2000 Global Refugee Trends



Analysis of the 2000 provisional

UNHCR population statistics












May 2001


Population Data Unit

Population and Geographic Data Section


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees







1.     Each year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) carries out a comprehensive statistical survey on asylum-seekers, refugees and other persons of concern to the Office.  The current report summarizes the main trends in the global refugee population during 2000 and draws a comparison with 1999.  In addition to providing information on changes in the estimated size of the refugee population, the report includes data on beneficiaries of UNHCR assistance activities, on new arrivals as well as on the implementation of durable solutions (return, resettlement).  Key refugee characteristics such as origin, gender and age are also included.


2.     The annual survey is based on data collected using both UNHCR and non-UNHCR sources.  In developing countries, where UNHCR carries out assistance programmes, the Office is generally closely involved in the refugee data collection process.  In more developed countries, however, governments are often directly responsible for refugee registration and the administration of assistance.


3.     The refugee data reflected in this Report are based as much as possible on the internationally accepted refugee definition contained in the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and other relevant refugee protection instruments.  Nevertheless, it should be stressed that refugee data collection and recording practices vary significantly between countries.


4.     The Report is based on the provisional 2000 data[1] and is therefore subject to change.  More comprehensive and annotated statistics will be published in the 2000 Statistical Overview, to be issued by mid-2001.



Global refugee population and changes (Table 1 and 2)



5.     During 2000, the global refugee population is estimated to have risen from 11.7 million to some 12.1 million, an increase of 4 per cent.  Asia continues to host the largest refugee population (5.4 million refugees or some 44 per cent of the global refugee population), followed by Africa (3.6 million refugees or 30%), Europe (2.4 million or 20%), North America (0.6 million or 5%)[2].  Oceania and Latin America and the Caribbean are estimated to host each less than 1 per cent of the global refugee population.


6.     The largest refugee population increase during 2000 was recorded in Pakistan, where the estimate of Afghan refugees in Pakistan increased by some  800,000 due to the inclusion of Afghan refugees living outside camps, who do not receive assistance from UNHCR.  Without this statistical adjustment, the global refugee population would have fallen by 3 per cent to 11.3 million.


7.     The refugee population benefitting from UNHCR assistance programmes remained stable during 2000 at around 6.9 million persons.  Beneficiaries of these programmes are overwhelmingly located in Asia (56%) and Africa (37%).  Europe, while hosting an estimated 20 per cent of all refugees, hosts less than 8 per cent of those receiving assistance from UNHCR.  In Africa, the refugee population assisted by UNHCR increased by some 160,000 persons, whereas in Asia the number of programme beneficiaries fell by some 100,000 persons.


8.     During 2000, almost 830,000 refugees sought asylum as part of a mass or prima facie outflow, half the number which fled during 1999 (1.7 million).  This decline is mostly due to the outflow of almost 800,000 Kosovar refugees to neighbouring countries during 1999.  In Africa, the arrival of prima facie refugees during 2000 was slightly higher (+8%) than during 1999.  In Asia, however, fewer new arrivals were reported in 2000 compared to 1999 (-10%).


9.     During 2000, Asia recorded the highest level of refugee returns (some 350,000 or 44% of the annual total), whereas almost 280,000 refugees repatriated in Africa (35%) and another 160,000 in Europe (20%).  In total, an estimated 800,000 refugees returned home, 50 per cent less than during 1999.  Again, this was mostly due to the 1999 Kosovo crisis when almost 800,000 Kosovar refugees repatriated.  Compared to 1999, total refugee returns also fell in Africa (-4%) and, in particular, in Asia (-25%).


10.   UNHCR facilitated the return of some 572,000 refugees during 2000, 4 per cent more persons than during 1999 (550,000).  However, whereas the number of those returning with UNHCR assistance increased in Asia (19%), the number fell in Africa
(-10%).  As a result, more than half of all refugees who returned home with UNHCR assistance were located in Asia (54%), whereas 29 per cent of these beneficiaries were located in Africa.


