On the back of poorer countries

Alice Corona
Published in
4 min readSep 22, 2015


According to UN data, more than 50% of the refugees in 2014 were hosted in just 10 countries.

This article is part of a series of around the 2014 UNHCR Report on Refugees and Forced Displacement.
Note: Silk has been discontinued as of Dec. 15th 2017 so links are broken and visualizations are static. Will replace them asap.

As images of desperate refugees fleeing wars and civil strife in Syria, Eritrea, Chad, Libya, Somalia and Burma have flooded the media, awareness that this refugee crisis is different has settled on the West and the developed world. Yet, as many rich and middle class nations race to erect barriers to the fleeing refugees, it is important to note that most of the burden for caring for the impoverished displaced families falls on other poorer countries.

Other articles in the series:

Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and the others: 10 countries hosted more than 50% of the world’s refugees.

Last year, Turkey received 11% of the world’s refugees. The country hosted almost 1.6 M refugees or people in refugee-like situation under UNHCR mandate. Other countries with more than half a million refugees were Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan and Kenya. What do these countries have in common? All of these countries have comparatively low Gross Domestic Products and are considered relatively poor. (In the case of Iran, this is partially due to sanctions).

In fact, according to UNHCR there is a structural problem in the refugee crisis.

“In 2014, the 30 countries with the largest number of refugees per 1 USD GDP (ppp) per capita were all members of developing regions. These ranks included 18 of the Least Developed Countries. More than 5.9 million refugees, representing 42% of the world’s refugees, resided in countries whose GDP (ppp) per capita was below USD 5,000”.

(UNHCR, 2014 trends)

Ethiopia is one of the most dramatic examples. Last year it had about 660,000 refugees. Not much compared to those hosted by other countries. Yet, for the country this means a refugee per $440 of the GDP (PPP) per capita.

When European news outlets cover the refugee crisis in Europe, they rarely put this in a global perspective. Italy’s 93,000 refugees pale in comparison to those hosted by many other Non-Western countries. Related to the country’s GDP, Italy is housing one refugee per $2.69 of GDP PPP per capita. And for no European country this value is over $6.32. In other words, as expressed per head as part of GDP, Ethiopia’s burden is roughly 163-times greater than Italy’s burden.

The television images also belie the reality of which country is actually carrying the heaviest burden. To date, Sweden and Malta have the highest concentration of refugees per inhabitants, about 15 or 14 per every 1,000 persons. Italy, which actually receives many of the fleeing recipes in rickety boats, in 2014 hosted “only” 1.53 refugee per 1,000 persons.

Click on the chart to access the interactive version and explore other variables. Data from http://unhcr-refugees-2015.silk.co

In general, the European burden of costs is comparatively light. Ethiopia has one refugee per $440.26 GDP PPP per capita. Pakistan one per $315.9. Lebanon has a concentration of 232.39 refugees every 1,000 inhabitants, followed by Jordan which has one 87.1 per 1,000.

Explore Refugee Flows by Origin and Destination Country

Click on the maps to access the interactive version and you’ll be able to tweak the country filters to produce visualizations for different refugee flows.

Refugee Flows: Destination Countries and Number of Refugees at the end of 2014. Filtered for Syria as Country of Origin

Refugee Flows: Destination Countries and Number of Refugees at the end of 2014. Filtered for UK as Country of Destination

NOTE: You can find all the data, together with more interactive charts and articles on our dedicated resource: The Refugee Crisis in Data. You can follow it to see other insights and be updated about new ones.

The data presented here is about the “population of concern to UNHCR […]. This includes persons who are forcibly displaced (refugees, asylum-seekers, IDPs, etc.), those who have found a durable solution (returnees), as well stateless persons, most of whom have never been forcibly displaced. This categorization is neither identical to nor synonymous for the 59.5 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, a figure that not only includes refugees and IDPs beyond UNHCR’s mandate but also excludes returnees and stateless persons.”

Read this page for more information on definitions used in this Silk.



Alice Corona

Stories with data, from the data collection (or scrape) to the data visualization. Data storytelling instructor, data journalist