With the question of refugees back in the newspapers in Britain, it’s time for a perennial reminder of who hosts refugees and why. The number of people leaving Ukraine will redraw this map, but this mid-2021 update from UNHCR shows where the world’s refugees are currently living:
What this map doesn’t show is internally displaced people. There were 46 million of them in 2021, versus 26.6 million refugees who had crossed borders. So most people who have to flee their homes don’t leave their own country.
Of those that do, most get to the nearest safe place and stop. 3.6 million Syrians went north to Turkey and remain there. Pakistan has a million and a half people from Afghanistan.
With 85% of refugees hosted in developing countries, it is often those with the fewest resources who have to accomodate new arrivals. After Turkey and Pakistan, Uganda hosted the most refugees in 2021, providing refuge for people from DRC, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan.
As millions of people are displaced in Ukraine, the 2022 UNHCR reports will have a lot more to say about Poland and Romania. Britain is a continent away and surrounded by water, and we should recognise our regular arguments about refugees as a luxury. For frontline nations, there’s no choice in the matter. You have to roll up your sleeves.
Britain is currently poorly equipped to host refugees – not because we don’t have the space and the resources, but because we have spent a decade fostering a ‘hostile environment’ to outsiders. Our systems are purposefully set up to deter and demoralise people seeking refuge in Britain. This is at odds with many people’s sense of compassion towards refugees, with Scotland and Wales both taking a more open and welcoming approach.
It is the Conservatives in Westminster that have turned the country against those in need, consistently blurring the lines between migration and asylum seeking, and winning votes out of the resulting fear and confusion. This approach fails those needing our help, and it fails us as a nation. We are better than this. We are capable of so much more.
Events in Ukraine should force us to re-assess our approach to asylum seekers in the UK. Not just as part of our response to the current atrocity, but with an eye on the future. Long term projections of climate impacts suggest that hundreds of millions of people will be displaced in the decades to come. It will not be enough to hide on our island and turn away the boats.