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The story we tell ourselves about the refugee crisis is very different from the reality.
A new visualization shows the flow of refugees around the world from 2000 to 2015, and makes the lesser-known story in Africa–and in places like Sri Lanka in 2006 or Colombia in 2007–as obvious as what has been happening more recently in Syria. Each yellow dot represents 17 refugees leaving a country, and each red dot represents refugees arriving somewhere else. (The full version of the map, too large to display here, represents every single refugee in the world with a dot.)
Here’s some of what you’re seeing: In 2001, tens of thousands of refugees fled conflict in Afghanistan, while others fled civil war in Sudan (including the “Lost Boys,” orphans who in some cases were resettled in the U.S.). By 2003, the genocide in Darfur pushed even more people from Sudan. In 2006, war drove Lebanese citizens to Syria; Sri Lankans fleeing civil war went to India. In 2007, as conflict worsened in Colombia, refugees fled to nearby countries such as Venezuela. After leading demonstrations in Burma against dictatorial rule, Buddhist monks and others fled to Thailand.
In 2008, a surge of Tibetan refugees fled to India, while Afghan, Iraqi, and Somali refugees continued to leave their home countries in large numbers. By 2009, Germany was taking in large numbers of refugees from countries such as Iraq. In 2010, another surge of refugees left Burma, while others left Cuba. By 2012, the civil war in Syria pushed huge numbers of refugees into countries such as Jordan. Ukrainian refugees began to flee unrest in 2013, and in greater numbers by 2014.
By 2015, the greatest number of refugees were coming from Syria, though mass movement from African countries such as South Sudan also continued–and because most of those refugees went to neighboring countries rather than Europe, the migration received less media attention. In 2015, the U.S. resettled 69,933 refugees; Uganda, with a population roughly eight times smaller, took in more than 100,000 people.
Developing countries host nearly 90% of the world’s refugees.
“Often the debates we have in society start with emotion and extreme thoughts, like, ‘Oh, refugees are invading the U.S.,'” says Illah Nourbakhsh, director of the Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, the lab that developed the technology used create the new visualization. “You can’t get past that–you can’t build common ground for people to actually talk about real issues and how to solve them.”