11.   In 2000, almost 40,000 refugees were resettled with UNHCR assistance, 37 per cent more than during 1999 (29,000).  Africa continues to be the main region from where refugees are being resettled (46%), followed by Asia (40%) and Europe (13%).  Compared to 1999, Asia recorded an annual resettlement increase of some 82%, whereas Africa recorded 15% more resettlement departures.


12.   In brief, the above trends suggest that the overall refugee situation in Asia improved in 2000 compared to 1999, whereas in Africa there was a slight deterioration.  First, the annual number of refugees assisted by UNHCR increased in Africa (7%), but fell in Asia (-3%).  Second, Africa recorded an 8 per cent increase in annual new refugee outflows, where Asia registered a decline of 10 per cent.  Third, Asia recorded 19 per cent more UNHCR-assisted refugee returns, whereas Africa recorded a 10 per cent fall in these returns.  Fourth, UNHCR-facilitated resettlement departures from Asia increased by 82 per cent, more than double the global increase (37%) and five times more than the annual increase in departures from Africa (15%).



Countries of asylum (Table 3 and 4)



13.   From 1999 to 2000, changes in the ranking of the countries hosting the largest refugee populations were very limited.  The main refugee hosting countries continue to be Pakistan (2 mln.), the Islamic Rep. of Iran (1.9 mln.) and Germany (900,000).  The United Rep. of Tanzania continues to be Africa’s largest refugee hosting country (681,000 refugees).  In 2000, the ten largest asylum countries accounted for some 65 per cent of the global refugee population.


14.   Asylum countries recording an important relative increase in the estimated size of the refugee population include Pakistan (67%), Zambia (22%), the Rep. of the Congo (210%) and Uzbekistan (3,740%).  It should be noted that an increase in the refugee population might be explained by factors other than new refugee arrivals only.  Similarly, an increase in the refugee population may be partly or wholly offset by the return of refugees taking place during the same year (e.g. the Islamic Rep. of Iran).


15.   Countries experiencing a significant decrease in their national refugee population estimate include Ethiopia (-23%), Indonesia (-25%), Liberia (-28%), Switzerland (-30%) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (-42%).  In Ethiopia and Indonesia, refugee returns explain in large part the decrease in the refugee population (see also Table 10).  In Bosnia and Herzegovina, most of the decline resulted from a registration carried out by the Government (-23,100).  In Switzerland, the refugee population fell not only as a result of refugee returns to Kosovo (Fed. Rep. of Yugoslavia), but also due to the exclusion of some 40,000 humanitarian cases from the official statistics from 2000 onwards.  Liberia reported a decrease in the Sierra Leonean refugee population by some 27,000 following a verification of registration records.


16.   Half the refugees UNHCR directly assists are located in three countries, namely the Islamic Rep. of Iran (1.8 mln.), Pakistan (1.2 mln.) and the United Rep. of Tanzania (510,000).  The ten largest asylum countries together host some 80 per cent of all refugees aided by the Office.  The United Rep. of Tanzania experienced the largest annual increase in the refugee population assisted by UNHCR (89,000), followed by Zambia (51,000) and Sudan (40,000).


17.   Countries experiencing a significant relative increase in the UNHCR-assisted refugee population included the United Rep. of Tanzania (21%), Sudan (25%), Zambia (78%), Central African Republic (20%), Rep. of the Congo (190%), Gabon (43%), Namibia (140%), Tajikistan (1,500%), Kazakhstan (690%) and Georgia (46%).  Countries experiencing a significant relative decrease in the UNHCR-assisted refugee population during 2000 included Ethiopia (-21%), Indonesia (-28%),  Croatia (-21%), Chad (-25%), Mexico (-28%), Turkmenistan (-23%), Angola (-24%) and FYR Macedonia (-58%).



Origin (Table 5)



18.   Afghans continue to be the largest refugee population in the world.  At the end of 2000, the global number of Afghan refugees was estimated to be some 3.6 million, constituting some 30 per cent of the global refugee population.  It was estimated that Burundi refugees formed the second largest refugee nationality (5% of the global refugee population), followed by refugees from Iraq (4%).


