Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Costs of War

Refugees & Health

The U.S. post-9/11 wars have displaced at least 38 million people in and from eight countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria

The insecurity that refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) face extends far beyond the guns and blasts of the war. It includes lack of access to food, health care, housing, employment, and clean water and sanitation, as well as loss of community and homes.

For war refugees, these problems are exacerbated in the face of exile. Over 38 million people in the war zones of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria have been displaced, either abroad or within their own countries, and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. This is a very conservative estimate and the figure could be as high as 49-60 million.

Refugees also face difficulties in renewing visas, the denial of civil rights and services, the fear of deportation, and anxiety about the future.

Many displaced persons, usually poorer migrants who lack the finances necessary to travel abroad, have had to relocate within their countries. For example, in Baghdad, internally displaced persons (IDPs) often squat in bombed-out buildings with no water, electricity, sewage, or garbage disposal. Precarious living conditions are further heightened by unemployment.

Those who have managed to escape the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fled to nearby states including Pakistan, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran. The refugee influx into these countries has strained their resources and the livelihoods of their urban working classes. Given the continued reluctance of Western states to resettle Iraqi and Afghan refugees, the limited international assistance received by host states, and the uncertainty as to time of return, the refugee situation continues to worsen.

Key Findings

  • The number of war refugees and displaced persons from the U.S.-led post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria is estimated at over 38 million.
  • Refugees and IDPs face food insecurity, unemployment, homelessness, lack of adequate health care, water, electricity, and sanitation, among other issues.


  • The Congressional Research Service should submit an annual report to Congress on displacement and refugees in regions where the U.S. is at war.
  • U.S. officials must discuss how to repair some of the damage inflicted on those displaced.

(Page updated as of August 2021)