Fact or Fiction (FoF) is a series where I tackle popular internet narratives and use data analytics to check if they’re true.
If you’re like me and spend a lot of time on Reddit, you’ve probably noticed a series of common patterns and narratives about certain subjects. Specifically, posts about refugees in Europe tend to conjure images of uncivilized Muslim hordes overrunning European democracies. Aside from the racist caricatures that litter these threads, a common narrative from the mostly-White European crowd tends to float to the top:
Why are we taking in all these refugees from Muslim countries when nearby countries in the region are doing nothing to help their fellow Muslims?
I’ve seen this narrative time and time again. And with the newly enflamed conflict in Palestine, I’ve seen it very recently. In fact, a very common discussion point for Westerners about Palestine is that Arab Muslim countries are doing nothing to help Palestinians. With the not-so-subtle follow-up: “So why should we do anything?”
Perhaps most poignantly, discussions featuring this narrative never really have any evidence or statistics to substantiate any claims. So to that end, I pulled data on International Refugees from the U.N.H.C.R and took a look for myself. This blog post is about what I found.
Given current events, let’s start with Palestinian refugees. The following charts summarize which countries house the most Palestinian refugees:
This chart does a lot to counter the narrative that Muslim countries are not doing anything to help Palestinian refugees. All five of the Top 5 countries with the most Palestinian refugees are Muslim-majority countries. In fact, you need to go all the way to 8th place to find a country that is not Muslim-majority. Greece has the 8th-most Palestinian refugees, at less than 2,700 total refugees.
What really stands out, however, is just how many refugees are being housed by Jordan in particular. Jordan isn’t a very large country. It has a population of just over 11 million people, which is smaller than Ohio or Pennsylvania. So I think it’s helpful to look at things in per capita terms to help contextualize just how many refugees each country is taking in.
This chart depicts something truly outstanding. Nearly 200 out of every 1,000 Jordanians is a Palestinian refugee (as defined by the UNRWA or UNHCR). That is nearly 20% of the population. That’s as if 66 million Americans were Palestinian refugees. In comparison, the Hispanic population of the U.S. is 64 million.
The number of Palestinian refugees in Jordan is impressive even on a total basis. There are more Palestinian refugees in Jordan than total refugees in any other country in the world except Turkey.
Middle Eastern Refugees
Okay, so we’ve established that Muslim-majority countries shelter far more Palestinian refugees than the internet suggests. But unfortunately, Palestine isn’t the only country in the Middle East ravaged by recent conflict. Actually, European right-wing rhetoric usually focuses on Syrian refugees. And much of that rhetoric repeats that European countries bear a disproportionate weight, while Arab neighbors stand by doing nothing. Let’s see if that’s true.
Again, as you may be starting to suspect, this narrative is just plain incorrect. You need to go all the way to 6th place to find a European country in this ranking of total Middle Eastern refugees. Only 2 out of the top 10 countries are European. The rest are Muslim-majority nations in the immediate region. In fact, nearly every major Middle Eastern nation is represented in the top 10. The notable exception is Saudi Arabia, which takes remarkably few refugees. In 2022, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had a refugee population comparable to The Gambia.
Adjusting for population tells a similar story.
The most remarkable part of this chart is just how many refugees are in Jordan and Lebanon. Refugees in this country account for over 20% of their populations. If the United States had the same share of refugees as Jordan, we would have over 86 million refugees. That’s more than the entire non-Hispanic, non-White population of the USA.
The internet and certain mainstream media outlets have propagated a narrative that the Muslim hordes are overrunning Europe. This narrative stresses that Europeans are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis. Meanwhile, nearby Muslim-majority neighbors are allegedly doing nothing to help. Let’s put aside for a moment that Europe arguably shoulders most of the blame for the underlying reasons behind the refugee crisis in the Middle East. Let’s also put aside the ugly racist origins behind this narrative. The narrative is just plain wrong.
Far and away, most Palestinian refugees are housed in other Muslim-majority countries. In fact, there are more Palestinian refugees in Jordan than total refugees in any Western European nation (or the USA). This conclusion extends if we look at all Middle Eastern refugees, and not just Palestinians.
Bonus: Musings on the US and Refugees
For those of you who haven’t figured it out, I am a red-blooded American. I love my country, but that doesn’t mean I think things are perfect. In particular, what really irks me is the discourse surrounding refugees in the US. Many Americans, especially GOP politicians, embrace hateful rhetoric about the poor and desperate people on our borders. This rhetoric is racist, hateful, and devoid of any empathy — totally contradictory to the Christian God these politicians profess to worship. Instead of embracing and helping our fellow man, people like Greg Abbott install literal death traps on our border designed to trap and kill desperate people fleeing unimaginable horror. It’s cruel and inhumane and completely unbecoming of a nation that claims to be the richest and best nation on Earth.
Aside from the myriad of economic benefits of immigration, we should be accepting refugees because it is the right thing to do. One thing that I learned from analyzing this refugee data is the the United States doesn’t take enough refugees. Contrary to GOP narratives that Hispanic immigrants are flooding our borders, the amount of refugees in the US pales in comparison to other countries around the world. And many of these countries are much poorer than us. The following charts help show this: