Sustainable Security Index – Research Note on Global Opportunities for Refugees and Migrants

Oscar Larsson and Richard Reeve

To mark World Refugee Day 2018, this research note pulls together data on refugees, migrants and labour conditions for the 170 countries compared in Oxford Research Group’s forthcoming Sustainable Security Index (SSI). This aims to give some quantifiable assessment of the opportunities for migrants, including refugees, to live and work in each country. Specifically, we focus on how well the 170 countries perform in terms of openness to migrants, refugees and international students, their labour rights and contributions to wider development through income remittances.

The SSI’s Equality & Inclusion category has a total of 13 indicators. In this research note, we assess a weighted compilation of five of these that are linked to openness to and opportunities for refugees and migrants, namely:

  • Net Refugee Intake – the number of refugees hosted minus the number of refugees created, proportionate to the total population. A benchmark ten times the average global refugee population (2.32 refugees per 100 inhabitants) is used to calculate a maximum score. [33.33% of total weighting]
  • Access to international migrants, based on proportion of foreign-born population. Maximum scores are awarded to countries with one-third or more of their population being foreign-born. [16.67% of total weighting]
  • Access to international students, measured as the number of international students hosted per 1,000 inhabitants. The benchmark used for calculating maximum scores is 10 students hosted per 1,000 population. [16.67% of total weighting]
  • Personal Remittances, measured as % of GDP. These are transfer of income from workers in one country to other countries. Countries with 10% of GDP or above achieve the maximum score. [16.67% of total weighting]
  • Labour Rights & Standards, based on rankings by the International Trade Union Confederation. [16.67% of the total weighting]

Figure 1 assesses the performance of the ten best-scoring and ten worst-scoring countries in the SSI in terms of the opportunities they offer to migrants and refugees.

Relative to the SSI as a whole, or indeed the wider category of Equality and Inclusion, Middle Eastern states feature strongly within the top ten data on refugees and migrants. This is for two quite different reasons. For Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), their relative score is mainly due to a very high proportion of foreign-born residents – about 41% and 88% respectively of their populations – and the income they are able to remit to their home countries. UAE also performs very well in terms of its student mobility. Oman hosts far fewer international students, but has the highest labour standards in the Gulf States. Neither country, not their Gulf Cooperation Council peers, accommodates any significant number of refugees, however.

By contrast, Levantine states such as Lebanon and Jordan top this sub-index thanks to the huge numbers of refugees that they host, mainly from Syria and Iraq. It’s worth noting that the UNHCR figures that we use do not include Palestinians displaced since 1948 and both countries are already well above the threshold maximum we use. Together with Turkey, they are truly exceptional in their willingness to host refugees.

Four European countries feature in the top 10: Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and Norway. What they have in common is a high net intake of refugees per capita plus relatively high proportions of foreign-born residents in the population (especially Switzerland) and very high labour standards. Personal remittances as a proportion of their large economies are lower than in many developing countries. Two other European countries which otherwise perform well, Luxembourg (5.49 out of 10) and Malta (5.75 out of 10), have been excluded here due to missing data on labour rights standards.

In the bottom ten, a wide variety of countries feature, with scores barely above 0. For several, notably Sudan and Somalia, this is determined by large net outflows of refugees and economic conditions unattractive to most migrants. Also featuring are some of the world’s most populous states: China, Nigeria, Mexico, Philippines and Vietnam. Large populations significantly dampen refugee net intake scores. In absolute terms, China is ranked 14th worldwide in refugee admissions, hosting some 300,000 refugees, but its intake as a share of its total population is among the world’s lowest.

Figure 2 showcases data on the G20 states’ performance in terms of opportunities for refugees and migrants. Note that none of these countries scores higher than 5 out of 10 and the average score was just 1.93. That is actually slightly better than the average score across all states of about 1.5 out of 10.

Also featuring in the overall top 10, Australia tops the G20, having easily the world’s largest proportion of international students and a very international general population. Australia’s score is perhaps counter-intuitive as it hosts just 0.17 refugees per 100 inhabitants, far below most rich states. Its low score on remittances also suggests that a low percentage of its large foreign-born population comes from low income countries. In contrast, Turkey sees its score significantly boosted by a high refugee net intake, but its performance in terms of the other indicators is very poor. Refugee intake is only a significant aspect in the overall score of one other G20 country, Germany.

For most Western countries and Japan, labour rights contribute the largest share of their overall score. These, of course, do not apply solely to migrants. Notable exceptions include both the United States and the UK. The United States also scores quite poorly because it admits a low number of refugees compared to its population (0.08 refugees per 100 inhabitants) and has rather low levels of remittances. It scores best in terms of foreign-born population and international students but is far from exceptional on any score. Neighbouring Canada scores much better on all indicators.

In summary, ensuring wider openness and greater opportunities for refugees and migrants would include endeavours towards: burden-sharing vis-a-vis refugee intakes to minimise having regions neighbouring conflicted and unstable areas from becoming overwhelmed; access to and integration of third country nationals; increasing opportunities for internationals to obtain education outside their home country; increasing migrants’ economic remittances given their positive impact as a growing source of foreign funds for developing countries; and upholding high labour standards and rights for workers, both citizens and migrants.

 About the Sustainable Security Index

Oxford Research Group’s (ORG) Sustainable Security Index (SSI) is a new product that aims to measure the net impact of each of the world’s states on global security. It is based on more than 50 indicators and sub-indicators that provide quantifiable evidence of each state’s impact on conditions that we believe contribute to greater human security and well-being and thus contribute to sustaining peace and preventing violent conflict. It should be stressed that this is very different from attempting to measure “national security” impact.

Our indicators are grouped into the three main categories, namely (1) Equality & Inclusion, (2) Arms Control & Peacekeeping and (3) Climate & Environment. These are given an equal weighting within the Index, with scores out of ten. The first full Index of 170 states will be published in autumn 2018.

Data Sources Used

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2017). UNHCR Statistics – Refugees.

World Bank. (2015). International Migrant Stock (% of population).

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. (2016). Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students.

World Bank. (2016). Personal Remittances, paid (current US$). [Converted to % of GDP using additional figures from World Bank].

International Trade Union Confederation. (2017). ITUC Global Rights Index.



Image credit: United Nations Photo/Flickr