Jun 18, 2014 2:50 pm

For World Refugee Day, 5 long-term refugee trends

Mervat, 31, stands outside of her tent as she holds her 9-month-old daughter, Shurouk, at a camp for Syrian refugees in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein.
Mervat, 31, stands outside of her tent as she holds her 9-month-old daughter, Shurouk, at a camp for Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein.

Unrest in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq has prompted renewed attention about refugees across the world in recent weeks. But in the face of such news stories, long-term refugee trends are often overlooked.

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees flee their home country because of political, ethnic or religious tensions. Although millions of people may move within a country to avoid conflict and violence (they are often described as internally displaced people), people must cross international borders to be counted as refugees. (And although generations of Palestinian refugees are counted as part of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, Palestinian refugees are not included in estimates by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.)

Using trend data from the UNHCR for 2002 to 2012, here are five facts – in marking of World Refugee Day on June 20 – that shed light on the changing shape of refugee populations around the world.

1The number of refugees has fallen from its 1990s peak.

Refugee population trends

The number of refugees living in a foreign country who are either waiting to return or be resettled peaked in the early 1990s at about 18 million. During the 1990s peak, most of the world’s refugees were leaving Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2012, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria were top countries of origin for refugees. But despite the ongoing conflicts in these countries, the number of refugees around the world is considerably less than it was two decades ago, numbering between 10 million and 12 million in recent years.

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Topics: Migration, Wars and International Conflicts

Jun 18, 2014 1:45 pm

The Sunni-Shia divide: Where they live, what they believe and how they view each other

The ongoing and intensifying conflict in Iraq has fallen – at least in part – along sectarian lines, with the Sunni Muslim militant group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) advancing against the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government and Shia militias. Sectarian affiliation has played a role in the politics of the region for hundreds of years.

Where Sunni and Shia Muslims populationsIran and Iraq are two of only a handful of countries that have more Shias than Sunnis. While it is widely assumed that Iraq has a Shia majority, there is little reliable data on the exact Sunni-Shia breakdown of the population there, particularly since refugees arriving in Iraq due to the conflict in Syria or leaving Iraq due to its own turmoil may have affected the composition of Iraq’s population.

The few available survey measures of religious identity in Iraq suggest that about half the country is Shia. Surveys by ABC News found between 47% and 51% of the country identifying as Shia between 2007 and 2009, and a Pew Research survey conducted in Iraq in late 2011 found that 51% of Iraqi Muslims said they were Shia (compared with 42% saying they were Sunni).

Neighboring Iran is home to the world’s largest Shia population: Between 90% and 95% of Iranian Muslims (66-70 million people) were Shias in 2009, according to our estimate from that year.

Their shared demographic makeup may help explain Iran’s support for Iraq’s Shia-dominated government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

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Topics: Middle East and North Africa, Muslims and Islam

Jun 18, 2014 10:31 am

Where Christian churches, other religions stand on gay marriage

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) plans to hold a historic vote on same-sex marriage this week that could reverberate beyond the church’s nearly 2 million members. Church leaders gathering in Detroit are expected to decide as early as today whether to allow gay marriage or to continue to prohibit it, a move some Christian leaders believe could influence other centrist and liberal mainline Protestant churches as they also grapple with the issue.

FT_14.06.18_ChurchesOnSSM (1)

In the last two decades, several religious groups have moved to allow same-sex couples to marry within their traditions. This includes the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements, Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Read More

Topics: Christians and Christianity, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

Jun 17, 2014 11:00 am

Why timely, reliable data on mass killings is hard to find

Mass-KillingsThe United States has experienced a spate of public killing sprees in recent weeks. In June alone, shootings at Seattle Pacific University, Reynolds High School in suburban Portland, and in Las Vegas left a total of five people dead and three wounded (excluding the shooters). Last month, a 22-year-old college student in southern California stabbed his three roommates to death, then shot and killed three more people and wounded 13 others before shooting himself.

Which makes us wonder: Are school shootings and other killing sprees really more common nowadays? The available data don’t offer clear evidence, due to issues of timeliness, reliability or both.

