Refugees Can’t Live in Limbo Forever

Refugees Can’t Live in Limbo Forever

Governments and aid organizations think of displaced populations as temporary. But it is time to face reality.

As of this year, a full 1 percent of humanity (80 million people) is living in displacement—as refugees, internally displaced persons, or asylum-seekers—because of conflict or persecution. To put the number in context, it is similar to the population of Germany (about 83 million) and greater than the population of the United Kingdom (about 67 million). Forced displacement has doubled in the past decade, and it is likely to rise still faster in the coming years as people are pushed to leave their homes because of climate change or natural disasters; a midrange, widely cited estimate of climate migration is 200 million migrants by 2050.

The world’s existing strategies for managing the displaced are no longer sufficient, but the next U.S. administration has an opportunity to lead the world in creating a new way forward.

There are five fundamental problems with how displaced people are managed today. This is the case for all of the 80 million forcibly displaced, and in particular among the nearly 30 million of them who have crossed a border to another country as refugees.

First, current approaches lead to ballooning numbers of people who live in exile in limbo for decades or generations, without a solution that permits them to restart stable lives. Although the United Nations promotes helping displaced people find “durable solutions”—returning home, integrating into their new host community or country, or resettling to a third country—the vast majority stay in limbo.