A full-fledged invasion of Ukraine by Russia would amount to a refugee crisis of large proportions, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, warned at the body’s General Assembly on Wednesday.
Now the attack has become a reality sooner than many would have thought or hoped. According to Thomas-Greenfield, the crisis could create five million Ukrainian refugees. Comparing that estimate to data by U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, which monitors the number of displaced people worldwide, such a refugee crisis would have the potential to become one of the largest in the world.
This chart shows the number of internationally displaced people by country of origin in 2013 and … [+] 2020.
In 2020, UNHCR counted 6.8 million internationally displaced refugees and asylum-seekers from Syria, meaning people who had not yet gained full legal status in another country. The second largest group identified by the U.N. was that of displaced Palestinians, followed by those who left their home country due to the crisis in Venezuela – both counting around five million people in dire situations. Refugees and asylum-seekers from Afghanistan abroad numbered 2.8 million in 2020, the latest year for which data was available.
As the numbers also show, refugee crises don’t happen all at once, but grow over time. In 2013, those displaced from Syria had numbered 2.5 million, while those fleeing from Sudan and South Sudan were 800,000 strong. The Palestinian and Afghanistan situations, on the other hand, are examples of long-standing conflicts where refugee numbers have stagnated in the last decade. Finally, the Venezuelan state failure shows that some refugee crises do happen faster than others. In 2013, UNHCR had only counted around 200,000 Venezuelans in refugee-like situations.
Ukraine calls upon international community
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that three million Ukrainians, among them many older people and children, already needed emergency assistance, shelter and food. According to The New York Times NYT, the foreign minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, called upon the international community to take decisive action of “active diplomacy, strong political messages, tough economic sanctions” in order to force Russia to abandon its aggression.
Together with 48 million internally displaced people, UNHCR counted a total of 82.4 million forcibly displaced people in the world in 2020 – a record high and double the tally of 2010. In contrast, the number of resettlements reached a record low in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Just short of 35,000 refugees and asylum-seekers found a permanent new home that year compared with more than 100,000 in 2019.

Charted by Statista