.


Step 3 Status: Permanently Protected

Individuals enjoy the protection of their state. Their state may be their Country of Origin (which has protected them continuously or since their repatriation following a period in asylum), or it may be a new state they have either migrated to (through regular migration channels) or have been resettled to (through an asylum seeking and resettlement process).


A detailed insight into the plight of refugees is beyond the scope of this book. This does not mean forcibly displaced people do not suffer greatly. Nor does it mean this suffering should not be taken into account. That refugees flee grave suffering, hardship and uncertainty is well established and beyond doubt. That leaving their home country is often just the beginning of a long, arduous and sometimes torturous journey has also been well established. For many people, the realisation of protection and freedom may never come again. It is a worldwide tragedy of enormous scale.


As there are many different Disruptive Causes, there are many forms of suffering and hardships. Whether it be an Afghan suffering at the hands of the Taliban, or an Iraqi being tortured under Saddam Hussein’s regime or a Rohingyan enduring persecution in Myanmar, the experience can be devastating. For many, it will take their life, if not their sanity. Some are lucky enough to escape, but often with the physical and emotional scars of the terror they left behind.


The danger does not end with leaving their Country of Origin. To get to safety, an asylum seeker may have to travel across open seas or perhaps place themselves in the power and trust of people smugglers whom they have just met. Countries to which they flee, particularly non-signatories to the Refugee Convention, may show a great disinterest in helping them, or could even send them back to the country they fled.


Perhaps most alarmingly, even when asylum seekers manage to get to a country that has signed the Refugee Convention, their torment may have just begun. The most relevant example is Australia’s mandatory detention centres, off-shore processing centres and range of temporary visas. Australia’s migration and humanitarian processes have been shown to cause further harm to those who have fled such terror and already endured so much.


While not detailed explicitly in this book, the pain and suffering endured by asylum seekers is a critical data point that must be front of mind when understanding the situation and determining the best Holistic Approach Option. There are many accounts that help provide insight into the plight of refugees. Four good books relating to various stages along the Refugee Journey to Australia are: Raised In Conflict: Growing Up in Afghanistan by Essan Dileri as told by Jill Parris; The People Smuggler by Robin De Crespigny; From Nothing to Zero: Letters from Refugees in Australia’s Detention Centres preface and chapter introductions by Julian Burnside QC; and Lives In Limbo: Voices of Refugees Under Temporary Protection6 by Michael Leach and Fethi Mansouri.


End Notes:

  1. Dr. James Milner, “Integrative Thinking and Solutions for Refugees” (Talk presented via TEDxRideauCanal, February 2012).
  2. Norwegian Refugee Council and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Global Overview 2015: People internally displaced by conflict and violence, 7.




This was taken from the 2017 book, The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis. It can be purchased at any book store in Australia and online, including via this link.