Middle East and North Africa


Displacement increased in the Middle East and North Africa in 2021, with a total of 16 million forcibly displaced and stateless people, compared to 15.8 million a year earlier. UNHCR newly registered 128,000 people across the region, including 15,800 requiring international protection among mixed movements in North Africa. 

UNHCR staff helping a woman
UNHCR staff help Fatemeh, 85, off the bus from Zaatari Camp on 14 January 2021, as she arrives at a health clinic in Mafraq, Jordan, where she was one of the first refugees in the world to be vaccinated against COVID-19. © UNHCR/Shawkat AlHarfoush
16 June 2022
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This information about the region in 2021 is an extended version of the regional chapter in the Global Report 2021, which you can download here. The Global Report also contains information on funding and thematic chapters on UNHCR's work to achieve its Global Strategic Priorities and other initiatives.


Executive summary

Displacement increased in the Middle East and North Africa in 2021, with a total of 16 million forcibly displaced and stateless people at year end, compared to 15.8 million a year earlier. UNHCR newly registered 128,000 people across the region, including 15,800 requiring international protection among mixed movements in North Africa. 

The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), co-led by UNHCR, remained the cornerstone of support for 5.7 million Syrian refugees and their host governments. Under the 3RP, over 2 million refugees received cash assistance, 140,000 children in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Türkiye received specialized child protection, and nearly 132,000 children participated in structured child protection and psychosocial support programmes. 45,000 women and men benefited from parenting support. 

Overall, UNHCR’s cash assistance benefited more than 6.2 million people, a vital tool for protection across the region. In Yemen, UNHCR conducted over 230,000 protection monitoring assessments and disbursed $72 million in cash assistance to 1.4 million people, helping vulnerable IDPs to stave off famine. More than 105,000 families in Yemen received shelter and core relief item kits, and 41,000 refugees and IDPs received psychological first aid. In Libya, UNHCR and partners appealed for the release of detained displaced people and conducted 400 visits to detention centres, but UNHCR’s assistance was curtailed after security concerns forced its Community Day Centre in Tripoli to close. In Tunisia, UNHCR communicated with refugee communities on travel risks and the protection and assistance available. In Algeria, UNHCR rehabilitated water networks and health facilities for Sahrawi refugee camps near Tindouf, while in Mauritania it provided protection and assistance for 67,500 Malian refugees in and around Mbera camp. All 19 countries in the region included refugees in their national COVID-19 vaccination plans and began vaccinating them. UNHCR supported their health responses and acted to mitigate the wider impact of COVID-19, including barriers to learning for 2.2 million children.  

To tackle statelessness, UNHCR worked with the International Institute for Humanitarian Law on training for government officials and other key interlocutors, and organized a conference with the League of Arab States on implementing the “Arab declaration on belonging and legal identity”. 

UNHCR jointly coordinated 270 partners in the 3RP, connecting the humanitarian response with longer-term programming and national strategies for inclusive growth and sustainable development. Linkages to national strategic plans were outlined in the context of the UNHCR-World Bank partnership in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon for 2021-2023. Syrians in Lebanon faced increasing poverty and vulnerability, while Jordan issued a record 62,000 work permits to Syrian refugees. In Iraq, UNHCR focused on inclusion and development, strengthening access to national services and employment opportunities and promoting small-scale infrastructure projects to make returns sustainable. A participatory assessment showed the importance of access to civil documentation for internally displaced and returning Iraqis. There were over 1,000 refugee returns to Iraq, while 1% of Syrian refugees made the decision to return to Syria or were resettled. The regional intention survey showed the majority still hoped to return. A regional contact group for complementary pathways, comprising 100 representatives including resettlement States, pursued durable solutions via third country employment and education opportunities and family reunification programmes. In Libya, 748 refugees and asylum seekers departed via humanitarian evacuations, and a further 785 were resettled.  

