FAO emergencies and resilience

Q&A: Forced displacement

People or entire communities experience forced displacement when they are forced to leave their homes to avoid situations that put them in danger. For example, armed conflict, violence, climate shocks (floods and drought) and human rights abuses, such as persecution due to race, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, political opinion or belonging to a certain social group, are all drivers of displacement. People who flee under these conditions generally fall into three categories:

  • Refugees: People who have fled their country to seek safety in another country, where they are protected by international law.
  • Internally displaced people: People who have fled to another region of their country and are still dependent on their own government to provide protection from violence and persecution. This makes internally displaced people one of the most vulnerable groups of displaced people in the world. 
  • Returnees: Any person who has been forcibly displaced and has returned to their home or habitual residence. The choice to return should be voluntary, underpinned by a person’s free and informed consent.

(Learn more about the difference between refugees and migrants)

Forced displacement often causes people to leave everything behind in search of safety. Displaced people and their families frequently lose their livelihoods, assets, social safety nets and legal documentation. They may also suffer from further violence, injury or exploitation during the challenging journey to find refuge, as well as the devastating loss of loved ones. 

In such cases of extreme vulnerability, people may experience severe impacts to their physical and mental health, income and ability to cope with additional challenges. Under these conditions, people find themselves in need of immediate protection and support to help them meet their basic needs, as well as longer-term assistance to rebuild their lives.

Displaced people, like us all, have unique knowledge and skills, and must provide for themselves and their families. But the specific set of challenges they face impede their equal social and economic participation. Enabling government policies that promote their inclusion, capitalize on their skills and reduce their dependence on humanitarian assistance are key to ensuring they have the means to live in safety and dignity, as well as achieving durable solutions.

Durable solutions are the ultimate goal for people who have been forcibly displaced. These are achieved when forcibly displaced people no longer have specific assistance and protection needs tied to displacement and they can enjoy their human rights without discrimination. The three primary durable solutions to forced displacement are outlined below.

  • Local integration is underpinned by processes that occur on the legal, economic, social and cultural levels. For refugees, local integration occurs when people are granted a broader range of rights and entitlements by the host State. This enables people to have greater capacity to resume and rebuild their livelihoods, which in turn contributes to greater self reliance. Importantly, local integration culminates when refugees can benefit from permanent protection from the State by being granted asylum or citizenship. For internally displaced people, local integration is achieved when people have re-established the economic, social and psychosocial relationships needed to maintain their lives, livelihoods and inclusion in civic life. For both groups, successful integration hinges on people living in peaceful coexistence among and alongside others, such as host communities, without fear of discrimination, exploitation or abuse.
  • Resettlement can be a valuable protection tool when refugees’ protection needs cannot be met in their first country of asylum. In this situation, resettlement to a third country that has agreed to assist them can be a viable solution to ensure their safety and security. Resettlement likewise enables states to share protection responsibilities, reducing the impact of hosting large numbers of refugees in countries of asylum. For internally displaced people, resettlement is guided by the principle that people should be able to resettle voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence or in another part of the country, where their life, safety, liberty and/or health are not at risk.
  • Refugees and internally displaced people may decide to voluntarily return or be repatriated to their home country or place of origin when conditions become safe. When they arrive, they require the full commitment of their country to help them reintegrate and rebuild their lives.

This means people will experience: 

  • Long term safety, security and freedom of movement. 
  • An adequate standard of living, including at a minimum access to adequate food, water, housing, healthcare and basic education.
  • Access to employment and livelihoods.
  • Access to effective mechanisms that restore their housing, land and property or provide them with compensation.

Forced displacement continues to rise around the world. 

As of May 2023, UNHCR estimates that over 110 million people were displaced globally. At the end of 2022, there were 108.4 million. This represents an increase of over 19 million people displaced by conflict, persecution and human rights violations since 2021 – the largest ever increase between years. 

This translates to more than 1 in every 74 people on Earth having been forced to flee their homes.

Stats at a glance:

  • 35.3 million refugees
  • 62.5 million internally displaced people
  • 5.4 million asylum seekers
  • 5.2 million people in need of international protection* 

Over half (52 percent) of all forcibly displaced people came from just three countries: the Syrian Arab Republic (6.5 million), Ukraine (5.7 million) and Afghanistan (5.7 million). Moreover, 76 percent of forcibly displaced people are hosted in five countries, of which the majority are low- and middle-income. This includes Türkiye  (3.6 million), the Islamic Republic of Iran (3.4 million), Colombia (2.5 million), Germany (2.1 million) and Pakistan (1.7 million). 

With some exceptions, countries where agriculture is a critical contributor to the gross domestic product host a significant number of refugees and internally displaced people. While displaced populations increasingly choose to settle in cities, a significant proportion of them settle in camps or settlements in rural areas.

Many forcibly displaced people were dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods before they fled and continue to depend on it during displacement. With robust skills and capabilities in this sector, investing in agricultural livelihoods is a vital way to ensure displaced people can resume their income-generating activities. Similarly, agriculture offers an opportunity for displaced people who have no agricultural background to produce their own food and earn a living from it when they receive the right support.

