More than 7.5 million refugees have left Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began in February 2022, and another 8 million people have been displaced within the country. Around 90% of these refugees are women and children fleeing the horrors that the Russian military has imposed on their country, fueling Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.
This, of course, adds to the existing number of refugees. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there were an estimated 27.1 million refugees in the world, and now the figure is over 34 million. Following the media in developed countries, you’d be tempted to think they are taking care of this problem. Despite all this, much of this is shouldered by developing and underdeveloped countries.
Before Russia’s invasion, developed countries hosted only 16% of the world’s refugees, leaving developing countries to take in 84%. Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees, followed by Colombia, Uganda, and Pakistan. Per capita, the smaller Lebanon hosts the most refugees, with 156 refugees per 1,000 citizens — the country is basically 15% refugees. Jordan comes in second on this metric, with 72 refugees per 1,000 citizens.
Ukraine has shaken the list somewhat, with Germany officially accepting around 800,000 Ukrainian refugees. The Czech Republic and Bulgaria have taken over 300,000, and Turkey, Italy, and Spain have officially taken over 100,000 as well.
But the real number of refugees could be very different. Most of the time, people fleeing from war and strife settle in neighboring countries. By now, some 4 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighboring Poland, and while it’s not clear how many are still there, it’s very likely a large percentage of them — especially as Poland has made it easier for Ukrainians to come into the country in the wake of the invasion.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the European spectrum, the UK is working on a controversial plan to deal with some of its refugees. The UK, which currently hosts around 173,000 refugees in total, wants to send would-be refugees that arrive in the country as stowaways or in small boats to the African country of Rwanda. There, the asylum seekers would await for their claims to be processed and if successful, they will stay in the African country instead of returning to Britain.
The British government says the plan is a legitimate way to protect lives but critics of the plan call the idea inhumane, unworkable, and a big waste of money to top it off — as Britain is paying Rwanda ($150 million) up front for the deal. The European Court of Human Rights (an international tribunal supported by 46 countries including the UK) has grounded the inaugural flight of the controversial scheme.
Relatively few Ukrainian refugees will reach the rich countries of Western Europe and Scandinavia. Most will remain in the developing countries of central and Eastern Europe. Which is perhaps a missed opportunity.
Are refugees even bad for the economy?
There are compelling moral reasons for welcoming refugees; after all, how we deal with refugees is a good measure of our society. But there could also be economic advantages to hosting refugees.
Nobel Laureate in Economics David Card famously showed that immigrants don’t have a negative impact on the local labor market. This surprising finding was followed by another study which found that, oftentimes, refugees have a positive impact on the local economy. Refugees tend to boost the overall productivity of the nations that host them and engage in entrepreneurship at much higher rates than natives. The bulk of economic research suggests that despite an initial cost, there are tangible and important economic benefits to hosting refugees.
If refugees are helped to re-establish and integrate, especially in developed countries, they can be an important part of the economy, so helping them is not only the morally right thing to do, it’s also the practical thing to do. Yet despite all this, developing and underdeveloped countries continue to share the lion’s share of the burden.
The number of people forcibly displaced is on the rise globally. We can do better.