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Three Things I Learned About the Syrian Refugee Crisis by Analyzing Public Data

By on February 12, 2016

Did you know that the total number of Syrian refugees during the current crisis in Syria is 30 times more than the past four decades of refugees combined? This is one of many insights I was able to find when I took a look at just some of the data documenting the Syrian refugees from the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Coming from an internationally-minded liberal arts school, Earlham College, I have grown more conscious about this global issue. It’s horrifying to see fighting for basic freedom turned into a harsh violence that has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of civilians to flee Syria and seek foreign refuge.

I wanted to learn more. I wanted to find out about Syrian migration patterns, the status of asylum applications, and financing progress with the publicly available data at hand. Using Datameer, I was able to upload these datasets and start working with the data in our spreadsheet interface right away. The data didn’t need much cleansing or preparation, so most of my time was spent using pre-built analytical functions to reveal different groupings and patterns and then visualizing the results. Here are just three of the things I learned from my analysis.

Data Findings on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Syrian Men were more likely to migrate further than others.

The unrest in Syria forced Syrian civilians to risk their lives fleeing in hopes of escaping the Civil War. Children and adults started out fairly equally in number reaching their neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Through 2014, these countries, including Turkey, were the top five destinations. Further west than that, the number of women and children declined, while male refugees continued to travel, particularly to Germany. While we don’t know why, for sure, that fewer women and children traveled further for refuge, it could be that it was a safer journey not to travel as far.

Syrian Refugee Data

More decisions to recognize or reject asylum seekers were made but they varied greatly among the top 20 asylum-sought destinations.

As Syrian refugees migrated to various countries, they sought Asylum recognition so they could receive some forms of protection from those destinations. Most applications were made in Western Europe, particularly:

  • Germany
  • Sweden
  • Netherlands
  • Bulgaria
  • Austria

Some countries have approved asylum more than others, such as Germany is high in total approvals and Turkey has high approval rates. Russia had the highest rate of rejected applications, and Sweden rejected the most applications overall. Syrian refugees would keep waiting for any decision, good or bad, when applying in Libya. Other countries appeared unwilling to accept Syrian refugees, most noticeably, Algeria. The data suggests that Latin American countries such as Peru, Brazil and Argentina offer a high likelihood of recognition for the refugees.

Syrian Refugee Data

Further Data on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Funding needs were increasingly unmet.

Since the refugee crisis began, data through late 2015 shows the increased need for financing outpaces the actual amount of funds received. Amnesty International cited the unprecedented flood of Syrian refugees as one of the largest refugee crises in history. International development organizations such as the UN, the World Bank and others have appealed for funding to support refugees on various basic necessities in health services, food, and shelter. The data shows that over 50 percent of the receiving funds is allocated to food. Based on cover rate, some needs are covered more than others. Coordination and support service has the highest covered rate of over 61 percent of the funding requirement on average according to data from the UN Financial Tracking System, while all other needs such as food, health, and education are below 50 percent covered rate, indicating a need to address these under-covered and under-supplied needs.

Syrian Refugee Data


Analyzing this public data in Datameer, I was able to learn that families with children are less likely to travel to further destinations seeking refuge. While refugees need more funds to support their living conditions, depending where they sought asylum, they sometimes suffered from rejections, or, could still be waiting for decisions on their asylum applications. There are many other questions to be answered from publicly available datasets like these. You can learn more about how I built the analysis, and further slice and dice the data, by installing the Syrian Refugee Crisis app from Datameer App Market.

Datameer App Market

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Andrew Brust

Andrew is Datameer's Sr. Director of Market Strategy and Intelligence. He covers big data and analytics for ZDNet, is conference co-chair for Visual Studio Live! and is a Microsoft Data Platform MVP.