* People who are outside their country or territory of origin, typically because they have been forcibly displaced across international borders, who have not been reported under other categories (asylum seekers, refugees, people in refugee-like situations) but who likely need international protection, including protection against forced return, as well as access to basic services on a temporary or longer term basis (UNHCR, 2023).

Situations of forced displacement have become increasingly protracted. The average length of displacement for refugees is 20 years and more than ten years for internally displaced people. For example, Kenya's Daadab Refugee Camp – one of the world’s largest – has been receiving refugees since 1992, primarily from Somalia. Children have been born there as refugees, living in camp confines for up to thirty years. In this setting, families face intense hardships. Living conditions are overcrowded, higher education is difficult to access, legal documents can be hard to obtain and resources are often scant, leaving long‑term residents vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition.

Food insecurity and forced displacement are closely intertwined. Drivers of displacement, such as conflict and climate shocks, have devastating consequences on food production. For example, armed groups may deliberately target and destroy food production assets, food storage, markets and roads. Moreover, climate shocks, such as floods, kill livestock, destroy crops and erode soil fertility and production potential. These events can cause or worsen food insecurity, which in combination with other factors, can drive people to flee their homes, losing their productive assets along the way.  

When people are forced to flee, they often lack the start up capital, opportunities or access to land to resume their livelihood activities. Without these resources, people are less able to cultivate or buy food. In addition, the areas where people settle may already face resource scarcity, for example of water and food. This can trigger tensions between host and displaced communities, straining cooperative relationships that hinder both communities’ socioeconomic advancement. Host countries may also have food production systems that are not strong enough to cope with population shocks. In these ways, displacement can add acute pressure to host countries, putting both communities at increased risk of food insecurity. 

While limited, existing data suggests that food insecurity and displacement are strongly interlinked. According to the 2023 Global Report on Food Crises, in 2022 there were nearly 20 million refugees and asylum seekers hosted in 55 countries experiencing food crisis. The 2023 Global Report on Internal Displacement also revealed that many countries with the largest numbers of internally displaced people also faced acute food insecurity (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification [IPC] Phase 3+). For example, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Yemen had the highest numbers of people experiencing acute food insecurity in 2022, accounting for 53 percent of all acutely food insecure people across the 49 countries covered by IPC. These five countries were also home to over a third of internally displaced people globally. 

FAO plays a critical role in responding to forced displacement crises by providing comprehensive agricultural support to address food insecurity and malnutrition and achieve durable solutions. In recognizing that responses to humanitarian crises need to incorporate both immediate humanitarian assistance and a development-oriented focus on sustainable solutions, FAO’s programming is designed to work across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus.

At the onset and early stages of displacement, FAO provides humanitarian assistance, such as cash transfers and agricultural inputs (seeds and tools), helping refugees and internally displaced people meet their basic food needs and harvest crops for consumption and sale, which contribute to their self reliance and resilience. These interventions are complemented by longer-term support, for example value chain development, that promote sustainable agricultural livelihoods. 

FAO also works to improve forcibly displaced people’s access to and management of natural resources (such as water) that are critical to agricultural livelihoods. In addition, by employing Anticipatory Action before the onset of a crisis, as well as disaster risk reduction measures, FAO helps prevent and mitigate the drivers and devastating impacts of climate hazards that would destroy critical infrastructure, disrupt people’s lives and livelihoods and potentially lead to displacement. 

When displaced people participate in local economies, host communities and displaced people both benefit. 

FAO leverages the transformative potential of agriculture by promoting it as both a viable livelihood option and a driver of socioeconomic inclusion to achieve durable solutions. To this end, FAO links food production to markets, as well as displaced people to private sector partners, in both instances, promoting their inclusion in local value chains. This contributes to stimulating the local economy and boosting local development. FAO’s Farmer Field Schools – where both communities take a hands on approach to learning about and applying good agricultural practices, climate-smart agriculture and financial literacy – offer the opportunity for people to get to know each other while working side by side. These activities can bring about commercial and cultural exchanges, as well as give rise to peaceful cohabitation. 

FAO’s comprehensive agricultural interventions include the following core elements. 

The legal and policy environment of a host country plays a vital role in determining the lives of forcibly displaced people and the viability of durable solutions. Some countries, like Uganda, have adopted policies that grant human rights equal to other nationals and allow refugees to move freely throughout the country, work and set up businesses. However, this is an exceptional case and not the standard, with many other refugees and displaced people lacking the rights and means to rebuild their lives.

FAO works with host governments to promote and advocate for enabling policies for forcibly displaced people. This includes advocating for their access to land and other natural resources, socioeconomic inclusion, as well as inclusion in national security schemes and development plans. These actions are critical to ensuring that host countries secure the legal environment that allow displaced people to have the resources they need to live a dignified life, and eventually, achieve a lasting solution to their displacement.

