Updated Dec 15, 2018 - Politics & Policy

Developing nations are carrying the refugee load

Data: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Note: Figures include only UNHCR-registered persons, and exclude asylum seekers and undocumented persons. Map: Chris Canipe/Axios

European nations and the U.S. may have developed the rules for refugees in the 1951 Refugee Convention, but developing nations host 85% of the world's refugees, according to UNHCR.

Why it matters: "The biggest misconception is that America is bearing a disproportionate share of the burden," David Miliband, president and CEO of International Rescue Committee and former secretary of state for foreign affairs in the U.K., told Axios.

Think about this: One-third of people living in Jordan and one-quarter of those in Lebanon are refugees, mostly from Palestine and Syria, according to UNHCR.

"Imagine if the entire population of Canada and a third of Mexico would empty into the U.S. — that’s exactly what Jordan is going through."
Jenny Yang, senior vice president at World Relief

The top 5 destinations for refugees in 2017 were:

  • Turkey: 3.5 million refugees were in the country in 2017. Most have fled the war in neighboring Syria. Turkey's unstable economy, however, is leading to some tension between the Turkish people and refugees.
  • Pakistan: 1.4 million people. Almost all of them have escaped ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. While the government has been welcoming "over the last few years, there has really been a targeted campaign to make Afghan refugees feel insecure in Pakistan," Madiha Afzal, a Brookings Institution fellow, told CNN.
  • Uganda: Millions have fled from South Sudan as a civil war continues to rage.
  • Lebanon: Nearly 1 million people came from neighboring Syria alone.
  • Iran: Afghanistan was the primary source of nearly 1 million refugees in 2017.

While refugee rights advocates praised nations like Jordan, Colombia and Uganda for openly welcoming refugees, they also told Axios that the sheer volume of people can strain a developing nation's resources and economy.

A case study: Colombia, still recovering from a 50-year civil war, has taken in hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans on temporary residency permits.

“It’s creating a huge, huge health problem,” Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Francisco Santos Calderón told Axios. “It’s a ticking bomb.”

  • Hospitals are filling with Venezuelan children, pregnant women and others seeking access to health care.
  • Venezuelans are taking jobs for lower pay, creating pressure on the labor market.
  • While the government has been welcoming to the refugees, there is growing discontent especially with media coverage of crimes committed by a few Venezuelans.
  • "You’re starting to hear it in the streets," the ambassador said.

Editor's note: This graphic has been updated to clarify that it illustrates the total number of UNHCR-registered refugees in a country as of 2017, not arriving in 2017, and that this does not include asylum seekers and undocumented persons.

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