19.   Refugee nationalities experiencing an important increase in the annual population estimate include Afghanistan (38%), Angola (20%), the Democratic Rep. of the Congo (46%), Rwanda (33%), Tajikistan (33%), Uganda (49%) and Russian Federation (55%).  Conversely, the global estimate fell for refugees originating from Iraq (-20%), East Timor (-25%), FR Yugoslavia (-21%), Ethiopia (-32%), Georgia (-29%) and Guatemala (-27%).     


Gender and age (Table 6)



20.   On average, women of all ages constitute some 50 per cent of the refugee population.  In each of the 40 major asylum countries listed in Table 6, the proportion of women refugees lies between 40 and 60 per cent.  The percentage of females is very close to 50 per cent in the refugee age groups 0 to 4 years, 5 to 17 years and 18 to 59 years.  In the age category 60 years and over, however, female refugees constitute a significantly higher proportion of the refugee population than males (55%), reflecting the higher life expectancy of women in the general population.  


21.   In the 40 asylum countries listed in Table 6, children below the age of five constitute some 15 per cent of the refugee population, whereas some 5 per cent of the refugees are aged 60 years and over.  As can be expected, the age structure of refugee population reflects global demographic trends.  Thus, the proportion of children ranges from three per cent in Armenia to more than 20 per cent in Bangladesh and a number of African countries.  Conversely, the proportion of refugees aged 60 and over is relatively high in regions with ageing populations (44% in Armenia, 34% in Croatia), whereas it is less than five per cent in most African countries.



New arrivals (Table 7)



22.   During 2000, the largest mass or prima facie outflows involved Afghan refugees fleeing to the Islamic Rep. of Iran (260,000), Eritrean refugees fleeing to Sudan (95,000) and citizens from the Democratic Rep. of Congo fleeing to the Rep. of the Congo (85,000).  In all, these three outflows accounted for some 50 per cent of all mass outflows during 2000. During the year, there were 13 mass outflows involving more than 10,000 refugees.


23.   In 2000, some 42 per cent of all refugees fleeing en masse originated from Afghanistan, whereas 15 per cent originated from the Democratic Rep. of Congo and another 12 per cent came from Eritrea.  Refugees from these three countries accounted for 70 per cent of all mass refugee arrivals during 2000.


24.   Countries receiving the largest mass outflows during 2000 were the Islamic Rep. of Iran (32%), the United Rep. of Tanzania (12%), Sudan (12%) and the Rep. of the Congo (10%).


25.   The impact of new arrivals on host country societies becomes particularly telling when compared with the size of the refugee population at the beginning of the year.  Thus, in Tajikistan, the Rep. of the Congo and Namibia, the number of newly arriving refugees during 2000 was more than double the number of refugees hosted by these countries at the beginning of the year. 



Voluntary repatriation and return (Table 8)


26.   In 2000, there were 12 return movements involving more than 10,000 refugees.  One-quarter of all refugee returns concerned Afghans who returned from the Islamic Rep. of Iran (216,000), whereas another 77,000 Afghan refugees returned from Pakistan (10%) .  In addition, some 68,000 Eritrean refugees returned from Sudan and an estimated 52,000 Somali refugees returned from Ethiopia.  About half the refugees who repatriated during 2000 returned to Afghanistan (37%) and FR Yugoslavia (16%).



Resettlement (Table 9)



27.   During 2000, UNHCR facilitated the resettlement of almost 40,000 refugees, a 37 per cent increase compared to 1999, when 29,000 refugees benefited from this solution.  The main nationalities resettled through UNHCR programmes were Somali (7,900), Iraqi (5,500), Sudanese (5,300) and Afghan (4,200) refugees.  These four nationalities accounted for 58 per cent of all resettlement departures during 2000.


28.   In 2000, almost one-quarter of all resettlement departures (9,400) involved refugees who had found first asylum in Kenya, whereas FR Yugoslavia constituted the second largest country of first asylum for UNHCR-facilitated resettlement departures (4,400), followed by Pakistan (3,300), Egypt (3,100) and Turkey (2,300).



