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Refugees and displaced people

Refugees and displaced people

BANGLADESH. Anjuman Para. Caption
Rohingya refugees flee brutal violence in Myanmar, crossing the Naf River towards the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 2017.

An unprecedented 82 million people around the world have been forced from their homes  around one in every 95 people.

The reasons vary, but violence and conflict; natural disasters; or extreme weather events can all mean that it is no longer safe to stay where you are.

An estimated 26.4 million of these displaced people are refugees: people who have had to travel to a new country to find safety. Worldwide, over half of all refugees are under the age of 18.

At the same time, millions of people are "stateless", meaning they have been denied nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

MSF works around the world to provide refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) with the medical care they need, from psychological support to life-saving nutrition.

Our teams conduct rapid needs assessments, establish public health programme priorities, work closely with affected communities, organise and manage health facilities and essential medical supplies, train local workers and coordinate with a complex array of relief organisations.

Four-year-old Abdirahman Ali Diyat lives with diabetes.

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Refugees and international law

Refugees are protected under international law.

UNHCR is responsible for ensuring that refugees have the right to seek asylum, to receive assistance – food, shelter, medical care – to protection from violence and to bring about a lasting solution to their situation.

However, some policies are designed to deter refugees from seeking asylum: policies that condone inadequate processing or simply turn refugees away.

As well as providing healthcare and sanitation for refugees, we believe it is equally important to speak out about these policies.

"Humanitarian action is more than simple generosity, simple charity. It aims to build spaces of normalcy in the midst of what is abnormal."

Dr James Orbinski
Former MSF international president

Internally displaced people

While internally displaced people often flee their homes for similar reasons to refugees (armed conflict, human rights violations, natural disasters) technically, they are not refugees. Internally displaced people have not crossed an international border to find refuge and therefore remain legally under the protection of their own government, even though that government can often be the cause of their flight.

Today, there are 48 million internally displaced people around the world. Around three-quarters are women and children.

Despite international law calling for the protection of civilians in conflict, women and children are often deliberately targeted. The vast majority will not receive the medical care they need because they live in regions where the healthcare system has collapsed and it is too dangerous for independent aid agencies to operate.

MSF works to overcome these challenges to support health facilities and provide emergency aid and health care services to internally displaced people around the world.

Key facts


82.4 million



26.4 million



Every 2 seconds


Refugees and displaced people: News and stories