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Applying science to the refugee issue

10 March 20170 comments

The respected science journal Nature has applied some reason and scientific methodology to the public debates around refugees and migration as the issue become increasingly polarised and political.

The journal has examined the facts and fictions surrounding the migration issues basket and the fears of a ‘refugee invasion’ that helped elect Donald Trump and sway Brexit voters.

And it has examined the increasing use of technology to monitor people’s mobility.

The magazine’s analysis of available data suggests that the situation is very different from how it is often portrayed.

It warns that misleading reports about the magnitude of flows into Europe and the United States are creating unjustified fears about refugees.

“That is undermining efforts to manage the massive humanitarian problems faced by those fleeing Syria and other hotspots,” the magazine says.

“The alleged increase in migration and forced displacement tells us more about the moral panic on migration than the reality,” it says.

The number of refugees and migrants entering the European Union is low compared with the bloc’s population. Nations in Africa and Asia are absorbing many more, Nature’s report reveals.

And it cites experts that question assessments of the global situation.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), declared in 2015 that the world was “witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record”.

Around 40 million people were ‘internally displaced’ within their home countries. But researchers say that such estimates are often unreliable.

Refugee numbers are easier to track. The UNHCR estimates that there were 21.3 million refugees in 2015; that is only slightly higher than the 1992 figure of 20.6 million, when the global population was just two-thirds of todays, Nature says.

Nature’s researchers also warn about misinterpreting estimates of international migrants — those who move for economic or other reasons.

“These numbers can be problematic because the most widely cited UN figures are cumulative,” it says.

The magazine quotes Guy Abel, a statistician at the Vienna Institute of Demography, who has studied the dynamic flow and found that the number of people migrating has remained stable over the past 50 years.

His latest estimates indicate that migration rate, as a share of global population, has dropped to its lowest point in 50 years.

Nature says most of the 21.3 million people who were refugees at the end of 2015 had fled conflicts in Africa and Asia.

The vast majority sought refuge in neighbouring countries; only a small proportion headed to Europe or the United States.

Just over half of refugees worldwide come from three countries, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Nature has published a fascinating info graphic that breaks down these numbers.

See it by clicking here.