Impact of the Global Compact on Refugees

Of the 70 pledges from the Middle East and North Africa region, 23 were in progress, six fulfilled and one in the planning stage by year end. 18 official updates on pledge implementation were submitted in preparation for December’s High-Level Officials Meeting. Among the policy pledges in progress was Egypt’s commitment to give refugees access to primary health care and education within national systems. Refugees are now covered by the universal health care insurance scheme on an equal footing with Egyptians and were included in the roll-out of the national COVID-19 vaccination plan and the “100 Million Seha” campaign, which aimed at detecting and eliminating chronic diseases by 2023. Refugee students were included in the Instant Network Schools programme in Egypt, which aims at digitizing 108 public schools by 2025 to enhance education programmes for Egyptian, refugee and asylum-seeking students.  

The Kuwait Society for Relief pledge was fulfilled. Two grant agreements were signed with UNHCR towards cash assistance for IDPs in Yemen and Iraq, which benefited 5,524 families in Yemen and 763 families in Iraq. The Sheikh Abdullah Al Nouri Charity Society pledge was fulfilled, committing to cash assistance for refugees in Jordan through UNHCR in 2021. A pledge was implemented directly by the Sheikh Abdullah Al Nouri Charity Society in other operations dedicated to the needs of refugees and IDPs in the region. 

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Key results and trends in 2021

UNHCR'S programmatic results

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Chart - Cash assistance
Chart - Cash assistance by sector
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Chart - Education enrolment
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Chart - Resettlement departures
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UNHCR'S COVID-19 response

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Financial information

Consequences of underfunding

Funding needs in the Middle East and North Africa were the largest among UNHCR’s seven regions, at $2.702 billion, and the most underfunded at only 48%, leaving critical gaps in life-saving and protection needs. While some instances of underfunding were due to needs stemming from COVID-19, many pre-dated the pandemic.  

Staff shortages weighed on activities requiring specialized staff — experts in areas such as gender-based violence, cash assistance and environment — as well as on UNHCR’s ability to contact hard-to-reach people of concern. Lebanon’s cash assistance programme, the largest in the region, was substantially understaffed, and only one operation, Jordan, had an environment specialist. The limited cash or in-kind assistance was rarely enough to cover the needs of refugees, and there were high numbers of school dropouts, evictions and exploitations resulting from refugees’ poor socioeconomic situation. Approximately 510,000 individuals among the prioritized target population in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria did not receive cash assistance due to lack of funds.  

Underfunding has a tangible impact on activities with high running costs or long-term investments in infrastructure – required in refugee camps like Tindouf in Algeria or Mbera in Mauritania. Areas that have been deprioritized include malnutrition, raising teachers’ incentives, renewing deteriorated shelters, and constructing and maintaining water distribution systems and schools. Furthermore, funding gaps meant that innovative interventions such as a recycling project in Tindouf were not rolled out beyond the pilot testing phase. The COVID-19 pandemic plunged the communities hosting refugees into even more economically precarious conditions than previously, a precarity that was compounded when winter came and UNHCR lacked the resources to respond.  

Yemen remained one of the operations with the most tightly earmarked funding in the region (47% was tightly earmarked), leading to considerable challenges in responding to emerging and increasing needs.  

Budget by pillar

Budget and expenditure

Chart 5 - funding
funding chart
Chart 4 - Poc
Population chart
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Key achievements and impact

