A better view of the asylum-seeker league tables

The last post looked at how many applications for asylum Australia and other countries have received this year on a per capita basis. The top three countries in the resulting league table are Malta, Cyprus and Norway and their figures are so much higher than other countries that they skew the data, making it hard to differentiate the lower rankings. To remedy this, I have reproduced the chart using a logarithmic scale.

Refugees per Capita (log scale)

Asylum-seekers per capita 2009

One commenter rightly pointed out that the top three countries are not necessarily finding life easy with such high numbers of asylum-seekers. Malta has been criticised for using excessive force in immigration detention centres. Cyprus is receiving a large number of applications, but it appears that far fewer are being allowed to stay, although I am sure that, in his new role as UN envoy to Cyprus, Alexander Downer will be able to give them a few pointers on how to spin this for the media. Even in Norway, dealing with asylum-seekers has become a heated issue.

The chart shows that Australia, sitting in 20th place in the international ranking, has an asylum-application rate per capita that is just below the average across the countries listed by the UNHCR. Looking at the league table ranked by each country’s wealth, we are even further down the list, in 24th place.

Refugees by GDP (log scale)

Asylum-seekers by economy size 2009

Political debate on the subject of refugees is probably inevitable, but it is worth trying to keep a cool head and get some perspective from the numbers. Australia is a long way away from most of the rest of the world, so it should not come as a surprise that we get only a modest number of asylum-seekers by international standards. Unfortunately, this fact is unlikely to penetrate the consciousness of the more hysterical commentators.

Data sources: asylum-seeker application counts from the UNCHR, population and Gross Domestic Product from the CIA World Factbook.

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6 thoughts on “A better view of the asylum-seeker league tables

  1. Danny Yee

    For many countries, the number of illegal immigrants swamps the number of official asylum-seekers. Solid figures on this are probably harder to come by, of course.

  2. Pingback: Is Australia taking its fair share of asylum-seekers? | Stubborn Mule

  3. Michael Michael

    Dios mío. Any thoughts on why Spain, so darn temptingly proximate, sits so near on your lists to such farflung, beauteous hellholes as Iceland and New Zealand?

  4. Malta

    I’m a massive fan of Malta, as a result of living in Valetta. I can’t think why there would be so many applications from Malta. The islands are wonderful and the quality of life is outstanding. Are there any theories as to why the rate of applications for asylum is so high?

    My comments are likely to be biased, being of Maltese origin, but either I’m living in a bubble or there is something very wrong with the way the data has been obtained calculated or presented.

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