The Asylum Hump: Why Country Income Level Predicts New Asylum Seekers, But Not New Refugees

My colleagues Constantin Ruhe, Lisa Groß and I have a new article out in the Journal of Refugee Studies! I won’t post a PDF because it’s open access, so anyone can download if for free. We dig into the question about why GDP per capita has not generally been a good predictor of new refugees. We find that while GDP doesn’t predict new refugee numbers, it does predict new asylum seekers.

Why? Something called the ‘migration hump’ helps explain this finding – as countries affected by conflict become wealthier, people have the resources to flee conflict more easily. These people are counted by UNHCR as ‘asylum seekers’. After making a claim for asylum though, they enter their host country’s refugee status determination process – people are not counted by UNHCR as ‘refugees’ until they have completed this process in a host country. This process varies from country to country, and in practice does not (or should not) evaluate income level as part of a claim for protection.

It should go without saying, but: Having the financial resources to flee conflict does not detract from anyone’s right to do so. It does not make a claim for protection less legitimate. What the results do help us understand is whether and how economic factors conflict-affected countries predict different stages of displacement as measured by the UN agency tasked with refugee protection and response.

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