Refugees: The African numbers that put Europe to shame; it needs to think again

Refugees are 4.1% of Chad’s population, and 1.2% of Kenya’s. Only Sweden’s ratio of refugees-to-entire population exceeds 1%.

THE current refugee crisis was one of the top items at the UN’s General Assembly this week; on Tuesday, 19 countries announced they are donating $1.8 billion to the top UN aid organisations to help alleviate the suffering of refugees.

The commitment came after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told world leaders at the opening of the General Assembly debate that UN humanitarian agencies were “broke.”

In an interview that aired Friday on Good Morning America, Queen Rania of Jordan said that her country needs “assistance from the international community. Jordan is a small country that’s quite resource poor, so it’s really been a major issue for us.”

Jordan has been hit particularly hard by the civil war in Syria, watching a flood of 600,000 refugees come into the country from Syria during the most recent wave of the crisis. Jordan itself has a population of just 6.4 million, so that accounts to nearly 10% of its population. 

It’s proportionally even higher for Lebanon, with 1.1 million refugees, 25% of its population of 4.4 million.But wealthier Europe has been sharply divided as to how to deal with the refugee influx - even though it has the resources to support many more migrants than it currently does.

The panic

There are two big debates in Europe at the moment; one questioning which migrants are refugees (because not all are) and how many of these refugees should be allowed to stay, and in which country.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) cites that 350,000 migrants were recorded at EU borders between January and August 2015. In the whole of 2014 this number was 280,000. 

Breaking this down indicates that in 2014 the average monthly influx of migrants was  roughly 23,000 per month, while this year this average increased to about 44,000 – almost double that of last year’s. 

The facts

The European panic, however, needs to be calmed. Looking at the data just from a group of African countries with most refugees on record, one would appreciate just how much the European scare is exaggerated. 

The six top refugee destinations in Africa—Ethiopia (659,524), Kenya (551,352), Chad (452,897), Uganda (385,513), Cameroon (264,126) and South Sudan (248,152—hold together 2,561,564 refugees of foreign origin, who are supported in camps around the countries.

COUNTRY POPULATION (m)
REFUGEE POPULATION %
Ethiopia 99 659,524 0.6
Kenya 45 551,352 1.2
Chad 11 452,897 4.1
Uganda 37 385,513 1.04
Cameroon 23 264,126 1.14
S. Sudan 12 248,152 2.06
TOTAL 2,561,564
France 66 252,264 0.38
Germany 80 216,973 0.27
UK 64 117,161 0.18
Italy 61 93,715 0.15
Sweden 9 142,207 1.5
Netherlands 17 82,494 0.48


African Group 227m 2,561,564 1.13
European Group 297m 904,814 0.3

In the case of some of these countries, these figures correspond to a significant part of their total population. For example, Kenya provides support to a number of refugees who constitute 1.2% of the country’s entire population. These percentages are highest for Chad, which took in refugees to the level of 4.1% of its entire population.

How does this compare to Europe? Using the same UNHCR statistics for 2015, Europe’s relationship with refugees looks bleak in comparison. Studying data from a group of EU countries with most refugees on record (France, Germany, Sweden, UK, Italy and the Netherlands) only Sweden’s ratio of refugees-to-entire population exceeds 1%, while all the other countries do not pass the 0.5% mark. 

Germany, for example, currently supports 216,973 refugees. With a population of over 80 million, this constitutes to only 0.27% of its entire population. Kenya, a far smaller country of 45 million, supports way more than double this figure.

Overall, the top six African refugee hosts support a population of over 2.5 million in an area with indigenous populations of 227 million, which means that among any given 100 people, 1.13 will statistically be refugees. 

The top six EU refugee hosts, on the other hand, support a population of just over 900,000 in an area with indigenous population equaling almost 300 million, which means that among 300 people, less than 1 will be a refugee.

The African group of countries provides shelter to 3.5 times a greater population in relative terms.

Stop the panic, face the facts

It is surprising that countries such as Poland, which has historically produced one of the largest diaspora populations worldwide (roughly 20 million), many of whom were originally refugees, may now be so cold to the suffering of other refugees.

In Eastern Europe the fraction of the population being of refugee descent is minuscule in comparison to Western Europe and, thus, in comparison to the group of African countries, practically non-existent. Yet it is the Eastern European countries which most notably remain silent in the European refugee crisis.

Still, openness to refugee problems isn’t a trait typical to all African countries. Many, like Nigeria, are strict on granting refugee status to foreigners and aim to diminish its refugee numbers – a strategy being successfully implemented in the past years, when the number of refugees dropped from 8,806 in 2011 to only 1,694 in 2013.

However, on the whole, it seems that African countries are being more understanding to the refugee crisis of their neighbours and distant relatives than their European counterparts. 

The fact that many of the refugee hosting countries are also refugee origin countries might explain some of this friendlier attitude, but as underlined, many European countries were home to millions of migrants of all types in the Age of Mass Migration to America between 1850 – 1913, and later during post-World War I and II.

Perhaps the real issue is that Europe may be scared of Islamisation of its continent than of refugees per se. Africa, already being roughly half Christian and half Muslim, does not have such pressures.

Nevertheless, if the European Union agreed to a unified refugee intake quota of a conservative 1% of its population it will be able to host five million refugees – a supposedly sufficient target to address the problem, but still about 18 times below the threshold of Syria’s neighbour Lebanon.

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