Strengthening emergency preparedness and response 

With COVID-19 restrictions exacerbating existing challenges, UNHCR used hybrid and remote processing to identify and register those needing international protection. Digital and face-to-face outreach provided timely access to asylum, durable solutions, education, health and cash assistance. Volunteer outreach programmes were expanded, contributing to localization by empowering community and grassroots organizations to develop and implement targeted protection and digital inclusion projects, with technical and financial support from UNHCR. 5.2 million community members were reached, while 61,000 persons with disabilities and older persons were engaged in community-led initiatives. This included remote and life-saving support for 479,000 survivors of gender-based violence, children at risk and people with mental health and psychosocial support needs. The regional emergency roster was brought up to date. The multifaceted regional context demanded responsiveness and flexibility, and supply teams had to develop emergency stocks in volatile contexts such as Lebanon and Mauritania. Syrian civilians displaced for a protracted period in north-western Syria required substantial assistance and UNHCR raced to source, receive and trans-ship as much aid as possible before the potential expiry of UNSC Resolution 2165 closed a vital route to assist them. With a full mobilization of logistics actors, prepositioning of goods and coordination of trans-shipments, UNHCR reached 245,000 displaced Syrians with core relief item kits. In 2021, the UNHCR supply teams in the region handled 96 million core relief and non-food items, 29.7 million of which were released to people in the region, a 69% increase on 2020.  

Preserving protection space and supporting access to national asylum systems and services 

UNHCR newly registered over 128,000 individuals and worked to enhancing the integrity of registration procedures and address backlogs. By year-end, 6.2 million people of concern were registered, 4.8 million of them in PRIMES proGres v4, including 3.1 million individuals (5 years and above) biometrically. UNHCR’s engagement on country-of-origin information (COI) and eligibility with the European Asylum Support Office and European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), national asylum authorities, courts and legal representatives fed into COI and country guidance products developed by the EUAA and EU member States. UNHCR advocated for non-refoulement, alternatives to detention and consistent disembarkation procedures, and secured the release of 600 people of concern from detention in Libya. UNHCR maintained a regular presence at key disembarkation sites in Mauritania and Tunisia following rescues at sea. UNHCR collaborated with States and legal partners in supporting access to civil documentation, advocating for women's nationality rights and implementing strategies on statelessness prevention and reduction, including through direct support on birth registration and nationality documentation processes and support to issuing authorities. Mitigating protection risks and addressing obstacles to education by strengthening referral systems, remedial education and other assistance were key to addressing learning losses. Across the region, 303,000 children were enrolled in primary education, 134,000 in secondary education and 6,800 people of concern received tertiary education scholarships. 

Ensuring protection from violence and exploitation, and providing mental health support 

UNHCR made efforts to ensure the mainstreaming of gender-based violence risk mitigation measures across all sectors, within UNHCR and across the humanitarian sector, leading to an inclusion of mitigation measures in country strategies. 192,000 survivors and people at risk, including boys and men, in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Türkiye, benefited from multisectoral services through the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP). An online capacity assessment tool ensured UNHCR’s partners had the requisite organizational capacity to protect against sexual exploitation and abuse. Child protection activities were adapted to facilitate remote case management in response to COVID-19 restrictions, including through digital platforms, in coordination with child protection partners and community outreach mechanisms. Within the 3RP framework, over 140,000 girls and boys in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Türkiye benefited from specialized child protection services, while 132,000 children participated in structured child protection and psychosocial support programmes, and 45,000 women and men benefited from parenting support. Strengthening the capacity of UNHCR staff and partners in mental health and psychosocial support with evidence-based interventions such as psychological first aid remained a priority, and 147,000 people of concern to UNHCR in the 3RP countries received psychosocial support.   

Achieving comprehensive solutions 

After a pandemic-related slump in 2020, 2021 witnessed an improvement in resettlement submissions and departures with 33,000 refugees referred for resettlement from the region, particularly those with specific protection needs, a 43% increase from 2020. 24,000 individuals departed to resettlement countries, twice as many as in 2020. Remote processing methodologies were deployed when the pandemic impacted case processing to ensure continuity. In parallel, integrity staffing in the regional bureau and several of the larger operations was prioritized, improving system monitoring and strengthening of anti-fraud efforts. UNHCR advocated for solutions during the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement and significantly invested in complementary pathways in the region. A regional contact group set up in 2020 served as an incubator for opportunities and a conduit for ideas, forging partnerships between States, partners and other actors. Prospects for local solutions remained limited, particularly in conflict countries such as Libya and Yemen. Voluntary return remained the hope for many forcibly displaced. A survey conducted in March 2021 showed that 70% of Syrian refugees wished to go home. 36,000 Syrian refugees returned in 2021, down from 38,000 in 2020. Sustained support to host countries and assistance programmes enabled people to make free and informed decisions regarding their future. Despite worsening socioeconomic and protection situations in host countries, refugees indicated that conditions inside Syria remained the main factor driving decision-making related to return. In Iraq, UNHCR worked closely with partners, including local authorities, to promote sustainable IDP returns through small-scale infrastructure projects. 

