Disproving the oft-repeated statistic that the average stay in a refugee camp is 17 years?

Is it really true that the average stay in a refugee camp is now 17 years?

BBC World Service More or LessThat was a question asked on a recent episode of BBC World Service’s More or Less programme that examines the facts behind quoted statistics.

The statistic seems to originate in a nine year old UNHCR publication and whilst referring to the length of time people were refugees, it didn’t specifically refer to the relatively small proportion of refugees who live in camps.

University of Glasgow’s Benjamin Thomas White (and member of Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network/GRAMNet) explained that the statistic also only referred to refugees supported by the UNHCR and neither includes Palestinians many of whom have been refugees for a much longer period nor has been updated to account for the current Syrian refugee crisis (which is large enough and recent enough that it would reduce this average figure).

While the oft-quoted ’17 year’ statistic is not true today, the length of time individuals and families spend away from their homes varies enormously.

UNHCR Global Trends displaced by conflict graph

The UNHCR estimate that 59.5 million people were displaced worldwide at the end of 2014: 19.5 million refugees, 38.2 million internally displaced in their own countries, and 1.8 million seeking asylum elsewhere. 51% of refugees are under the age of 18.

UNHCR Figures at a glance infographic