Refugees and asylum seekers are only a small proportion of the 60 million forcibly displaced persons. But those seeking asylum in the developed world have received much of the attention as western governments have struggled to develop a policy response. An analysis of asylum applications by origin and destination indicates that these flows are largely driven by political terror and human rights abuses. Poor economic conditions in origin countries and tough asylum policies in destination countries matter too. In the light of the findings I suggest that greater coordination among OECD countries could improve the lot of those fleeing from persecution but even this would make only modest inroads into the sum of human misery that displaced people exemplify.