Five Facts: 
Refugees in America

Nearly 27,000 refugees came to America between 2012 and 2015.

This story takes a close look at where they came from, and where they've settled.

Refugees are those who have been displaced from their home countries and are unable or unwilling to return, fearing persecution. Today, the number of refugees worldwide stands at historic highs. This story explores the most recent available data from the Office of Refugee Settlement, covering the fiscal years 2012 through 2015.

—Daniel Kenis, Senior Editor at LiveStories

1. Between 2012 and 2015, more refugees came from Iraq than any other country.

The Iraq War began in 2003, and the refugee crisis it sparked did not end when American troops left the country in 2011. Beyond the initial invasion's destruction, violence and terrorism have been almost daily horrors for Iraqis ever since. 

In addition to refugees, many Iraqis who worked closely with U.S. forces during the war applied for Special Immigrant Visas. (These immigrants are not included in this story's data.)

2. Nearly as many refugees came from Myanmar (Burma) during the same period. 

The refugee crisis in Myanmar (also known as Burma) predates 2012; hundreds of thousands of Burmese ethnic and religious minorities have fled the government since the 1990's. Many live in camps in nearby southeast Asian countries. The United States has admitted a steady flow for years. (In 2012, the U.S. government lifted sanctions on Myanmar in response to political reforms, but the refugee crisis continued.)

Bhutan, the third top source of refugees during these years, likewise highlights how long-lived refugee crises can be. The Bhutanese crisis began in 1990; many refugees now settled in America have lived in camps for decades.

3. More refugees settle in Texas than any other state.

In general, the number of refugees settling in a given state is proportional to its population. No refugees from this period settled in Wyoming, which has fewer people than any other state in America. 

Texas, in contrast, settles even more refugees than its high population would suggest. The chart on the right correlates state populations and their refugee populations from 2012-2015; Texas (the purple dot) stands out. 

Hover over the dots to see the states they represent.

4. America did not start accepting large numbers of Syrian refugees until 2015—years after the crisis began. 

Syria became ground zero of the global refugee crisis in 2012, when Syria's violent response to antigovernment protests spiraled into a gruesome civil war. Millions of Syrians are now refugees, but the United States did not begin settling Syrians en masse until 2015. In 2016, the Obama administration accepted nearly 13,000 more Syrian refugees

President Trump has vowed to halt Syrian refugees, along with refugees from five other countries shown on the chart to the left. (In his first executive order—struck down by the courts—Trump also called for banning Iraqi refugees.) 

5. Refugees from different world regions settle in different American regions. 

The maps below show stark regional variations in where refugees end up. For African and Middle Eastern refugees, two midwestern states stand out—Minnesota and Michigan, respectively. Note: data shown is for total refugees from 2012 to 2015. Regional designations for countries are based on categories from the World Bank.

Explore the Data

The first map shows where refugees from a given country settled in the United States. The second map shows where a given state's refugee population came from. 

Use the filters to select states, countries, and years.

Read our other data stories:


The data in this article comes from the U.S. Office of Refugee Settlement. State population estimates for the years covered by this data are from the Census Bureau

The raw data did not include regional designations for refugees' countries and places of origin. There is no single correct way to group countries into regions; we relied on the World Bank's grouping scheme.  (LiveStories also changed "Burma" on the original raw data files to the country's modern name, Myanmar.)

Further Reading

Washington Post, Dec. 2015: A visual guide to 75 years of major refugee crises around the world 

Fox News, Aug. 2015: Burmese fleeing ethnic and religious persecution become biggest refugee group arriving in US 

Seattle Times, Oct. 2016: Bhutanese refugee crisis: a brief history 

Pew Research Center, Jan. 2017: Key facts about refugees to the U.S.