© Dominic Nahr

Refugees and displaced people

We provide refugees and internally displaced people with everything they need, from psychological care to lifesaving nutrition

According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, we are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.

An unprecedented 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

There are also millions of stateless people who have been denied a 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 everything they need, from psychological care to lifesaving nutrition.

We set up hospitals in refugee camps, we help women give birth safely, we vaccinate children to prevent epidemics and we provide access to safe drinking water.

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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.

The largest camp in the world

When countries do provide shelter, refugees are often forced to face the health impacts of living in unsanitary camps. With a population of over 225,000 people – roughly the same size as Brighton – Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is recognised as the largest in the world and one of the most dangerous.

Today, Dadaab is no longer a refuge. As more people arrive from war-torn Somalia, the overcrowded camps are becoming permanent homes where people face rolling nutritional crises and outbreaks of diseases such as measles and cholera. 

"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 orbinskiformer msf president

Abubakar Mohamed Mahamud, MSF’s deputy field coordinator, has worked in Dadaab for more than 20 years.

“The crisis in Somalia is not going to end soon,” he says. “History is repeating itself and this is a never-ending problem.”

“What I see today is what I saw in 1991: desperate people who fled their war-torn country, leaving everything behind, only to end up in a camp where living conditions are below what is humanly dignified.”

Following the drought in the Horn of Africa in 2011, a surge of people fled Somalia in search of safety, food and medical care, aggravating the already dire situation for refugees in Dadaab.

MSF provides comprehensive healthcare to over 70,000 refugees living in Dagahaley camp in Dadaab and the local community through a 100-bed hospital and two decentralised health posts.

Our teams provide a wide range of services, including nutrition support, sexual and reproductive healthcare, emergency surgery, medical and psychological assistance to victims of sexual violence, vaccinations, mental health services, treatment for HIV and tuberculosis, palliative care for patients with chronic illnesses and home-based insulin management for people with diabetes. 

In 2018, MSF staff conducted more than 175,000 outpatient consultations and admitted over 10,000 patients for care. 

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Internally displaced people

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

Today, there are 41.3 million IDPs around the world. Around three-quarters of all IDPs are women and children.

Despite international law calling for the protection of civilians in conflict, women and children are often deliberately targeted by belligerents as part of their strategy.

And, while programmes exist to provide surgical and other care to these victims, the vast majority will not receive the 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 IDPs around the world.

In 2018, our teams were in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iraq, Niger, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sudan and Syria, caring for internally displaced populations. 

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