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Terrorism and refugees are linked, but not how you might think

The majority of terror attacks that took place in 2014 occurred in only five countries. And they happen to be the home countries of the refugees seeking asylum in Europe. Terrorism and the refugee crisis are linked. Mass violence and instability in a few countries are forcing residents to flee for their lives.

terrorism v refugeeSome 32,658 people were killed in terror attacks last year, according to a new report published Tuesday by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Its Global Terrorism Index finds that deaths from terrorism increased by 80 percent in 2014. Nearly 80 percent of the deaths took place in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria.

“The significant increase in terrorist activity has meant that its ramifications are being felt more widely throughout the world,” said Steve Killelea, executive chairman of Institute for Economics and Peace, in a statement. “Ten of the eleven countries most affected by terrorism also have the highest rates of refugees and internal displacement. This highlights the strong inter-connectedness between the current refugee crisis, terrorism and conflict.”

A total of 13.9 million people were newly displaced in 2014. More than half came from just Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. It overlaps almost directly with the terrorism index, and the increasing number of people leaving their countries this year is the result of the continued violence. Iraq bears the brunt of terror deaths, thanks to the rise of the Islamic State, and is now among the top countries of origin for European asylum arrivals.

terror attacks map

The Islamic State and Boko Haram are responsible for more than half of the terrorism deaths in 2014. And most of those people are civilians. It is why the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called the rising anti-refugee rhetoric in the wake of the Paris terror attacks “absolute nonsense.”

“It is not the refugee outflows that cause terrorism, it is terrorism, tyranny and war that create refugees,” he said. “It is clear that the [Islamic State] strategy is not only to set Europeans against refugees, but within Europe, to set citizen against citizen within communities, community against community within countries, and country against country in the [European] Union.”

Instability is a key driver of terrorism, according to the report. More than 90 percent of attacks take place in countries with widespread political violence committed by the government. Wealthy countries are not immune. Terror attacks in leading economies occur when there is a lack of economic opportunity and social cohesion is low, the study reported. And it is often single individuals who carry out the attacks – such as recent mass shootings in the U.S.

In poor countries, we see that ongoing fighting and fear as causes of terrorism, the same factors that force people to flee. At the same time there are increasing Western fears about domestic Islamic extremism.

islamic fearsPronouncements by terror groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram make it clear that Western countries and their citizens are among the targets. But it in these groups’ strongholds where most killings occur, and from where most people flee.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]