- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
The world is facing the highest number of displaced people ever, surpassing even World War II levels. Over 65 million people are asylum seekers, refugees, or internally-displaced people. Rich countries are groaning under the strain of refugee and migrant influxes, which have prompted a political backlash.
Some 4.4 million people applied for asylum in 44 industrialized countries between 2013 and 2016, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency’s data. It has become a hot-button issue in the West as the United States and Europe grapple with unprecedented levels of asylum-seekers.
To visualize the situation, number junkies at the data visualization site Metrocosm put together an interactive map of what asylum seekers went where from 2013 to 2016 based on U.N. data.
Each dot represents 500 asylum seekers. The map shows a steady stream of asylum seekers from war-torn Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia to Europe, particularly to refugee-friendly countries like Germany and Sweden. According to the U.N., slightly more than half of refugees worldwide come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
An asylum-seeker is someone who has applied for asylum in another country on grounds that they would face persecution if they returned to their home country. If their application is accepted, they then become a refugee. The distinction is important; once people are designated refugees they’re entitled to international assistance and protection. If an asylum-seeker’s claim is denied, they can be sent back to their country of origin.
Seven countries in the world host over half of the world’s refugees. Despite the debates gripping Europe over whether and how to absorb so many refugees, none of the seven countries are in the European Union. They are: Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
While Europe is a prime destination for refugees, only a fraction make it there. Most land in neighboring countries and can’t make it further due to a variety of geographic, resource, and legal barriers. Of the 11 million Syrians who fled their country since the conflict began in 2011, only about 1 million have requested asylum in Europe.
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