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17.08.2017 - News

World Humanitarian Day: Xavier Colin shares facts and figures

In paying tribute to humanitarian workers, we acknowledge and defend the importance of their activities, especially in times of “fake news”. To celebrate World Humanitarian Day, which takes place on the 19th August, Xavier Colin, a journalist, political scientist and Terre des hommes ambassador, underlines a number of important truths, takes a closer look at real-life situations – and puts an end to false ideas.

The truth about economic migrants

We hear talk about floods of migrants. We hear that the majority of people crossing the Mediterranean and landing in Europe are economic migrants – not refugees. These ideas are even given credence by some politicians. The problem is that this “majority” is actually a minority.

According to statistics taken from a survey completed by the Economic and Social Research Council in centres in Greece, Italy and Malta, 80% of people arriving in Europe are fleeing war and violence in their countries of origin (this includes forced labour, sexual duress, ethnic discrimination and other forms of violence). Only 18% of these people claim to be migrating for purely economic reasons. As these statistics show, people with no choice but exile far exceed those leaving voluntarily. Another true fact: a quarter of all new arrivals are children.  

The disappearance of 10,000 unaccompanied minors

Many unaccompanied children travel migrant routes. But should child protection organisations be concerned? Once again, the statistics are unequivocal – and unsettling. A detailed study by the PorCausa foundation found that 63,000 unaccompanied minors arrived in the European Union in 2016. Around half of these children were from Syria and Afghanistan. However, according to Europol, 10,000 of these children have disappeared. They are simply no longer there.

Of course, many of them may have quietly joined family and friends already living in Europe – a fortunate outcome, if so. And, of course, the statistics may have been inflated by double-ups or miscommunications between European governments. Nevertheless, thousands of young girls and boys have been left to their own devices, some falling victim to European prostitution and forced labour networks. As reflected in many of Terre des hommes’ programmes, protecting these neglected children is both a priority and a necessity.

The killing of humanitarian workers in South Sudan

Humanitarian workers are facing dire situations in countries such as South Sudan. Once again, the statistics do not lie: a record number of workers have been killed since the start of the war in 2013 – 82 murders have taken place to date. Since the beginning of 2017, 12 NGO members have been killed and 8 convoys attacked.

At the global level, the Aid Worker Security Database recently published statistics showing that 80% of the 208 humanitarian workers killed, kidnapped or seriously wounded in 2017 were local employees. Moreover, no information is currently available on the number of suspects that have been brought before the courts as a result of police investigations into these violent acts.

The humanitarian “industry” is booming

Lastly, Genevan professor Gilles Carbonnier published a particularly revealing observation in his July 2017 study, “Humanitarian Economics: War, Disaster and the Aid Market”: the humanitarian industry is booming. In 1990, humanitarian assistance represented 3% of all development aid. In 2016, this figure jumped to 12%, or USD 27.3 billion globally.

Given the inability of many political powers to resolve crisis situations, humanitarian activities have become a key part of global governance. Is this good news or bad? These real statistics will no doubt help many make up their minds…


Xavier Colin


Founder of the Géopolitis programme

Terre des hommes ambassador


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