The most frequently cited source for data on mass killings is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, yet it falls short in several ways. The agency relies on voluntary reporting by local police agencies; as a result, USA Today reported last year, the FBI data had only about a 61% accuracy rate — missing some crimes entirely and miscategorizing others. Besides such errors, Florida doesn’t report homicides to the FBI at all, and Nebraska and Washington, D.C., only started doing so in 2009.

more comprehensive database maintained by USA Today lists 38 public mass killings since 2006; all but four were shootings. Since 2006, the number of public mass killings each year has varied between 3 and 6. The year 2012, which saw both the Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., massacres, had by far the most total fatalities (63). Read More

Topics: Criminal Justice, Violence and Society

Jun 17, 2014 9:00 am

Which party is more to blame for political polarization? It depends on the measure

Our report on political polarization in America has renewed debate among journalists and academics over what is called “asymmetrical polarization” – the idea that one party has moved further ideologically than the other. A number of congressional scholars have concluded that the widening partisan gap in Congress is attributable mostly to a rightward shift among Republican lawmakers. But what about the public? Have Republicans nationwide shifted further than Democrats over the past two decades?

The report addresses this issue in considerable detail. What we find is clear evidence of more ideologically consistent thinking on both sides of the spectrum, as well as greater levels of partisan antipathy, though the latter is currently more acute on the right than on the left.

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Topics: Political Attitudes and Values, Political Polarization

Jun 17, 2014 7:00 am

A dug-in electorate bodes poorly for the Democrats in November

Opinion of Obama, Obamacare, economy influences voteSince the Affordable Care Act was passed nearly four years ago, a plurality of Americans have disapproved of it. Since the onset of the Great Recession six years ago, more than 80% of Americans have rated economic conditions as only fair or poor. And since winning a second term, Barack Obama’s approval score has mostly been in the mid-40s or lower. One or more of these attitudes will have to move in a clearly positive direction for the Democratic Party to avoid a drubbing in the congressional elections, according to a new analysis of voter opinion.

So far the indications for that are not so good. Recent months have shown signs of economic progress and indications that the Affordable Care Act has begun to achieve its goals. But there is little indication that the unemployment rate’s falling to 6.3%, the Dow Jones average soaring to a new high and the ACA signing up 8 million people, (including many young people,) had any effect on attitudes about these two key issues. Read More

Topics: 2014 Election, Political Party Affiliation, Presidential Approval, U.S. Political Parties

Jun 16, 2014 3:00 pm

In countries near Syria, widespread fear about the spread of violence, extremists

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

The successful capture last week of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, by the extremist organization Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – and the group’s continued push toward the Iraqi capital, Baghdad – seemed to confirm widespread fears in the Middle East that violence in Syria would spill over into neighboring states.

FT_mideast-syria-violence-concernMiddle East worries about spreading violence and a possible triumph by extremists in Syria have been evident in Pew Research surveys the past two years. A 2013 poll found that roughly three-quarters or more of the public in Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian territories were concerned that the ongoing Syrian conflict would destabilize nearby countries. (The Pew Research Center did not poll in Iraq.)

This year, our newest poll reveals that people in these same neighboring countries are also concerned that extremists, such as ISIS, will prevail in Syria. Read More

Topics: Middle East and North Africa, Terrorism

Jun 16, 2014 11:53 am

So, you married an atheist…

FT_14.06.16_marryAnAtheistHow would you react if a family member were to marry a born-again Christian – or an atheist?

A new Pew Research Center survey found that despite high levels of political polarization overall, most Americans in each major political party said “it wouldn’t matter” if an immediate family member married someone who identifies with the opposite party. But fewer U.S. adults – especially Christians – are neutral toward the idea of welcoming someone who doesn’t believe in God into their family through marriage.

About three-quarters of white evangelicals (77%) and two-thirds of black Protestants (67%) in the survey said they would be unhappy if a family member were to marry an atheist, as did 55% of Catholics and 46% of white mainline Protestants.

