One out of every 122 people alive today is someone who, at some point, was forced to leave his or her home. If you totaled up all these people, they would have a greater population than all of South Africa — nearly as many people who live in all of the United Kingdom.
This is the stunning scope of the world's refugee crisis, which the United Nations expects will leave at least 60 million people displaced by the end of 2015. This is the highest level of displacement that the international body has ever recorded.
The global refugee total at this time last year was 19.5 million. By mid-2015, it passed 20 million.
The world doesn't just have a refugee crisis. It also has a displacement crisis.
The refugee crisis has commandeered headlines, especially in the United States, with dozens of governors declaring in November they would not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states.
But the refugee crisis doesn't tell the entire story of displacement. There are even more internally displaced people living in the world right now: those forced out of their homes, but still in their home countries. The ranks of the internally displaced grew by 2 million in 2015, to hit 34 million in the middle of the year. Asylum applications also went up 78 percent.
There is no one common backstory to explain why displacement has surged in 2015. Instead, there are numerous, international conflicts that, collectively, began to fuel an epidemic. Vox's Max Fisher and Amanda Taub recently captured the issue well:
There's no single reason, because a number of the crises driving people from their homes are not connected. There's no real link, for example, between the war in Afghanistan and the persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, or between violence in Nigeria and violence in Honduras and El Salvador.
But there is one thing that jump-started the crisis, and that has helped to make it so especially bad: the Arab Spring. It began in 2011 as a series of peaceful, pro-democracy movements across the Middle East, but it led to terrible wars in Libya and Syria. Those wars are now helping to fuel the refugee crisis.
It's not hard to understand why Syrians are fleeing. Bashar al-Assad's regime has targeted civilians ruthlessly, including with chemical weapons and barrel bombs; ISIS has subjected Syrians to murder, torture, crucifixion, sexual slavery, and other appalling atrocities; and other groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra have tortured and killed civilians as well. The civil war has killed a shocking 250,000 people, displaced half of the population, and caused one in five Syrians (4 million people) to flee the country.
There is another reason that this crisis is so severe: Politics within Europe are unusually hostile to refugees and migrants at the moment. That isn't causing the numbers of refugees to actually increase, of course, but it's part of why the refugees are in crisis, stuck in camps or dying in the Mediterranean rather than resettling safely in Europe. There are a few reasons anti-refugee and anti-migrant politics are rising in Europe, but it's making it harder for Europe to deal with the crisis, and many refugee families are suffering as a result.
In addition to those refugees that Fisher and Taub mention, there are also an additional 7.6 million internally displaced Syrians who remain within the country's borders. Other places in the Middle East (particularly Afghanistan and Iraq) as well as sub-Saharan African countries also still struggle with large, displaced populations.
There are more displaced people than residents of Italy
Were these 60 million to be counted as the population of a single country, it would be the 24th largest in the world. They'd have nearly the population of the United Kingdom — and handily more residents than Spain, Colombia, or South Korea.
Imagine the Herculean task of resettling everyone in the United Kingdom — attempting to find new homes, new communities, and new lives for those 60 million people. That's the size of the challenge that the world faces today with displacement — and with no clear solution in sight.