The Syrian refugee crisis has been one of the biggest news stories of the summer, and continues into the autumn as EU countries try to negotiate resettlement. Britain has engaged in a more limited fashion in these negotiations, opting out of the latest resettlement agreement and offering to take just 20,000 Syrian refugees between now and 2020.
In many ways, it is a real luxury to be able to choose how many refugees to take. Most countries caught up in a refugee crisis have little or no control over what is happening. They don’t get to stop and think about how many people they can afford to shelter. They just arrive, and must be cared for one way or another.
And as it happens, most countries that host refugees are not wealthy and well-equipped for the role. 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. Here are the top ten refugee hosting nations, from UNHCR’s Global Trends report for 2014:
Turkey has been a major destination for Syrians in the current crisis, pushing Turkey to number one in 2014 for the first time. Pakistan had headed up that list for over a decade up before that, with a large population of refugees from Afghanistan.
Lebanon has been a refuge for over a million Syrians, despite being a small country of 4.5 million people or so. It’s the closest place to run to, and there is no possibility of shutting the border. It’s hard to imagine how Britain would cope with an influx of a similar scope, but we’d be better equipped for it than Lebanon.
Ethiopia is hardly a rich country either, and is unlucky enough to border three countries in turmoil: Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia. Just as many Somalian refugees were beginning to return home to the East, things have taken a turn for the worse to the West. People have started crossing over from South Sudan, making Ethiopia the biggest refugee hosting country in Africa.
Whether you’re in Britain or elsewhere, it’s worth bearing this context in mind when discussing how many refugees we can afford to host.