“Refugee crisis? What crisis?” A numerical perspective

A badly needed numerical perspective:


The author, Gwynne Dyer, is a distinguished Canada-born historian, PhD Kings College London in military and Middle Eastern history, Senior Lecturer in military history at Sandhurst before becoming full time journalist. Some extracts:

“They are coming at the rate of about 3,000 a day, mostly through Turkey into Greece or across the Mediterranean to Italy, and the EU doesn’t know what to do about it.

meditterranean-migrantsIt’s not really that big a refugee crisis: one million people at most this year, or one-fifth of one percent of the European Union’s 500 million people. Lebanon (population 4.5 million) has already taken in a million refugees, as has Jordan (pop. 6.5 million). But while a few of the EU’s 28 countries are behaving well, many more have descended into a gibbering panic about being ‘overrun’.”

“Chancellor Angela Merkel put it bluntly: ‘If Europe fails on the question of refugees…it will not be the Europe we imagined.’ She has put her money where her mouth is: two weeks ago she predicted that Germany would accept asylum claims from 800,000 refugees this year.”

” The most prominent [of those shirking what Gwynne Dwyer calls ‘their responsibility’] are the United Kingdom and Spain, which played a key role in sabotaging an EU meeting last June that was trying to agree on a formula for sharing the refugee burden fairly among EU members.

David Cameron’s problem is that overall immigration into Britain is high (330,000 last year) … only 25,000 were refugees – but such fine distinctions have little place in the public debate.”

A personal comment: But for accidents of time and place, every one of us is a potential refugee. I am the grandchild of refugees, and am old enough to have had friends within my tribe who were themselves refugees, and who owed their lives to having been among the few who found refuge.

Image from UNHCR


About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on September 7, 2015, in Humans, Politics, Society and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Thank you for posting this. The author, Gwynne Dyer, is a respected Canadian journalist now based in London. I hope that he writes a similar reflection on the lax response Canada has made to the Syrian crisis. The current Canadian government has increased the level of paperwork and decreased the amount of help made to these desperate people. Although the government here in Canada has claimed to have allowed 2,300 Syrians into Canada during the crisis, it turns out they have not. In fact, just 7 Syrian refugee families have arrived since January. We are the second largest country on Earth, we need people, but the government has been incompetent in helping. During the Hungarian 1956 revolution, Canada had half of today’s population but our own airplanes lifted 37,000 refugees from Austrian camps directly to Canada. Over the next few years, Canada settled 100,000 Hungarians fleeing their ’56 uprising and civil war.


  2. The statistics offered do help put matters into a helpful perspective. However, other issues should also be considered.

    1. The majority of immigrants/refugees are young men who are happy to have foreign coalition soldiers sacrifice their lives to liberate their countries. Why aren’t these fleeing migrants offering their services to forge long term stability within their own lands?
    2. Saudi Arabia, inter alia, has the financial clout, land area and culture to absorb a large fraction of the migrants. Why aren’t they helping out? Most of the Arab states have appalling track records which includes misusing their wealth to underwrite militant activities in other Arab states.

    Neither of these points., however, can justify the UK not taking on genuine refugees. Consideration would need to be applied to dispersing immigrants within the UK to minimise aggravation of problems associated with stretched infrastructures.


    • ” young men who are happy to have foreign coalition soldiers sacrifice their lives to liberate their countries”; really?
      As for the disgraceful non-involvement of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, I can only agree


      • If you prefer, acceptance by able-bodied young migrants to benefit from the sacrifices made by Coalition soldiers to try, unsuccessfully, to democratise their country. Regrettably, there is an avoidance by the migrants to accept any obligation for an involvement in national/ patriotic actions to install order, even with outside help!


      • “Outside help” does not have a good track record in the region. Nor is it clear how individuals in Syria, caught between Assad and Daesh, can get involved in restoring order.


      • That is their challenge! Better to try than flee. I do agree that the Coalition’s actions were far from resolving the Middle East conflicts. But there has to be an alternative to fleeing in such large numbers and imposing their culture by force of numbers on European cultures.


  3. In their position I would also try to find a better life. However to settle 10’s or 100’s of thousands presents major problems (167 thousand through Hungary alone this year)
    Housing Jobs education healthcare etc all have to be found and paid for . Bear in mind
    that these people have a different culture and that makes problems of integration.
    Europe has large scale unemployment as well as a host of financial difficulties
    According to the media there are at least a million refugees wanting to come from
    no only Syria but yemen,. libya , Iraq, sudan afghanistan and africa. this is not
    You may also have noticed this is a world wide problem South america going to the US
    asia going to australia even Israel is experiencing an influx of illegal refugees from
    the horn of Africa. There is no easy answer.


    • There is much in what you say, although given the arithmetic, and the fact that mu much of Europe itself is ageing and could benefit from a mainly youthful influx, we may even be talking about a potential benefit rather than a burden.

      And one set of countries are shamefully absent from the list of those responding to the crisis; Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lets hope for the best, human suffering is not only in one area interestingly developed by human-beings own folly, so quicker solved better for humanity.


  5. Better to set up “safe zones” within their own countries and have military help instead. Don’t take jobs and resources from the citizens. There are better options to consider.


    • You want to set up a safe zone on Syria? Good luck with that. But you are right to warn us about the perils of Schroedinger’s Immigrant, who simultaneously takes away our jobs and battens on our welfare system. [In case you didn’t realise, that’s sarcasm]


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