Finally, key infrastructure is also critical to achieving sustainable agricultural livelihoods and durable solutions. Post‑harvest storage facilities and equipment, markets, water infrastructure and roads are often lacking or have been damaged or destroyed in rural and remote areas, where refugee camps or settlements exist. FAO invests in infrastructure construction and rehabilitation interventions to ensure that local food systems can function and people can resume their livelihood activities. These interventions can also bring together forcibly displaced people and local communities through cash‑for‑work activities, likewise helping to foster social cohesion. 

In situations of mass displacement, the population of hosting areas can increase dramatically in a very short period, which puts extra pressure on critical natural resources, such as forests, water and land. Stretched resources, in combination with the impacts of climate change, can lead to their degradation and depletion, as well as competition over them between host and displaced communities. This, in turn, can cause tensions and even conflict. 

FAO works to prevent damage to the environment and ensure both communities can safely and sustainably access, use and manage natural resources by: 


  • Preventing and addressing damage to forests, as well as preventing conflicts between communities and violence against women and girls, by promoting alternative clean energy sources and sustainable livelihood opportunities based on forest products. 
  • Establishing forest plantations and promoting adequate forest management techniques and platforms to ensure sustainable and sufficient access to fuel, as well as reduce pressure on surrounding natural forests.


  • Promoting sustainable access to and use of land for agricultural production. 
  • Preventing and addressing soil erosion for better productivity outcomes.
  • Mitigating conflicts that may arise from land access, allocation and use. 


  • Improving water productivity and reducing water loss by providing training on efficient water management techniques and water saving technologies, such as drip irrigation systems.
  • Teaching diversified agroecology to help farmers adapt to water scarcity. 

FAO also establishes committees that allow communities to jointly manage natural resources, ensuring sustainability and building mutual cooperation.

Climate change, a key driver of displacement, has devastating consequences on agricultural production and livelihoods. Changes in rainfall patterns, prolonged droughts and sudden floods can exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities and likewise act as a driver of displacement. 

FAO recognizes the importance of mainstreaming climate change adaptation throughout its interventions. This can include:

  • Distributing drought resistant seeds.
  • Investing in infrastructure to protect crops, such as shade nets that maximize water use and retain moisture during periods of prolonged drought.
  • Mainstreaming climate-smart agriculture to ensure resilience to future climate shocks.
  • Investing in water management techniques, such as water harvesting and reusing agricultural runoff, where water is scarce.
  • Investing in livelihood preservation and alternative livelihoods programming in situations where extreme weather events, such as drought or floods, put agricultural livelihoods at risk.
  • Promoting disaster risk reduction and Anticipatory Action interventions to prevent and mitigate the risk and impact of climate shocks.
  • Working with governments to manage natural resources, harmonize agricultural planning processes and create area-based water management and climate risk plans.

These interventions help foster the resilience of displaced and host communities to climate shocks, as well as contribute to preventing further displacement.

FAO also incorporates disaster risk reduction and Anticipatory Action in its interventions to help prevent displacement and lessen the impact of disasters on vulnerable communities.

Disaster risk reduction is the practice of using systematic efforts to reduce the causes and impacts of disasters. These practices may include reducing the exposure of populations to hazards, adequate management of land and other natural resources and improving preparedness and early warnings for oncoming, adverse events. In practice, disaster risk reduction can help prevent future displacement and mitigate and prevent the risk of additional livelihood losses. 

Sometimes, however, disasters may be unavoidable. 

FAO utilizes Anticipatory Action programming, which relies on data analysis to predict where and when crises might occur. It enables people to act in advance of a crisis to help people protect their assets, avoid displacement or limit how long displacement is experienced when unavoidable. 

Disaster risk reduction and Anticipatory Action interventions incorporate social protection mechanisms, such as cash assistance, to ensure that in times of crisis, both people who are displaced and those who are at risk of becoming displaced have access to financial resources to ensure their livelihoods are not lost.  

FAO's comprehensive agricultural responses also aim to both address the drivers of displacement and prevent it from happening in the first place. One aspect of this approach centres on developing conflict-sensitive responses that can contribute to improving social cohesion and improved relationships between displaced and host communities.

To this end, assessments that detail the local contextual dynamics (social, cultural, economic, political) are carried out to identify how FAO can both adhere to the “do no harm” principle, as well as possibly contribute to local peacebuilding initiatives. This ensures FAO’s interventions are inclusive, promote local integration and adequately meet people’s needs. 

Farmer Field Schools and Dimitra Clubs are two methodologies FAO uses to build social bonds, as well as support community mobilization and economic inclusion. These joint activities provide members of different communities the opportunity to get to know each other and work towards a common goal. Moreover, through the economic inclusion of displaced people, host communities also benefit from improved food production, commerce and economic development. On the long term, these action help to quell any arising tensions or conflicts and foster a peaceful environment, which can act as a foundation for achieving durable solutions.

(Learn more here)