Answer to Map #24

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Answer: This choropleth depicts the percentage of residents of each country who are refugees.

As we mentioned when we posted this map, its scale is not linear. The darkest color of purple corresponds to countries where more than 6.4% of the population is comprised of refugees (Lebanon, Jordan). The next darkest color corresponds to countries where more than 3.2% of the population is comprised of refugees (Nauru). Each band of color on our scale is half as large as the previous one. That means that the third band indicates countries where more than 1.6% of the population is comprised of refugees (Chad, Turkey, South Sudan, Mauritania, Djibouti).

The darkest countries on this map are Lebanon and Jordan, two relatively small countries which have been absolutely overwhelmed by an influx of refugees fleeing neighboring Syria. Technically, Lebanon has so many refugees (20.9% of the population) that we ought to have given it an even darker color than Jordan—but we ran out of shades of purple that were easy to differentiate.

On this map, you can see that there are many darker countries that adjoin countries with ongoing conflicts. One very clear example of this phenomenon is that Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela are all fairly dark purple because they all host many refugees from neighboring Colombia. You can also see that Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen are all much darker than nearby Somalia because those countries all host many Somali refugees. Yemen, in turn, is the site of a major ongoing war that has produced its own stream of refugees—yet Somali refugees continue to flee to Yemen. This situation is a reminder of how dire the current global refugee crisis is.

This map also gives you some insight into which developed countries have accepted the highest number of refugees relative to their own population. In Sweden, which has long been especially accommodating to people fleeing war-torn countries, about 1.47% of the population is comprised of refugees. By contrast, only about 0.084% of the population of the United States is comprised of refugees.

The data used to make this map comes from the records of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, the international body tasked with registering, protecting, and supporting the world’s refugees. That means that the only people included in this data are those who have formally registered with UNHCR. There are, of course, other refugees in the world who have not gone through this process. The fact that we have used UNHCR data means that there are a few noteworthy points to consider about this map.

First, the data was current as of mid-2015, which is to say it is now already out of date. More refugees are driven from their homes every day. One place where you would expect the situation to have changed in the past year and a half is South Sudan, a country whose civil war has recently gotten worse and worse. Last week, The Guardian reported on a South Sudanese refugee camp in Uganda. The Bidi Bidi camp opened in August 2016 and was designed to hold 40,000 refugees. As of January 2017, it is currently home to 270,000 people.

Second, UNHCR is specifically not tasked with working with Palestinian refugees. The number of Palestinian refugees in the mid-twentieth century was so great that the United Nations established the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, known as UNRWA, in 1949. UNRWA is the only permanent refugee agency formed to work with refugees from a particular conflict, and it continues to operate in the Middle East. A total of 5 million Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA, a number that includes both those who fled the wars of 1948 and 1967 and their descendants who were born in other countries. Jordan has provided formal citizenship to Palestinian refugees residing within its borders, but other countries, including Lebanon and Syria, have not. If we wanted to try to combine the UNRWA’s data with that of UNHCR, it would be difficult to determine exactly how many refugees were in each country. Suffice it to say that Lebanon and Jordan, already the two darkest countries on our map by a significant margin, would become even darker.

Third, UNHCR only counts specific types of people fleeing their countries as refugees. Those who have left home for economic reasons, even if they have left an especially desperate situation, are usually not classified as refugees, who are specifically defined as people fleeing an ongoing conflict. That means that many African, South Asian, and Middle Eastern migrants to Europe are not registered as refugees and thus not counted in our data. UNHCR also only counts people who have crossed international boundaries as “refugees,” though it does register and provide assistance to people who have been displaced within their own countries. In general, the number of “internally displaced persons” greatly exceeds the number of refugees around the world.

Overall, UNHCR had just under 58 million people falling under its mandate in mid-2015, when the data used to make this map was collected. That number represents a dramatic increase—it is nearly triple the number of refugees worldwide that UNHCR had registered a decade before.

The country that hosted the most refugees in 2015 was Turkey, with about 1.8 million, mostly from Syria. The other countries with more than a million refugees were Pakistan (1.5 million, mostly from Afghanistan) and Lebanon (1.2 million, mostly from Syria). So why are Turkey and Pakistan not colored in the darkest color on our map? That’s because both of these countries have extremely large populations, so refugees make up a smaller overall percentage of their population than is the case in, for example, Nauru.

Understanding the difference between a map of the total number of refugees (on which Turkey and Pakistan would be highlighted) and a map of the percentage of the population comprised of refugees (on which Lebanon and Jordan are highlighted) is a fundamental point. It’s now week 24! We’re going to crack down! So if your answer didn’t contain the words “per capita,” “percentage,” “proportion,” or something else to indicate that you understood the distinction, then you didn’t receive any points this week.

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