Mobilizing support through strategic partnerships 

UNHCR and the World Bank developed strategic plans for Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq from 2021 to 2023. UNHCR’s Islamic Philanthropy programme was the largest income driver for private sector partnerships globally, and UNHCR’s Zakat Fund and governmental and private donors in countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council helped finance cash assistance. UNHCR reached a new demographic of supporters by teaming up with Abo Flah, a gamer and YouTube influencer. Implementation of the UNHCR-UNICEF Blueprint framework promoted the inclusion of refugee children development planning in Libya, Lebanon and Iraq. The PROSPECT partnership – which helps refugees integrate in their new country and support host communities – offered training and grants to enhance access to information and accountability mechanisms for people with specific needs. Partnerships with civil society, faith-based actors, art and culture helped UNHCR advocate for inclusion and support for refugees and host communities. Partnerships with academia provided important research on refugee inclusion, the impact of COVID-19, and climate related displacement. UNHCR and the League of Arab States signed a Plan of Action for 2021-2022 to enhance information-sharing, learning and development, advocacy and technical support. UNHCR and the Arab Interior Ministers Council organized a workshop on International Protection in Situations of Mixed Movement in the Central Mediterranean, which promoted regional cooperation. UNHCR strengthened learning and development opportunities in the region for government partners, with a focus on Arabic language to enhance protection knowledge.

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Syria Situation Response

2021 Year-end population figures

  • Refugees in neighbouring countries (including Türkiye): 5.7 million 
  • IDPs: 6.9 million 
  • Refugee returns in 2021 alone: 36,000 
  • IDP returns (according to OCHA): 169,000 

2021 Situation overview

The decade-old Syrian Arab Republic crisis remained the world’s largest displacement crisis. By the end of 2021, more than 5.7 million Syrian refugees were displaced in neighbouring countries and 13.4 million Syrians were estimated to require some form of humanitarian and protection assistance inside Syria, including some 6.9 million internally displaced people (IDPs). People’s ability to meet their basic needs decreased as COVID-19 brought significant economic and social distress, on top of the effects of the ongoing conflict, inflation, and existing sanctions.

Inside Syria, UNHCR addressed significant humanitarian needs through multisectoral assistance and strengthening its community-based protection approach. As part of the whole-of-Syria response, UNHCR co-led the protection, shelter and non-food items and camp coordination and camp management cluster responses.

More than $266 million in cash assistance was distributed to close to 4 million Syrians in need and 285,000 vulnerable Syrian families received core relief items, helping to meet basic needs and mitigate harmful coping mechanisms such as reducing food consumption and child labour. More than 75,000 essential secondary and tertiary health care referrals were supported. Legal assistance was provided to some 483,000 Syrian refugees, IDPs and returnees and 31,500 Syrian refugees were assisted with civil status registration or documentation. In response to the harsh winter conditions, more than 2.1 million Syrians received cash assistance or core relief items to help them address seasonal needs such as heating.

Durable solutions for Syrian refugees are based on a comprehensive protection and solutions strategy seeking to: i) support host country and community resilience; ii) enable refugee self-reliance, including access to services, legal work opportunities and livelihoods; iii) expand access to resettlement in third countries and other complementary pathways, and iv) plan for the return of refugees to Syria, on a voluntary basis, when conditions for a safe, dignified and sustainable return are in place.

