Refugees of the world
The number of refugees a country generates gives a fair idea as to its inner turmoil, however much it denies its problems. If the number of refugees in the world are increasing and not decreasing it points to the fact that conflicts tend to fester a long long time. According to the latest UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) report* refugees of the world increased by 12 per cent (383,000 asylum applications!) in 2008 as compared to the previous year. There have been highs and lows over the years. In 2006 there was a dip (307,000 claims), a twenty year low, and in 2001 there was a surge (623,0006 claims) because of the refugees from the Central African Republic. In 2007 too there was an increase in asylum applications due to the Iraq war and in 2008 there were more of Somali and Afghan asylum-seekers due to the conflicts there.
According to the Geneva Convention a refugee is anyone who has a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” and countries which have signed it have an obligation to take in refugees**.
Where the refugees come from
India is vilified for its abysmal poverty but we don’t have many who want to get out because of persecution of some sort. There are many Indian economic migrants but not many refugees. Not a bad record considering that India has been vilified for its religious violence as well. India sent out only 3,398 asylum applications in 2007 and 2,971 in 2008. As can be seen from this graph from UNHRC, the countries which presently send out the maximum asylum requests are Iraq, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Serbia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Bangladesh and China, in that order.
India is number 20 on the list despite having such a large and diverse population. If one compares India to China, another equally populous country, and in fact with a far more homogeneous population than India’s, then China doesn’t fare well. China sent as many as 5,944 asylum requests to Europe in 2007, and 4,662 in 2008. And as for Pakistan, the number was 13,492 in 2007 and 12,126 in 2008. Sri Lanka is a small country but it sent out 6,202 requests in 2007 and 7,701 in 2008. There is no doubt that 2009 is going to see a huge number of Tamil origin people wanting out of Sri Lanka.
Countries which host the refugees
The developed countries lead here. Europe gets 75% of the world’s asylum applications (the UK is 10% of the EU figure and 8% of the whole), and the USA and Canada get 22%. Australia and New Zealand get 1.3% and Japan and Korea about .5%. This is not to say that only rich countries host refugees. Countries like Tanzania, Iran, Turkey and India host a huge number of refugees due to the instability in the surrounding countries, and often these refugees are not properly documented. India has one of the highest refugee populations in the world (although there is criticism about the way India handles these) and these refugees are mainly from surrounding countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China.
India as a host
There are believed to be about 330,000 refugees (some say 420400) all in all India today and out of these 26% are from Tibet. India has been accused of playing favourites, partial to refugees from from Tibet and Sri Lanka. And despite international pressure India is continuing to refuse to sign the international treaty for Refugees, insisting that the country is “doing good without signing.”
*These statistics are based on the number of individual asylum claims submitted in Europe and selected non-European countries during 2008. They cover 38 European and six non-European countries. These numbers are just the asylum claims “made at the first instance of asylum procedures.” The appeals and outcomes of these claims is not included
**When the Geneva Convention was first drafted there was no significant economic migration and today the challenges that host countries face is distinguishing the economic migrants from the refugees. Now that economic migration is getting tougher due to increased rules and regulations, many people try the refugee route.