Human Displacement

Putting migation and forced migration into perspective

Migrants of all types comprise just 3% of the global population, despite the increasing numbers, the overall percentage has remained stable for the last 40 years, says the International Organization of Migration (IOM) here. Furthermore, irregular migrants comprise only 10% of this 3%. 

Human displacement invoves people who were forced to migrate due to war, persecution, and disaster. Migrants and forced migrants are distinct on paper, but in reality "people on the move" present states with a complex mixture of human needs and protection obligations.

Examples of people on the move below. Note people may not neatly fit existing legal categories for protection, or may represent a vulnerability for which there is no legal framework.  

  • people stateless seeking citenship
  • asylum seekers seeking refuge
  • unaccompanied minors
  • low skill economic migrants
  • trafficked people
  • high skill economic migrants
  • people displaced by climate and environment 

People have the same immediate needs and the same human rights, but only some engage protection obligations of UN Refugee Convention (1951) or UN Statelessness Convention (1954) Each state may respond differently to each group. 

Global Trends 2011 report by UNHCR

The occuaptional therapy response to human displacement

The World Federation of Occuaptional Therapists (WFOT) have issued a Position Paper on Human Displacement (2012) is an umbrella for all types of displacement

Disaster Preparedness & Response (DPR) is a source of information about how occupational therapists get involved in this field of practice. The key agency in disaster-induced displacement is International Federation Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

Occupational Opportunities for Refugees & Asylum Seekers (OOFRAS) Inc is a source of information about how occupational therapists get involved in this field of practice. We are a signatory of the Global Compact which means taking measures to which actually help prevent displacement by ethical conduct with people and the environment.  The key agency in conflict-induced displacement is United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Durable Solutions


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assists people who volunteer to return when safe to do so, 532 000 people in were repatriated in 2011 according to Global Trends 2011 pg 62, after a downward trend since 2004.

The physical, social, and occupational context is not the same as when people fled so the challenge of occupational adaptation is acute and complex, with livelihoods being key. Repatriation for this reason is often called the forgotten phase.

Repatriation implies a return to a place, but where? After years of conflict assuming refugees still own their land and shelter is naive. Home's have been destroyed or occupied, and land has been grabbed.

Land rights are foundational to other rights. The type of land you possess defines your ability to be self-sufficient, and consequently your socio-economic status and role within the community. Owning land wihought water, or when people own land but are too poor to build shelter or develop it, or the land offers no chance at a livelihoods, these iniiatives inevitably fails because land is important socially and culurally as well as economically. 

Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka are priorities for UNHCR, listed here pg 46, in 2012 - 2013.

Local Integration

The legal, economic, and socio-cultural integration of displaced people into the host country hinges on ocupational opportunities and participation that benefits the host country. The United Nations High Comissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) works with host governments to raise awareness of positive outcomes, and demonstrate opportunities for local integration as a durable solution.

Instead of sustaining a destitute population in limbo, attention shifts to integrated development and livelihoods benefits the host and displaced population.


United Nations High Comissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) aims to protect displaced people, and ultimately facilitate durable solutions to displacement.

Traditionally these are repatriation (voluntary return when it's safe to go home),local integration (assuming the host country grants citizenship), resettlement in a third country (according to a third countries humanitarian program).

Resettlement countries provided legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. It should allow for refugees to become naturalized citizens. 

UNHCR reports here pg 48, the good news is that resettlement countries have increased from 14 in 2005 to 25 countries in 2010. Not-so-good news is that UNHCR noted here pg 64, that only 61 000 left for resettlement in 2011. This represents a decline, attributed to tighter security screening, with top three displaced populations from Bhutan, Manymar, Iraq.

The UNHCR here notes that only about 1% of the people of conccern are proposed for resettlement because they are unable to be protected, or have particular needs that can't be met in their host country. In the last five years, UNHCR reports herep47, that 300 000 refugees have been resettled into third countries.

Still, the UNHCR Global Appeal for 2012-2013 notes p48, a deficit of resettlement places in humanitarian programs: currently a total of 80 000 places are offered, whilst 781 300 of the most vulnerable people are needed. Displaced populations identified by UNHCR as high need for resettlement in the next few years includeAfghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Myanmar, p46. 

UNHCR Projected Global Resettlement Needs (2012) covers all regions of the world, including positive media stories.

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