UNHCR worked to expand local opportunities and solutions for Syrian refugees, co-leading with UNDP the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) in response to the Syria crisis, coordinating the work of more than 270 partners in support of national efforts in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Türkiye. The 3RP connected the response with longer-term national strategies for inclusive growth and sustainable development.

UNHCR has identified over 610,000 Syrians as being in need of resettlement. In 2021, more than 17,000 Syrians departed for resettlement from the region, up from 9,400 in 2020 (but down from an average of 23,500 in 2018–2019).

In 2021, UNHCR registered around 36,000 returns, a decrease from 38,000 in 2020 and 94,000 in 2019, likely as a result of the challenging conditions inside Syria and the impact of COVID-19. A March 2021 intention survey found that while most Syrians outside Syria wished to return one day (70%), few planned on doing so in the next 12 months (2.4%). Respondents cited safety and security, livelihood opportunities, and housing and basic services as barriers to returning.

UNHCR provided multisectoral support where spontaneous refugee and IDP returns took place and engaged with the Government of Syria to advocate for legal, administrative and other measures to address obstacles to return. UNHCR adopted an area-based approach inside Syria, to support sustainable reintegration and recovery. This included concrete and practical interventions in areas such as shelter, protection services including legal aid and civil documentation, distribution of relief items, and restoration of basic services, among others.

Iraq Situation Response

2021 Year-end population figures

  • Refugees and asylum seekers in neighbouring countries (including Türkiye): 263,000 
  • IDPs: 1.2 million 
  • IDP returns in 2021 alone: 121,000 
  • Stateless persons: 47,000 

2021 Situation overview

In 2021, Iraq’s political and security situation remained fragmented and volatile. The economic downturn due to the fall in oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in rising consumer prices and reduced livelihood opportunities. 

Inside Iraq, the needs of some 1.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and 4.9 million IDP returnees remained high. Around 1 million IDPs lacked at least one type of civil documentation, impeding them from exercising their rights and accessing basic services. IDP families also faced eviction and were affected by the destruction and damage to property and critical infrastructure, the lack of opportunities and financial resources in areas of return.

UNHCR's work in Iraq continued the transition from an emergency response to a longer-term development approach. UNHCR focused on promoting inclusion in social protection schemes, strengthening access to national services and employment opportunities, identifying comprehensive protection and solutions strategies, and promoting the sustainability of IDP returns or local integration by fostering small-scale infrastructure projects through area-based programming for protection and solutions. 

UNHCR worked closely with partners, including local authorities, to improve the living conditions of IDPs and returnees, including in response to large-scale camp closures. UNHCR also strengthened partnerships with development actors to better ensure the systematic inclusion of people of concern into national development plans and development-oriented programmes. UNHCR co-led and coordinated the protection, camp coordination and camp management, shelter and NFI clusters for the IDP response.

Close to $18 million in cash assistance was distributed to 306,000 Iraqis in need. 34,500 vulnerable families received core relief items to support their basic needs and mitigate harmful coping mechanisms. More than 5,500 essential secondary and tertiary health care referrals were supported, and legal assistance was provided to some 82,000 Iraqi refugees and IDPs. In response to the harsh winter conditions, some 161,000 Iraqis received cash assistance or core relief items to help them address seasonal needs such as heating.

UNHCR estimates that 38,000 Iraqis are in need of resettlement, which remains a vital durable solution and a critical demonstration of responsibility-sharing by the international community. In 2021, around 1,000 Iraqis departed for resettlement, down from 1,100 in 2020 and 2,100 in 2019.

UNHCR also provided protection and humanitarian assistance to an estimated 276,000 Iraqi refugees registered in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Türkiye. UNHCR has adopted and advocated for an inclusive “one refugee” approach for all people of concern to UNHCR, which aims to eliminate differences in rights and services based on nationality.