This paper studies the long-term evolution of global refugee migration, with a particular emphasis on the post-World War II period. Authors use the UNHCR Population Statistics Database to explore the intensity as well as the geographical spread and distance of refugee migrations at a global, regional, and country level between 1951 and 2018. The analyses refute the idea that there has been a substantial and linear increase in the intensity of global refugee migration. Moreover, problems with coverage and quality of earlier data give reason to think that levels of past refugee migration were underestimated. Apparent increases in the global number of displaced are mainly driven by the recent inclusion of other populations (such as the internally displaced and people in “refugee-like” situations) and countries that were previously excluded from statistics. Yet the analyses reveal several geographical shifts in refugee migration over the past decades. Refugees tend to come from a shrinking number of origin countries and go to an increasing number of destination countries. This trend reflects an overall long-term global decline in the levels of violent conflict and a concentration of recurrent conflict cycles in a few particular states. The average distance between origin and residence countries has increased over time, although the vast majority of refugees continue to stay near origin countries. Refugee populations continue to be concentrated in countries with low to medium GDP levels, and there has not been a major increase in South-North refugee migration.
The IMI working paper series presents current research in the field of international migration. The series was initiated by the International Migration Institute (IMI) since its founding at the University of Oxford in 2006. The papers in this series (1) analyse migration as part of broader global change, (2) contribute to new theoretical approaches, and (3) advance understanding of the multilevel forces driving migration and experiences of migration.
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