Twenty-First in Population, Fourth Lowest in Education | By Tiffany Cao

What would the world look like if the refugees of the world joined into a singular country? According to Save the Children, this new refugee nation would rank twenty-first in population, a few positions lower than France and Italy. Its education would be fourth lowest in the world. In terms of GDP, it would have the 54th most robust economy. This notion of a refugee nation is so compelling that it has been adopted by the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees. The power of the paradigm lies in its re-contextualization of the refugee crisis as a global, growing, and imperative phenomenon.


When refugee data is aggregated

The impact of the global refugee nation as a singular unit is that it enters refugees into the global economic, educational, and social rat race. The GDP and population rankings communicate that there are millions of people have skills to function and contribute to the globalized economy. The education rankings declare that a great number of children are missing out on their right to formal education or perhaps are being under-prepared to head into the economy.

The rankings are prescriptions. They suggest economic integration and educational quality and quantity improvement. In an international educational environment so preoccupied with rankings, see: TIMSS and PISA, the refugee nation’s poor education ranking elicits a reactionary response. Rather than one poorly ranked country overhauling its educational system, it is a call to action for all nations to enact educational interventions. In fact, Save the Children follows the introduction of the refugee nation with its New Deal, a program that installs refugee children in a school within thirty days of displacement.

Political rhetoric echoes the onus that responsibility falls on individual nations’ shoulders to do their part to support those who themselves could have comprised of an internationally populous and robust nation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel underscored Germany’s open refugee policy as a duty to Africa and Syria (the local) and the European Union (the regional). The United States’ Secretary of State John Kerry has reiterated the same sentiment, broadening the Middle East refugee crisis into a “global challenge”.

One problem with the agglomeration of refugees, however, is that the refugee nation has no functional power outside of its shock value. A hypothetical country cannot enact its robust 54th-ranked skill-set without mediation by the host country’s institutions. The nations who host and implement education programs have the resources and the final say. The refugee diaspora’s diversity of history and host nation experiences forces policymakers and individual nations to disaggregate the refugee nation into its individual components anyway. The twenty-first most populous and fourth least-educated refugee nation is a useful rallying symbol, but has few uses apart from its marketing value.


  • AFP. (2016, March 01). Europe’s refugee crisis is a global problem, says John Kerry. The Telegraph. Retrieved November 3, 2016, from
  • Frederick, D. (2016, October 28). Podcast: Save the Children Envisions a ‘New Deal’ for Young Refugees [Audio blog post]. Retrieved November 3, 2016, from
  • Hildebrandt, T., & Ulrich, B. (2016, October 7). Merkel: Time To Focus on Africa. Handelsblatt. Retrieved November 3, 2016, from
  • Infoplease. (n.d.). World’s Most Populous Countries: 2015. Retrieved November 3, 2016.
  • Parater, L. (2015, June 20). 10 infographics that show the insane scale of the global displacement crisis. Retrieved November 3, 2016, from
  • Save the Children. (n.d.). Forced to Flee: Inside the 21st Largest Country. Washington, D.C.


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