Number of Refugees to Europe Surges to Record 1.3 Million in 2015

Phillip Connor, Pew Research Center, August 2, 2016

A record 1.3 million migrants applied for asylum in the 28 member states of the European Union, Norway and Switzerland in 2015–nearly double the previous high water mark of roughly 700,000 that was set in 1992 after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency.

Today, Eastern European countries like Kosovo and Albania still contribute to the overall flow of asylum seekers into the EU, Norway and Switzerland, but about half of refugees in 2015 trace their origins to just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. {snip}

Since 2012, Germany has been the primary destination country for asylum seekers in Europe, receiving 442,000 asylum applications in 2015 alone. Following Germany, Hungary (174,000 applications) and Sweden (156,000) received the highest number of asylum applications in 2015. Meanwhile, France (71,000) and the UK (39,000) received roughly the same number of applications in 2015 as in years just prior to the refugee surge in 2015.

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At the same time, some of the movement toward Europe is shifting to a southern Mediterranean route to Italy, with flows of largely sub-Saharan African migrants (not Syrians, Afghans or Iraqis) on the rise. Italy has received about 90,000 migrants on its shores since the start of 2016, roughly similar to the first half of 2015. The UNHCR also estimates that over 2,500 people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean between January and May of 2016.

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Asylum seekers to Europe are largely young and male

Over half (53%) of asylum seekers to the European Union, Norway and Switzerland in 2015 were young adults–those ages 18 to 34. This was also generally the top age group among asylum seekers in Europe from the three leading origin countries. Roughly half of those from Syria (50%), Iraq (56%) and Afghanistan (45%) were young adults in 2015.

In addition, men made up nearly three-fourths (73%) of Europe’s asylum seekers in 2015. Refugees from leading origin countries such as Syria (71%), Iraq (75%) and Afghanistan (80%) were also predominately male in 2015. By contrast, asylum seekers from other top origin countries, such as Gambia (97% male), Pakistan (95% male) and Bangladesh (95% male), were almost entirely male.

As a result, about four-in-ten asylum seekers in Europe in 2015 (42%) were young men ages 18 to 34. This was also true for most leading origin countries: 39% of those from Syria were young men, as were 38% of those from Afghanistan and 47% of those from Iraq. Young adult males made up a larger share of asylum seekers from some origin countries. For example, roughly three-fourths of asylum seekers from Gambia (80%), Pakistan (76%) and Bangladesh (76%) were young adult men in 2015.

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