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Why Pakistan is the most refugee-friendly country in the world

The developing world bears a larger share of the global refugee burden compared to the developed world

The ongoing conflict in Iraq and Syria may have focused the world’s attention on the growing number of refugees in the region, but the global refugee crisis has been in the making for quite some time. According to a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of refugees rose 14% to 16.7 million in 2013, the highest since comprehensive statistics on global forced displacement have been collected (since 1989).

As the accompanying chart shows, Pakistan with nearly 1.7 million refugees, hosts the highest number in the world. Thanks to its porous borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan has seen several waves of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, beginning with the Soviet invasion in 1978. The Islamic Republic of Iran (857,400), Lebanon (856,500), Jordan (641,900), and Turkey (609,900) are the next big refugee hosts. India, which hosts 185,000 refugees, ranks much lower at the 17th place in terms of the number of refugees hosted.

Developing countries host many more refugees per capita and per unit of economic output as compared to developed countries, and their burden has been rising over time. Developing countries hosted 86% of the world’s refugees in 2013, compared to 70% 10 years ago. This is the highest in more than two decades, according to the UNHCR report. Lebanon hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its national population, with 178 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants. This was the highest relative burden a country had been exposed to since 1980. Jordan (88) and Chad (34) ranked second and third, respectively.

Hosting refugees demands considerable resources—economic, social and political—on the part of the host country. On average, the top 10 refugee-hosting developing nations face nearly 50 times the economic pressure and eight times the population pressure compared to the top 10 refugee-hosting developed nations.

Most developed countries are signatories to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which makes it mandatory for them to accept the genuinely persecuted. Yet, the principle of ‘non-refoulement,’ enshrined in the convention is often violated. For instance, the European Union rejected 75% of the pleas it received in 2013.

As James Hathway, founding director of the University of Michigan’s Program in Refugee and Asylum Law, argues in his writings, the problem of refugees, like the one of climate change, can have an equitable solution when developed nations are more forthcoming in sharing the burden exerted by refugees. Developed countries cannot shrug off their responsibility on the pretext that most refugees originate from developing countries. Only a coordinated and concerted effort can provide succour to the growing refugee population of the world.

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