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Our work for refugees and displaced persons

In 2022, around 108.4 million people were on the run according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (as of June 2023). Years of civil war in Syria, the war in Ukraine, the conflicts in Yemen and Sudan, devastating natural disasters, epidemics and the effects of climate change are some of the serious reasons for this ongoing global refugee crisis, which saw a dramatic increase of 19.1 million people compared to the previous year 2021. More than half of these displaced people (62.5 million) sought refuge in their own country as "Internally Displaced People" in 2022 (as of June 2023).

The prospects are dire and raise fears of a further increase in the global refugee situation due to ongoing armed conflicts and growing social inequality.

It is therefore essential to find solutions and provide humanitarian aid to support the millions of people who have left their homes and lost everything, and to enable them to live in health and dignity.

Malteser International, the international relief agency of the Sovereign Order of Malta, is one of the world's leading humanitarian aid organizations with a special focus on refugee relief and assistance for internally displaced persons and other vulnerable people.

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Current situation: Why people have to flee

People flee for a variety of reasons, but refugees usually have one thing in common: they are looking for safety, protection and a better life for themselves and their families. According to the Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID) by the International Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), there are two main reasons for displacement (as of May 2023):

  1. Conflicts, Wars and Violence: In Ukraine, Ethiopia, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, armed conflicts and violence are the main cause of refugee movements.
  2. Disasters: In countries such as Pakistan, the Philippines, China and India, natural disasters are the main reason for flight. These include floods, earthquakes, landslides, storms, forest fires and extreme heat.

Depending on the region, there are other causes for displacement. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, in addition to natural disasters and extreme weather phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña, the resulting droughts and food insecurity also play a major role in causing many people to leave their homes. An overview of additional reasons for displacement:

  • Human rights violations, discrimination and persecution: In countries characterized by oppression and corruption, people are looking for a safe place where they can exercise their rights and live in dignity. Many flee because they are persecuted in their home country due to their religion, nationality, political beliefs, skin color or sexual orientation. The fear of discrimination, violence and oppression often leaves them with no choice but to seek protection in another country.
  • Economic hardship and a lack of future prospects: poverty, a lack of jobs and hunger crises in their own country cause many people to leave their homeland. They hope to be able to build a better life for themselves and their families elsewhere.
  • Climate change: In many places, climate change is intensifying natural disasters such as floods and droughts - and destroying livelihoods as a result. Long-term changes, such as the spread of deserts or rising sea levels, are also leaving many people without a livelihood and turning them into climate refugees.

According to the UNHCR refugee report and the IDMC GRID 2023, most people are fleeing as a result of the civil war in Syria: 6.9 million Syrians are internally displaced. The war has also driven 6.5 million people across the country's borders (as of May/June 2023). Around 2.8 million of the refugees are children who have not only had to leave their homes behind, but have often also witnessed the death of family members and friends. Most Syrian refugees find refuge in the neighboring countries of Türkiye, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. However, economically weak host countries are themselves struggling with poverty and a shortage of resources. As a result, most refugees live in extreme poverty and are in urgent need of help. War is also the main cause of the refugee movement in Ukraine. 3.7 million Ukrainians are internally displaced due to the war and 6.5 million have fled to other countries (UNHCR, as of February 2024). The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is also driving countless people to flee - with 6.6 million internally displaced persons and 5.7 million refugees (as of May/June 2023).

Refugees worldwide - a review of the current situation

The refugee movement is one of the most significant humanitarian challenges of our time. Whether due to persecution, hunger, the climate crisis, internal unrest or international conflicts - the decision to leave one's home country is never easy for those affected and is often the result of a mixture of necessity and desperation. At the heart of this movement, two groups are distinguished by definition: Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Although both groups share similar or identical reasons for fleeing and experiences, their experiences and the support available to them differ in certain respects:

  • Refugees, according to Article 1 of the Geneva Refugee Convention, are people who cross the borders of their home country (usually nationality or permanent residence) to seek protection from persecution, conflict and violence, among other things. They are not safe in their own country due to their nationality, religion, political beliefs or sexual orientation. Persons with recognized refugee status have the right to safety in another country. The term "refugee" is the correct legal term here (although it is often also used to refer to people without recognized refugee status).
  • Internally displaced persons (IDPs), on the other hand, have not left their home country but are displaced within the borders of their own country. Although they are exposed to similar dangers (including conflicts, violence, human rights violations), they do not have the same international protection status as recognized refugees and are often dependent on the support of their own government.


The following table uses figures to impressively illustrate the extent of the current global refugee movement.