Trends in UNHCR operations (Table 10 and 11)



29.   Table 10 and 11 summarize the above mentioned trends for the main asylum countries and nationalities benefiting from UNHCR programmes.



Asylum countries and total population (Table 12)



30.   Compared to the size of the national population, the main asylum countries during 2000 were Armenia, hosting 80 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants, followed by Guinea (58 per 1,000) and FR Yugoslavia (46 per 1,000).



Asylum applications in selected countries (Table 13, 14 and 15)



31.   In the 39, mostly industrialized, countries listed in Table 13, the number of asylum applications submitted during 2000 (630,000) fell by 3 per cent compared to 1999 (648,000).  As in 1999, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom were the main recipients of asylum-seekers during 2000.  Leading asylum countries that recorded an important increase in the annual number of asylum applications received were France (25%), Australia (28%), Sweden (45%), Ireland (34%) and Denmark (59%).  Particularly striking, however, was the increase in asylum applications in Slovenia (from 870 in 1999 to 9,240 in 2000).  Switzerland (-62%), Italy (-58%) and Hungary (-32%) reported significant decreases in the annual number of applications lodged.


32.   Compared to the total national population, Slovenia received the largest number of asylum-seekers during 2000 (4.65 asylum applicants per 1,000 inhabitants), followed by Belgium (4.2), Ireland (3.97), the Netherlands (2.78) and Norway (2.43).


33.   FR Yugoslavia continues to be leading country of origin of asylum applicants in the  39 asylum countries listed in Table 13, despite the 58 per cent decrease in asylum applications recorded in 2000 (60,400) as compared to 1999 (142,200).  In 2000, citizens from FY Yugoslavia accounted for 9 per cent of all asylum applications lodged in these countries, compared to 22 per cent in 1999.  The annual number of applications lodged by Somali nationals also fell, with some 19 per cent to 15,700 in 2000.


34.   Iraq continues to be the second largest country of origin of asylum applicants in the main industrialized countries in 2000, accounting for some 41,100 applications during 2000.  The annual number of applications lodged by Afghan asylum-seekers rose by 44 per cent to reach 37,600 in 2000, whereas the number of asylum-seekers from the Islamic Rep. of Iran rose by 81 per cent to reach 35,300.  A strong increase in the number of asylum applications lodged was also recorded by citizens from the Russian Federation (54%) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (55%).


35.   Compared to the size of the total population, FR Yugoslavia continues to be the leading country of origin of asylum applicants in the 39 asylum countries listed in Table 13.  Bosnia and Herzegovina was the second leading country of origin during 2000 (fourth in 1999) and Albania continued to be the third largest country.  



Population of concern to UNHCR, 2000 (Table 16 and 17)



36.   In addition to asylum-seekers and refugees, UNHCR is also concerned with selected groups of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and others of concern as well as with refugees and IDPs who recently returned (“returnees”).  By the end of 2000, it is estimated that the total population of concern to UNHCR, encompassing all of the above categories, reached some 21.1 million persons, an increase with almost 2 per cent compared to 1999.  The main reason for this rise is that UNHCR became involved with internally displaced in Angola (260,000), Colombia (525,000) and Eritrea (367,000) during 2000.  By the end of 2000, some 17 UNHCR country offices were involved in the protection and (or) assistance of internally displaced, up from 13 country offices one year earlier.  It should be stressed that the responsibility for internally displaced is often shared between different agencies and that statistics on IDPs are generally less reliable than those on refugees.


37.   The 1.3 million others of concern in Europe who are listed under “Various” (Table 13) concern mostly forced migrants in the Russian Federation (640,000), Crimean Tatars in the Ukraine (260,000) and ethnic Belarussians who have returned to Belarus (160,000).















































[1]             See UNHCR Population Statistics 2000 (Provisional), Geneva (http://www.unhcr.ch)


[2]             Due to a lack of reliable refugee population data, UNHCR estimates the number of refugees in most industrialized countries in Europe, North America and Oceania on the basis of refugee arrivals and the recognition of asylum-seekers during the past five (North America and Oceania) or ten (Europe) years.