• Spida Everitt and Meshel Laurie visit Jeffa and his family in Melbourne. (SBS)Source: SBS
Use our interactive map to track which countries migrants are leaving and where they have moved to.
Aarti Betigeri

3 Oct 2018 - 12:16 PM  UPDATED 3 Oct 2018 - 12:25 PM

Right now, there are more refugees around the world than ever before.

At the end of 2017, 68.5 million people were displaced from their homes, as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations, according to the UNHCR. 

This number includes:

- 25.4 million refugees in the world - the highest figure ever seen

- 40 million internally displaced people

- 3.1 million asylum seekers.

An asylum seeker is someone who is seeking  international protection, but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined. A refugee is someone who has been recognised under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and has been resettled elsewhere, or is to be resettled.

This map draws on UNHCR data by country, showing both the number of refugees or asylum seekers residing in a country, and the number of those who have left the country. And there are some surprises. (Click on the map to start exploring)


1. Turkey by far hosts the greatest number of refugees of any country 

Almost 3.5 million refugees and asylum seekers are residing in Turkey. That figure is significantly more than the numbers of those living in the next three top countries for asylum seekers and refugees:

Turkey - 3.5 million 
Pakistan - 1.4 million
Germany - 1.3 million
Uganda - 1.3 million

2. Ukraine is Europe’s biggest source country for refugees 

The war in eastern Ukraine has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people. In fact, the Ukrainian government estimates that 1.8 million people were driven from their homes. Many have resettled domestically, but 200,000 Ukrainians have been granted refugee status, while another 40,000 asylum seekers are awaiting a decision. 

Top source countries of asylum seekers and refugees:

Syria - 6.1 million
Afghanistan - 2.9 million
South Sudan - 1.9 million

3. Australia is not as deluged as you might think

For all the political agitation about Australia’s refugee intake, the data shows around 82,000 refugees and asylum seekers (46,500 and 35,825 respectively) are residing Down Under. This, for example, is lower than Afghanistan (87,324), itself a major source country for people seeking asylum elsewhere. It’s worth noting that Sweden – which has a smaller population than Australia – has more than 300,000 refugees and asylum seekers.

4. Africa is a mixed bag

Africa is usually considered to be a hotbed of human movement, with political unrest causing huge disruption to populations. In reality, there are pockets of huge movement, and pockets of stability.

Large numbers of people are fleeing the restive countries of South Sudan, Somalia and Somaliland: almost two million refugees originate from South Sudan, while almost a million are from Somalia. But elsewhere in the continent things are far more settled. Just a few hundred people from Botswana, Zambia and Gabon have been resettled elsewhere or are seeking asylum. 

5. Still in Africa, and some countries have taken in similar numbers of refugees from elsewhere as there are fleeing the countries

The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen almost 600,000 of its people be granted refugee status elsewhere, with almost 90,000 more seeking asylum. At the same time, it has taken in more than 500,000 refugees from other countries.

It is a similar story in Sudan, which is sheltering more than 500,000 refugees and more than 18,000 asylum seekers. At the same time, almost 730,000 of its people have fled.

According to James Raymer, a professor of demographics at the Australian National University, this issue has its roots in how the continent was carved up, post-World War II.

“There is huge ethnic diversity in Africa,” says Prof. Raymer.

“European countries - Belgium, England, France - had colonies in Africa, and after the war they drew boundaries that were territorial, and these often crossed ethnic group lines.”

“So there are ethnic groups that might be split between two countries, and many are persecuted where they are, so it makes sense to flee to the country that holds a large country where their ethnic group is based.” 

6. Iran has taken in a million refugees

Iran is usually considered a source country for people looking to resettle elsewhere, pushed out by the country’s human rights violations including executing juvenile offenders, political dissidents and the LGBTQI+ community. There are thousands of asylum seekers from Iran both arriving in Australia by boat, and living in Australia awaiting a decision on their asylum application. 

But what is less known is that it is host to almost a million refugees, drawn from the unstable region around it, particularly Afghanistan.

7. Even peaceful liberal democracies have people leaving them and claiming asylum 

Many thousands of asylum seekers aim to reach Scandinavia, where countries have generous policies for refugees. Why would anyone want to leave these countries - wealthy, generous, with high standards of living? Some do. Four Icelanders are refugees or asylum seekers, while there are 9, 24, 25 and 29 from Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden respectively. Fifteen people have fled Switzerland, while 224 have left the UK. Over in the Americas, almost 1000 have claimed asylum from the United States, and 175 from Canada.

A total of 35 Australians have sought refuge elsewhere, and in Asia, 146 people have left Japan, and 900 fled South Korea. 

'Go Back To Where You Came From Live' airs over three consecutive nights, October 2 – 4, 8.30pm, LIVE on SBS Australia and streaming live at SBS On Demand. 

Join the conversation #GoBackLive and catch up with the show below:

The heartwarming moment a family was reunited after three years apart
Day after day, Ansas turned up at the Syrian-Turkish border with an armful of flowers, hoping to see if his wife and children had arrived.
"I felt like a freak": Spida Everitt on arriving in South Sudan
The football star was shocked by some of the conditions facing people in South Sudan.
Jacqui Lambie says she would "pick up a weapon" and fight ISIS in Syria
"I know this sounds terrible but it makes we wanna go and feel like picking up a weapon and help them... Fleeing is not the answer, that’s what I believe."
Meet the refugee family who took in Jacqui Lambie
“When I watched her interviews on YouTube, she was very strict with her opinions but I think after they met us, she was more lenient. I think she is not like before."
What would you do if you faced persecution in your own country?
We asked Australians what they would do if they faced persecution in their own country: stay or flee?
Refugees share what they're grateful for in Australia
"As a refugee I have nothing to lose and I’m really grateful for that, to have this opportunity to be here and experience a nice freedom."
A perilous journey: How many asylum seekers never make it to their destination
The Central Mediterranean remains by far the deadliest route for asylum seekers.
How Australia reacted to the first episode of 'Go Back to Where You Came From Live'
Here's how audiences reacted to SBS's gripping new program.