On World Humanitarian Day, 6 things to know about global humanitarian crises and foreign aid

On August 19, 2003, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad. In honor of Vieira de Mello and his fallen colleagues, and all humanitarian workers who have lost their lives in their line of work, the U.N. has designated August 19 as World Humanitarian Day.

One of the most widespread and urgent humanitarian issues facing the world today is the global refugee crisis. Brookings experts have explored the state of the refugee crisis in depth, focusing on the impact that U.S. policies can have on refugees and displaced persons especially.  Here are a few key findings from their recent work.

1. American public sentiment toward foreign assistance is increasingly partisan

Brookings Senior Fellow Homi Kharas suggests that partisan disagreements over foreign assistance are obscuring important conversations about how to improve its effectiveness. He explains that registered Republicans largely believe that it is not in the U.S.’s interest to participate in international efforts to forge a more stable world, as the problems are too big to make any real progress. The reverse is true for Democrats, who largely support U.S aid efforts. Kharas also notes that republicans who voted for Donald Trump have even less favorable views on foreign assistance than others in their party.

2. Three-quarters of the American public supports the programs funded by U.S. foreign assistance

It is inaccurate to claim that foreign aid is unpopular in the U.S. In fact, a recent poll shows that 75 percent of Americans support programs funded by U.S. foreign assistance. Brookings Senior Fellow George Ingram dispels this and other foreign aid myths and explains that U.S. foreign aid benefits vulnerable populations, developing countries, and the influence the U.S. wields internationally.

3. Turkey hosts 2.9 million Syrian refugees, the most in the world

Kemal Kirişci, senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings examines Turkey’s relationship with refugees. At the end of 2016, Turkey hosted 2.9 million Syrian refugees, the most of any country in the world. However, the large number of non-Syrian refugees in Turkey is often overlooked. The combination of non-Syrian refugees already living in Turkey and the influx of Syrian refugees to the country is posing significant challenges for the Turkish government.

4. Two-thirds of the 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide remain within their borders

Nonresident Senior Fellow Elizabeth Ferris explains that a large number of refugees are still living within the borders of their country of origin, creating a crisis of internal displacement. She also explains how the real crisis stems from the fact that the international refugee system was set up to respond to short-term emergencies, and cannot properly handle situations that last for years at a time. Ferris recommends retiring the term “refugee crisis,” as well as focusing on fixing internal displacement and the international refugee system.

5. Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia produce half of the world’s refugees

Jessica Brandt, associate fellow in Foreign Policy, examines the state of the global refugee crisis today and notes that half of the world’s refugees are from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. She notes that while the Syrian crisis is the single largest driver of displacement right now, Syrians make up only a third of the world’s total population of refugees.

6. U.S. global leadership on human rights is essential

Senior Fellow Ted Piccone, in recent Senate testimony, offered his views on the U.N. Human Rights Council, the only global, intergovernmental body devoted to human rights. This body has been criticized for including countries that are considered non-democratic human rights abusers, and the United States withdrew its participation from 2006 to 2009. However, Piccone says American non-participation “can be disastrous for our interests and that of our allies,” and that the United States should “stay actively engaged.”

For more research and commentary about humanitarian and refugee issues, visit our topic page on the subject.

Melissa English contributed to this post.