By comparison, Americans who are religiously unaffiliated are much more comfortable with the prospect of a family member marrying a born-again Christian. Most religious “nones” (73%) said that such a union would not matter to them, while one-in-ten (9%) even said they would be happy to see such a marriage. About one-in-six (17%) said they would be unhappy.

Even among people who specifically identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, two-thirds (67%) said it wouldn’t matter if a family member married a born-again Christian, while just a quarter (26%) said they’d be unhappy.

Topics: Religion and Politics

Jun 16, 2014 7:00 am

5 facts about the World Cup – and the people who are watching

FT_14.06.12_WorldCupStadiumPhoto

Aside from the Olympics, there are few events that garner as much global coverage as the World Cup.

Of all the numbers associated with the event – 32 teams, 64 matches, 736 players, each team’s odds of winning – some of the biggest (with the exception of the World Cup’s reported $11.5 billion price tag) are the numbers of people who will be watching.

Here are five facts about World Cup viewership in the United States and around the world:

1About 3.2 billion people around the world (roughly 46% of the global population) watched at least a minute of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa on TV in their homes, according to a report produced for FIFA by the British firm KantarSport. This is slightly lower than the number of people who reportedly saw at least a minute of the 2012 London Olympics (3.6 billion), according to a report produced for the International Olympic Committee. Nearly 1 billion people (909.6 million) tuned in for at least a minute of the 2010 World Cup final, in which Spain defeated the Netherlands, a similar viewership number to the London Olympics’ opening ceremonies.

2In the United States, 94.5 million people (about 31% of the population) watched at least 20 consecutive minutes of the last World Cup, an increase of 19% over the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Compared to the U.S., World Cup host Brazil is far more interested in soccer, with 80% of the population watching at least 20 minutes of the matches in 2010.

3A similar share of Americans (28%) said they plan to watch World Cup games this summer, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News survey, which also found that more Americans called soccer “a big bore” (28%) than said it is “exciting” (19%).

4In a Pew Research survey conducted in January, 22% of Americans said they were “especially looking forward to” the World Cup, nearly the same share as when we asked about the 2010 World Cup in January of that year (23%). No other event mentioned in the 2014 survey found fewer people anticipating the event; more than twice as many people (51%) said they were looking forward to this fall’s midterm elections.

5The world will be watching Brazil – both for this summer’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics – but Brazilians are skeptical about whether the world will see Brazil in a positive light. About a third (35%) of Brazilians said the World Cup will help their country’s international image, while roughly four-in-ten (39%) said it will hurt Brazil’s image, according to a survey we conducted in April.

Jun 13, 2014 4:20 pm

1-in-4 Native Americans and Alaska Natives are living in poverty

Standing Rock Sioux demographicsOn his visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota today, President Obama is using his first stop at a Native American reservation while in office to highlight the challenges Native Americans face. In an op-ed published in Indian Country Today, Obama called the poverty and high school dropout rates among Native Americans “a moral call to action.”

The poverty rate at Standing Rock Reservation is 43.2%, nearly triple the national average, according to Census Bureau data. The reservation, which straddles North Dakota and South Dakota, has a population of 8,956, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Native American & Alaska Native demorgaphicsNative Americans have a higher poverty and unemployment rate when compared with the national average, but the rates are comparable to those of blacks and Hispanics. About one-in-four American Indians and Alaska Natives were living in poverty in 2012. Among those who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native as their only race, the poverty rate was 29.1% in 2012.

Some 5.2 million people (1.7% of the total U.S. population) identify as Native American or Alaska Native, with 44% identifying as at least one other race, according to 2010 Census Bureau data, the most recent data available. And census officials have said that the number of people who self-identify as such has been growing, for reasons they don’t fully understand.

There were 170,110 people nationwide who identified as Sioux in the 2010 census. The largest tribal group, Cherokee, has 819,105 people. Of those who identify as Native American or Alaska Native as their only race, one-in-three (33%) live on reservations or tribal lands. Among all American Indians and Alaska Natives, about one-in-five (22%) live on reservations or tribal lands.

Topics: Demographics, Poverty, Race and Ethnicity, U.S. Census