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Global resettlement statistics

Author: Michael Li

Every year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) publishes statistics on global resettlement. These statistics tell us where refugees are coming from, where they are being resettled to, and the chances people have of being resettled from any country. We have analysed the data from 2004 to 2016 to see what they can tell us about global refugee movements over the past decade

Where do people who are being resettled come from?


This map shows the total number of resettled refugees by country of origin. In other words, this map shows us where refugees have been coming from.

Between 2004-2016, Burma was the largest source of resettled refugees (201,752), followed by Iraq (141,959), Bhutan (105,796), Somalia (93,854) and Syria (68,225). These five countries were responsible for 68% of all refugees resettled between 2004 and 2016.

While Burma and Iraq had the highest numbers overall, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo had the most consistent annual numbers. This reflects the prolonged nature of their refugee situations, driven by years of civil unrest and humanitarian crisis.

By contrast, refugee numbers in Burma and Iraq were relatively low throughout the early 2000s. They spiked signfiicantly towards the end of the decade. Both spikes were caused by major political events.

Between 2006 and 2007, Burma’s numbers nearly quadrupled, jumping from 5,768 to 20,255. This coincided with the US decision to take in thousands of Burmese refugees under the Burma Democracy Protection Act 2007.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s numbers shot up from 497 in 2006 to 3,767 in 2007 and 17,727 in 2008, as the Iraq war escalated. Something similar is happening in Syria right now: 88% of its total came from 2015 and 2016 alone.

These statistics show how refugee movements are driven by world and regional events. The biggest drivers of refugee migration tend to be conflict and famine. However, other political events, such as major changes in domestic policy, can be equally influential.

Where are they living when they are resettled?

This map shows the number of refugees departing for resettlement by country of asylum (where they are living when they are resettled). Thailand was the largest source of refugees being resettled (113,455), followed by Nepal (107,223), Malaysia (90,149), Turkey (73,203) and Kenya (72,569). These five countries were responsible for 53% of resettled refugees between 2004 and 2016.

These countries host many refugees, mainly because they are close to countries that produce a significant number of refugees. Thailand is close to Burma, Nepal is close to Bhutan, and so on. Kenya’s rank is likely due to its having the world’s largest UNHCR refugee camp.

Where countries are located significantly influences the levels of refugees they will host. Most of the major hosts are developing countries. Of the top 50 countries in this metric, only Malta (27th) and the United Arab Emirates (46th) are developed countries.

Where do resettled refugees go?

This map shows the total number of refugees resettled by country of arrival (where refugees have been resettled to). The United States has been by far the largest resettlement destination (828,128), followed by Canada (191,801), Australia (158,217), Sweden (24,649) and Norway (17,327). These five countries have been responsible for over 95% of all refugees resettled in that period.  The United States alone has been responsible for nearly 65% of resettled refugees in this time.

When you adjust the statistics for each country’s population, however, Australia has taken in the most refugees. Australia has taken 656 refugees per 100,000 people, more than twice as many as the United States (256). As well, some highly developed countries have very low proportions of resettlement: for example, Italy (0.85), Spain (0.79), South Korea (0.12) and Japan (0.1).

Importantly, though, resettlement only represents part of a country’s total refugee intake. Most European countries traditionally accept refugees who arrive in the country, rather than through the UNHCR resettlement program. Other countries – such as Japan and South Korea – have strict immigration policies and very low recognition rates. In 2016, Japan received 10,901 applications for asylum, but only accepted 28, or 0.2% of those applications.

Where are people most unlikely to find a resettlement place?

This map shows the number of refugees living in a country, compared to the number of resettlement places available in that country. In a sense, it charts the relative supply and demand for resettlement places in each country. The higher the number, the less likely it is a person will be resettled from that country.

South Sudan is the highest ranked country, with 300,069 refugees per place. It is followed by Panama (46,267), Niger, (34,967), Afghanistan (28,128) and Burkina Faso (23,675).

Learn more

You can also see interactive data from UNHCR’s portal on refugee populations.


UNHCR, Global Trends, 2004-2016

UNHCR, Statistical Yearbook, 2005

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