Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
When it comes to migration, there’s a politically significant gap between public perception and reality.
When the topic of immigration comes up in a political speech, facts are often distorted or buried under bombastic sloganeering. The result is a wide gap between the public’s perception and the realities of this issue. And the rise of Donald Trump and the surprising outcome of U.K.’s Brexit referendum show that politicos are spreading misinformation with great success.
In his corner of the internet, data wizard Max Galka has also been questioning the quality of information people consume on immigration. On his website, he writes:
Wherever you stand politically on immigration, you have to admit, it’s pretty strange how rarely basic stats like these enter the debate. For all the discussion in the U.S. about border fences and immigration limits, the simple question of “how many immigrants are there?” hardly ever even comes up.
In an effort to answer that question, Galka created a dazzling map of migration to and from each of the world’s countries between 2010 and 2015, based on estimates from the U.N. Population Division. Here’s a video version:
Like Galka’s recent map showing 200 years of migration to the U.S., this one uses dots to represent migrant flows between countries. Each one represents 1,000 migrants. What’s new about this map (apart from the fact that it covers the entire world) is that each country has a halo around it. Their colors tell you if more people are leaving that country than moving to it (in red) or vice versa (in blue), and their sizes show by how much. Hovering over a country pulls up the value of its net migration, and clicking on it isolates its inflows and outflows.
In an accompanying blog post, Galka highlights a couple of interesting observations. Migration from Syria to Sweden over this period, he notes, was more than to the rest of Europe and the Americas combined. But Syria’s neighbors in the Middle East—Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq—took in much, much larger numbers of refugees escaping conflict compared to the West. The rich Gulf countries did not. In fact, the U.A.E and Qatar had more migration toward Syria than coming from it in the five year period examined.
In light of Brexit, the U.K. is also an interesting case. In the months leading up to the vote, a racist pro-Leave campaign by the right-wing, populist U.K. Independent Party vilified immigrants and refugees they alleged were entering in hordes from other parts of Europe.
“The party is practicing what is in effect a form of 'Euracism',” Labour immigration minister Barbara Roche told the Guardian in 2014. (Of course, non-Europeans were very much also targets of racism—before and after the vote.) Galka’s map shows that, apart from Poland and Ireland, other European countries contribute relatively few migrants to the U.K. than other countries around the world. And Britons actually tend to migrate to Switzerland, Luxembourg, Canada, America, Australia, Oman, South Africa, and Botswana in larger numbers than natives from these countries move to the U.K.
The point of this map, Galka concludes, is for people to correct their misconceptions before setting big, irreversible political events in motion. He writes:
Public opinion about immigration was likely a deciding factor in Britain’s decision to exit the EU. And it may very well determine who becomes the next US president. Yet the majority of Brits and the majority of Americans misestimate the size of their country’s immigrant population by a multiple.