Country Number of refugees in millions Number of Internally Displaced Persons in millions
Syria approx. 6.5 approx. 6.9
Ukraine approx. 6.5 approx. 3.7
Afghanistan approx. 5.7 approx. 6.6
Venezuela approx. 5.5  
Southsudan approx. 2.3 approx. 3.8
Myanmar approx. 1.3 approx. 1.5
Gaza   approx. 1.7

Source: UNHCR Global Trends Report 2022, as of June 2023. IDMC GRID 2023, as of May 2023. UNHCR operational data portal, as of February 2024 (Ukraine figures). UNFPA, as at: April 2024 (Gaza figures)

International refugee relief: How we support refugees and internally displaced persons

Malteser International is committed to supporting refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide. The aim of our work is to improve the living and health situation of people on the run. We provide fast and effective refugee aid on the ground, which promotes the self-determination of those affected in their emergency situation. Our projects therefore focus on working with those affected and responding to their individual situation so that we always provide support exactly where help is needed most. Many of the aid projects that Malteser International offers for refugees and internally displaced persons are carried out in close cooperation with local partner organizations.

In countries such as Bangladesh and Thailand, for example, we focus on providing healthcare for refugees, particularly mother and child health in refugee camps. We offer similar services in Pakistan and Afghanistan, also outside the refugee camps. Pakistan is one of the five largest host countries for refugees worldwide. We have established basic health stations, where we provide medical staff, equipment and medicine. Since summer 2012, we have been working with local partners to provide cross-border medical aid for Syrian people affected by the war - both for displaced people within Syria who are unable or unwilling to leave the country and for those Syrians who have fled to neighboring Türkiye and Lebanon.

In Ukraine, together with the Order of Malta network, we also provided emergency relief at the borders during the large refugee movements at the beginning of the invasion by Russia, for example in the form of psychosocial support for internally displaced persons and by providing initial medical care in neighboring countries. Two years after the escalation of the war, we continue to support internally displaced persons in Ukraine. In Colombia, our refugee support includes culturally sensitive health and nutritional care as well as psychosocial support – with a focus on particularly vulnerable population groups, such as the indigenous Wayuu and refugees from Venezuela as well as returnees. In Uganda, our focus includes promoting peaceful coexistence between refugees and the Ugandan population. Additionally, we support the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda with specific measures to strengthen their resilience, for example in the form of education in the areas of health, water and hygiene (WASH) and with training programs for young people. Malteser International also provides refugee support in South Sudan, Nigeria, Lebanon, north-west Syria and Türkiye - where we are also working to improve the living conditions of refugees and displaced persons with a wide range of measures.

„For many years, we have been actively working in most of our project countries to meet the needs of internally displaced persons and refugees, who are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people worldwide. The dignity and protection of these people are our top priority.“

- Dr. Thomas Weiss, Head of Malteser International's Middle East Department and expert on displacement.

Support for refugees in refugee camps

Refugee camps are often the first port of call for people fleeing conflict, persecution or disasters after a mostly dangerous and exhausting escape. Ideally, refugees receive basic medical care, accommodation, food, drinking water and access to sanitary facilities in the camps. However, many camps face challenges that make the living conditions of the residents more difficult, such as overcrowding, a lack of sanitary facilities and an inadequate supply of drinking water.

Malteser International is therefore actively committed to improving the situation in refugee camps, for example by providing or improving basic medical care, providing psychosocial support or improving the water situation. In our work in refugee camps in Syria, Bangladesh, Thailand and Uganda, we pursue the primary goal of enabling the residents to lead a dignified life under the given circumstances.

Ukraine: one of the largest displacement crises

The war in Ukraine has led to one of the largest displacement crises in the world. Millions of refugees have fled to neighboring countries, and many more have been displaced within the country.

We support the people in Ukraine with various aid measures, working closely with the Malteser Ukraine team and other partners that assess the needs of the people on the ground and administer the aid.   

Read more

World Refugee Day 2023

World Refugee Day, which is celebrated every year on June 20, is a reminder that millions of people around the world are forced to leave their homes due to conflict, persecution and natural disasters in search of safe shelter and protection. In such precarious situations, access to adequate healthcare and respect for human dignity are often left behind. However, we are convinced that every person, regardless of their circumstances, should have a right to them. That is why we are committed to ensuring that people on the run receive appropriate medical care. In 2023, around World Refugee Day, we launched the campaign "On the run: Health must not be left behind" to raise awareness of the right of all people to access healthcare services, regardless of their circumstances.

Learn more about the campaign

World Refugee Day 2022: More and more people will flee because of hunger

Cologne. The number of people affected by hunger worldwide is rising rapidly. The causes are manifold: the catastrophic effects of climate change, wars and conflicts, and skyrocketing prices for wheat, cooking oil, fertiliser and petrol as a result of the Ukraine war. The hunger crisis exacerbated by the Ukraine war will also have an impact on refugee movements.

Read more

Read the stories of refugees

Refugees and displaced persons have dreams and wishes like every other person. In our work, we have spoken to refugees from different countries and asked them: What do you dream of? Some have shared their experiences with us. Find out more about their tragic but also hopeful stories of fleeing their home.

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