Numbers don’t lie. Europe is undergoing an emergency of historic proportions. Based on the Pew Research Center analysis of 1985-2015 Eurostat data, the 2015 surge marked the largest annual flow of asylum seekers to Europe since 1985. This was more than a twofold increase from 2014, when nearly 600,000 people applied for asylum.
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.
Conflicts, both fresh and long-standing, in each of these states have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Some have been displaced within their homelands; others have sought refuge in neighboring countries; and still others have made the often perilous journey to Europe (and elsewhere) to seek asylum.
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.
Refugees did not disperse equally across Europe, with some countries taking in more asylum seekers than the European average. In 2015, the EU-28, Norway and Switzerland as a whole had 250 asylum applicants per 100,000 residents.
By comparison, Hungary had 1,770 applicants per 100,000 people (the highest of any country) and Sweden had 1,600 applicants per 100,000 people. Germany had 540 applicants per 100,000 people, still well above the total European rate. By contrast, France had only 110 applicants per 100,000 people in its total population in 2015 and the UK had only 60 asylum seekers per 100,000 people.
The 2015 surge marked the largest annual flow of asylum seekers to Europe since 1985. By comparison, the second largest came in 1992, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, when 697,000 applied for asylum to the nations that make up current EU countries, Norway and Switzerland. Europe again experienced an uptick in asylum applications during conflicts in Kosovo in the late 1990s, with asylum applications peaking at 463,000 in 2002.
However, 2015’s surge stands out not only as a record year for asylum applications, but for the fact that it had more applicants than the previous peak years of 1992 and 2002 combined. Since 1985, Europe received about 11.6 million asylum applications – meaning that last year’s 1.3 million amounted to about one-tenth of all applications received during the past 30 years by current EU countries, Norway and Switzerland.
Earlier this year, the EU and Turkey reached an agreement that has largely halted the flow of migrants from points east through Turkey, on to Greece and eventually to other parts of the EU.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 8,000 migrants arrived in Greece between April and July 2016 after the agreement with Turkey was put into full effect. Before the agreement, about 150,000 migrants had arrived in Greece between January and March 2016.
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.
Asylum seekers to Europe are largely young and male
Over half (53%) of asylum seekers 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.
Europe has also seen a spike in the number of unaccompanied minors (children under 18 who arrived in Europe without adult guardians) applying for asylum in recent years. Between 2008 and 2015, 198,500 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, of which nearly half (48% or about 96,000) arrived in 2015. Among all first-time asylum applications in 2015, nearly 7% were from unaccompanied minors, the highest share since data on unaccompanied minors became available in 2008.
Cover photo:OLIVER BUNIC/AFP/Getty Images