Let’s be transparent about refugee and IDP statistics

By Justin Schon, Postdoctoral Associate, University of Florida

refugeesIn March 2018, the Expert Group on Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Statistics (ERGIS) released detailed reports on the status of refugee and IDP statistics and challenges in compiling these statistics. The reports made many valuable recommendations for how to increase the quality and quantity of migration data, but several recent developments highlight the need to also be more transparent about the types of uncertainty that exist in our measurements.

Uganda announced in October that a recent census had revealed that it currently hosts 1.1 million refugees, not 1.4 million as had previously been believed. IOM data on displacement from Mosul in Iraq during the 2016-2017 military offensive to retake the city from ISIS forces show a sudden jump in the estimate of IDPs due to a counting adjustment. Fabrice Balanche notes that UNOCHA decreased its estimate of Syrian IDPs from 7.5 million to 6.5 million during the fall of 2015, simply due to blatant overestimates that it knew were being provided.

Uncertain estimates even exist in refugee camps, where there are large numbers of humanitarian personnel. Officials in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp have significantly revised its estimated population multiple times after new counts. For example, the REACH initiative conducted a camp census from December 30, 2014 through January 18, 2015, and counted 7 954 fewer people in the camp than during the June 2014 count. On July 10, 2018, UNHCR deactivated nearly 11 000 camp registrations due either because they were absent from the camp, they were bailed out, they had registered elsewhere in an urban location, or they had returned to their country of origin. Continue reading