Inside the U.N.'s Shocking New Report on Refugees

Almost half of the world's refugees are from Afghanistan and Iraq

This article is from the archive of our partner .

In honor of World Refugee Day, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a study today on the state of forcibly displaced people around the globe. The report seems particularly relevant right now as over 10,000 Syrians stream across the border with Turkey to escape the government's violent crackdown on protesters (the photo above shows displaced Syrians at a camp in Turkey). The report also surfaces some fascinating findings:

  • Developing Countries Host 80 Percent of the World's Refugees. Why wouldn't refugees go to a developed country if they're fleeing chaos? According to UNHCR, most refugees--three-quarters, in fact--prefer to flee to neighboring countries. António Guterres, the head of UNHCR, said in a statement that the fear of refugees is exaggerated in rich countries while poorer countries are actually the ones shouldering most of the burden. To illustrate his point, he told reporters that about one million Libyans have fled to neighboring Tunisia and Egypt while less than two percent of those who've left Libya have reached Europe. CBS News points out that while poor countries rarely grant refugees citizenship or strong economic opportunities, developed countries like the U.S. are much more generous when it comes to resettlement.
  • Pakistan Has the Most Refugees in the World. Pakistan tops the list with 1.9 million refugees, followed by Iran with 1.1 million and Syria with 1 million (the U.S. is ninth with almost 265,000). Pakistan also has the largest number of refugees relative to the size of its economy, with 710 refugees for each dollar of its per capita GDP. By contrast, Germany, the industrialized country with the largest refugee population  has only 17 refugees for each dollar of per capita GDP. Why is Pakistan in the lead? Mainly because so many people are fleeing neighboring Afghanistan. Here are the countries with the highest number of refugees relative to the size of their economies, according to UNHCR:

  • Afghan and Iraqi Refugees Account for Half of All Refugees. The two countries where the U.S. has waged war in recent years are also the primary sources for the world's refugees. In fact,  three out of ten refugees in the world are from Afghanistan. CBS points out that Afghan refugees, who generally settle in Pakistan or Iran, have been fleeing successive wars since the 1979 Soviet invasion, and UNHCR adds that a sizable number of Afghans are now returning home because of economic concerns, troubles in Pakistan, and improvements in security in some parts of Afghanistan. Here are the top source countries for refugees, from the UNHCR report:

  • Number of Forcibly Displaced People Is at 15-Year High. Almost 44 million people (15.4 million refugees, 27.5 million internally displaced people, and 850,000 people seeking refugee status), more than half of them children, were forcibly displaced in 2010--a figure, according to UNHCR, that roughly equals the entire populations of Colombia or South Korea. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.