“There is devastating ignorance about the refugee situation” – Hans Rosling

Professor Hans Rosling met with UNHCR at the Gapminder Foundation in Stockholm to talk, among other topics, about the knowledge Europeans have on asylum-seekers and refugees. With his characteristic vitality and energy, Professor Rosling illustrated the importance of data and facts for a well-informed public.

Hans Rosling
© Statistiker Hans Rosling

UNHCR has been overwhelmed by the initiatives from civil society, private companies, and NGOs who have stood up to welcome refugees in many European countries. What prompted you to support the cause of refugees? Why did you chip in?

The Gapminder Foundation did it because our mission statement is to fight devastating ignorance about the world with a fact based world view that everyone can understand. We realized that there is devastating ignorance about the refugee situation. My colleague Max Orward and I did together two videos (Why boat refugees don’t fly and Where are the Syrian refugees?) and we used UNHCR’s data. We got the impression that most of the public in Europe thought people came with boats because they could not afford any other way. And we needed to tell them that this is not the case: these boats cost more than flying. We didn’t know how the knowledge would be used, nor did we have any intention about it. If you want to do something about the situation of people fleeing conflicts you need to know why they are taking those boats. It’s not for me to come with a political solution. We also realized that so many people talked about a refugee crisis in Europe, but the truth is that Lebanon, Jordan and other neighbouring countries to Syria are pressed, while Europe has the resources to manage the situation.

What do you propose other individuals could do?

What I try to explain with these videos is that if you have 3 per cent of the Syrian refugees in Western Europe and 97 per cent either in the neighbouring countries or as internally displaced in Syria it is very important to provide funding for UNHCR. And lot of it.

You have highlighted UNHCR as the most effective/professional UN Agency? Can you tell us why?

Because you put together serious budgets over the year and you communicate those. You keep the overview, you take the full responsibility. You keep track of different categories of people. Then you also have operational people who do it. And you run an appeal which funds others.

What’s the best way to make people aware of the major global trends?

People have to learn it at school, so that when they graduate from school they are updated. That means that teachers must have continuous education. We need to distinguish between values and inspiration on one hand and facts on the other. We call this idea Factfulness. I want to know more or less how the world is. I don’t have to be optimistic or pessimistic about the world. I don’t have to be so ideological. I should of course have my values, my emotions, but I should base them on facts.

 

Hans Rosling is professor of International Health at Karolinska Institutet, the medical university in Stockholm, Sweden. His 20 years of research on global health investigates the links between economy and health in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

He has been an adviser to WHO and UNICEF, co-founded Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden and started new courses and published a textbook on Global Health. He is a member of the International Group of the Swedish Academy of Science and of the Global Agenda Network of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. He also co-founded Gapminder Foundation with his son and daughter in-law.

His award-winning lectures on global trends have been labelled “humorous, yet deadly serious” and many in the audience realize their own world view is lagging behind by many decades.