News vs. Noise: The Syrian Refugee Crisis – Text Mining and Sentiment Analysis

What is the Syrian Refugee Crisis?

As a result of the Syrian Civil War, 4 million Syrians have been displaced from their home, mostly taking refuge in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. By October 2015, the cumulative number of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Europe had reached over 690,000. As the Syrian refugee crisis started spanning global news outlets, the polarity in sentiment across different countries in Europe became evident. In light of these events, five students from the Institute designed a specialized algorithm to capture sentiment regarding Syrian refugees across European countries.

How do you quantify sentiment?

In an effort to quantify how accepting different European countries were to Syrian refugees, the team applied text mining concepts on over 500 news articles regarding the refugee crisis. The articles were collected from national and international sources between August 1, 2015 and September 30, 2015 – a two month span where the volume of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Europe had peaked.

Samples from news articles

Once the articles were retrieved, a specialized algorithm was applied to develop an Acceptability Index that scored European countries based on how accepting they were to Syrian refugees. After applying the algorithm, we were able to derive key insights regarding the crisis.

Contrary to popular belief

The intricacies of policy sentiment versus civilian accounts were explored and often found to be contradictory in most countries. For example, it appeared that although Hungarian government policies were hostile towards refugees, further analysis suggests the Hungarian people themselves to be accommodating.

The data was telling us the story all along

The Acceptability Index developed as a result of the sentiment analysis is illustrated in the map of Europe below. The red countries represent countries that scored negative on the Acceptability Index during the August to September 2015 time period. The green countries scored a positive value on the Acceptability Index.

Acceptability Index
Acceptability Index

Refugee Route
Refugee Route

Overall, it was shown that the countries with the most negative sentiment closely mirror the countries along the migration route, shedding light on the hardships that refugees face as they set out on foot or boat from Syria into Europe.

This relationship sparks interesting questions for further analysis on the refugee crisis and its impact on the way Syrian refugees are perceived by European countries.

Columnists: Jon Daniels, Mark Hoffmann, Sarah Mohamed, Hiwot Tesfaye