3 Refugee Crises You Might Not Know About

Displacement Afghanistan Burundi El Salvador Guatemala Honduras

Driven by ongoing civil conflict and gang violence, refugee crises from Asia to Central America are increasingly drawing the world’s attention beyond ongoing conflict hotspots in the Middle East.

With a new round of Syrian peace talks slated to start later this month, critical efforts to stabilize local conditions by connecting internally displaced persons as well as Syrian refugees with humanitarian assistance will continue to dominate news headlines in the months ahead.

Yet Syria is but one of an unprecedented number of humanitarian crises that are stretching the resources of organizations like the UN World Food Programme (WFP). In a world in which more than 60 million people were displaced by conflict last year, WFP continues to work in countries less visible to the 24-hour news cycle, where aid workers are quietly delivering hope to women, children, and their families. 

We take a closer look at three refugee crises far from the Syrian front: Afghanistan, Burundi, and the Northern Triangle of Central America — El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. 

1) Afghanistan

© WFP/Silke Buhr

For more than three decades, war, civil unrest, and recurring natural disasters have led to significant humanitarian challenges in Afghanistan. 

According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), as much as 96 percent of all Afghan refugees live in Iran and Pakistan. The majority of the 7.7 million internally displaced persons, refugees, and stateless persons in the Asia and Pacific region come from Afghanistan and Myanmar.

In recent years, ongoing military operations and a worsening security situation have resulted in additional internal displacement, especially in the Northern and Eastern regions. Despite some progress, millions of Afghans live in poverty. Approximately 7.6 million people in the country are food-insecure.

Since April, WFP has provided food rations to those affected, including 206,000 refugees in the provinces of Khost and Paktika. From July to September 2015, 715,000 people benefited from WFP’s emergency food assistance. 

Under the Purchase 4 Progress program, WFP is working with local food producers to produce ready-to-use supplementary foods and continues to support a wheat flour fortification program.

2) Burundi

© WFP/Jennifer Kunz

Plagued by more than 12 years of civil war, Burundi is once again witnessing a struggle for power that has forced thousands of families to flee their homes. 

Since presidential elections were held last April, more than 225,000 Burundians have fled to nearby countries like Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo due to an uptick in violence. The situation worsened after a coup attempt took place one month later. Since then, clashes between government forces and a growing number of armed insurgency groups have escalated.

Apart from challenges to political stability, Burundi is experiencing food insecurity due to a variety of natural disasters, including floods and drought. Less than one-third of Burundi’s population has enough food to eat throughout the year. 

As a result, nearly 60 percent of the country’s population is chronically malnourished, though over 80 percent engages in agricultural activities such as farming and livestock keeping. 

To support refugees, WFP is providing many families with high-energy biscuits and hot meals in transit centers. In Tanzania, WFP has distributed more than 14,000 metric tons of food to over 125,000 new Burundian refugees who continue to arrive in the country on a daily basis. WFP is also distributing rations including corn, beans, and oil.

3) The Northern Triangle – El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala

© WFP/Tania Moreno

Many may remember when thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America traveled to the U.S. border in 2014, fleeing poverty and unrest. Yet this migrant crisis is now approaching a refugee crisis, according to UNHCR. 

An October 2015 UNHCR report vividly describes women and their families escaping brutality in the Northern Triangle of Central America — El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras — as well as parts of Mexico. Fleeing murder, extortion, and rape at the hands of armed criminal gangs, these individuals are in dire need for WFP’s humanitarian assistance including food, medicine, and shelter. 

“The dramatic refugee crises we are witnessing in the world today are not confined to the Middle East or Africa,” said Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “We are seeing another refugee situation unfolding in the Americas.”

In 2014 alone, more than 66,000 children travelled with their families or alone from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to the United States. Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that the United States is expanding its refugee program to give families from these three countries the opportunity to be screened by UNHCR to potentially qualify as refugees to allow for their legal relocation.

“The increasing reach of criminal armed groups, often amounting to de facto control over territory and people, has surpassed the capacity of governments in the region to respond,” the report said.

Read how WFP is working to reduce poverty in Central America.