In this paper, we study the evolution of global refugee migration in the pre- and post-WWII period. We firstly track refugee migrations since the beginning of the nineteenth century, drawing from historical sources. Subsequently, the paper makes use of the UNHCR Population Statistics Database to explore the intensity, spread and distance of refugee migrations at a global, regional and country level between 1951 and 2016. The historical perspective highlights several large refugee migrations over the course of history, which illustrates that refugee migrations are not unique to current times. The post-1950 analyses refute the idea that there has been a recent substantial and linear increase in the intensity of global refugee migration. Moreover, issues of data quality particularly in the 1950s and 1960s make us question the claims that we are experiencing a ‘global refugee crisis’. The analyses of regional patterns do show striking geographical shifts in refugee migration over time. Refugees come from a decreasing number of origin countries, and reside in an increasing diversity of destination countries in the past decades. This reflects a global decline in conflicts and a concentration of recurrent conflict cycles in a few particular states. The average distance between origin and residence countries has increased over time, most likely due to failing costs of travel, but the vast majority of refugees continue to stay near origin countries. The analyses highlight the usefulness and limitations of the UNHCR Population Statistics Database, and challenge the overall idea of a global refugee crisis. (This work is co-authored with Prof. Dr. Hein de Haas).
About the speaker
Sonja Fransen is a researcher and teacher at the University of Amsterdam, where she works on several migration research projects. She is one of the principal investigators of the MISTY (Migration, Transformation and Sustainability) project, financed by NORFACE and the Belmont Forum, and led by Exeter University. This three-year research project aims to provide theoretical and methodological innovations on the linkages between migration and sustainability. Sonja also works on the Migration as Development (MADE) project. This ERC-funded project studies the drivers of migration using a long-term and cross-national perspective. Previously, Sonja worked as a postdoctoral researcher on several projects related to (forced) migration at Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Maastricht University, in collaboration with the Centre for Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford. Sonja’s research interests include (forced) migration, return migration, (post-conflict) development, and remittances. She has extensive, both quantitative and qualitative, fieldwork experience in various countries, and is particularly specialized in migration and development in African and European countries. She has published several academic articles, book chapters, policy briefs, and reports in the area of (forced) migration studies and development.
Date: 19 June 2019