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  • Lara Breidenbach, Arizona State University

Mapping the Refugee Crisis

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

With the world refugee crisis reaching historic numbers, more and more questions are being asked concerning the management of such large flows of people, about the growth and management of refugee camps, and how to best aid these people in recovering the lives they left behind. Global numbers of displaced people have reached 70.8 million and with many of the ongoing conflicts lacking a solution, new ones erupting, and the constant threat of natural disasters, this number will only continue to rise. However misrepresentation in the media has led to an interesting phenomena in the US and Europe; politicians and news sources give the impression that the vast majority of refugees are seeking shelter in rich countries, especially western ones. According to a report released by the United Nations refugee agency, 80% of the world’s refugees were taking shelter in neighboring countries, which contrasts against the narrative that a majority headed to the United States, Europe, or Australia. So while high-income countries claim to be doing a significant amount to help people fleeing from war and persecution in reality the majority of the global effort to help refugees has fallen to lower- and middle-income countries closer to the conflicts who are hosting more than double the number of refugees that high-income countries are.

The lack of cooperation and commitment within the international community to provide aid and solutions for the refugee crisis has resulted in the exponential growth and over-population of refugee camps around the world. This means that camps are poorly planned, difficult to navigate, hazardous, and under-represented in national progress assessments of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In an effort to give these most vulnerable populations a voice and a sense of place, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team has partnered with Development Seed, Oregon State University, and local organizations to work with refugee communities. Their aim is to create an open geospatial dataset dedicated to capturing formal and informal settlements across the globe, ensuring that no one is left behind and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are including displaced people. An important aspect of this Missing Millions project is the crowdsourcing and partnerships with local organizations - working directly with residents not only gives the v accurate data but can also help to foster a sense of community.


Lara Breidenbach is part of the USAID GeoCenter/YouthMappers internship and will be graduating from Arizona State University Online in December with a BS in Geography. After multiple years living and working overseas she was inspired to follow this path by the diversity and ingenuity of the many cities she’s traveled through and plans to continue her education with a Masters in Sustainable Development.

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