September 30, 2015

Europe’s asylum seekers: Who they are, where they’re going, and their chances of staying

FT_15.09.29_asylum_420pxThe European Union is still struggling to come up with a systematic way to both manage the unprecedented numbers of refugees streaming across its borders and try to keep more from coming. But even as tens of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others continue flooding into Europe, they’ll likely find that applying for asylum and getting permission to stay are two very different things.

We looked at data compiled by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency, on asylum applications to the 28 nations in the bloc (along with four other European countries that follow the EU’s rules for handling asylum requests). So far this year, according to the data, migrants have their best chance of gaining asylum if they (a) are from Syria, Eritrea or Iraq, and (b) apply in Bulgaria, Denmark or Malta.

Although the Eurostat data run only through part of August, they show that more than 600,000 people have applied for asylum in EU countries so far this year – 58% more than applied in the first eight months of 2014, and just shy of last year’s total of 662,000. (It’s important to note that the Eurostat figures only count people who have formally applied for asylum. Under EU law, asylum seekers generally are supposed to apply in the first EU country they enter, but thousands upon thousands are crossing southern and eastern Europe trying to reach more preferred destinations, such as Germany or Sweden, that have a more welcoming stance toward migrants and offer more benefits and job prospects.) 

FT_15.09.29_asylum_accept_200pxSyrians are the biggest single group of asylum applicants this year, comprising about 20% of the total (though some refugees from other countries reportedly are claiming to be Syrian, in the hopes of improving their chances of gaining asylum). More than half the asylum seekers, in fact, are from just five countries: Syria, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Albania and Iraq. Most (72%) are male, and more than half (54%) are ages 18 to 34; men in that age bracket account for fully 43% of asylum applicants.

Germany was by far the top destination for migrants seeking asylum: Nearly 41% of all asylum applicants this year (more than 245,000) applied in Germany. Hungary had the second-most asylum applicants, about 98,000 (16.3% of the total), though that may have more to do with the country’s geographic position as a gateway to central and western Europe than with its attitude toward migrants.

But migrants applying for asylum in Germany might have better luck elsewhere. Germany approved fewer than half (43.5%) of the asylum applications it processed in the first half of this year, putting it in the middle of the pack in terms of acceptance rates among European countries. The highest acceptance rates generally were in smaller countries, particularly the Scandinavian nations (Denmark, 85.2%; Sweden, 74.2%; Norway, 72.5%), while the lowest rates were all in former Soviet bloc nations (Latvia, 8.3%; Hungary, 12.3%; Poland, 14.6%).

FT_15.09.29_asylum_SyriaMigrants fleeing active conflict zones had the best chance of winning asylum, according to decision data from the first half of 2015. Among the largest refugee groups by nationality, nearly all (94.8%) of those claiming Syrian citizenship succeeded in obtaining asylum, followed by Eritreans (88.5%) and Iraqis (87.1%). On the other hand, the large numbers of applicants from the Balkans, which has been mostly at peace since 2001, had less success: Only 6.4% of Albanians, 1.9% of Kosovars and 1.3% of Serbs gained EU asylum in the first half of this year.

Topics: Europe, Migration

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Mike2 years ago

    This would only be another case of “lying by omission”, the press is rightfully accused of. Yes, they are mostly young, male, non-educateded (in all senses), do not speak any European language – but are supposed to sustain and save our doomed retirement Ponzi-schemes. BTW most pictures dominantly feature some child/baby in the center, surrounded by a few women. This is not the reality of who actually comes.

  2. Eli2 years ago

    There is no point on comparing acceptance rates without considering where the asylum seekers come from. Denmark has one of the most strict asylum policies in Europe. That is why mostly syrians apply asylum from Denmark. People from other countries don`t have a chance to get residence permit from Denmark, and they know it. Of course a country with applicants mostly from Syria has a higher acceptance rate than for example Germany, which has 25% of asylum seekers from Balcans.

  3. Kate2 years ago

    Dear Mr DeSilver

    Thanks for this article. I was wondering about the decision to highlight on Facebook the particularly finding reported in your article that the majority of asylum seekers into Europe are male, and a large share of those young.

    As you will have seen from the comments, this fed the narrative that is quite present on social media questioning why so many young men, and then drawing the conclusion that it must be be because ISIS fighters are hiding within this ‘invasion’.

    Given the huge political sensitivities surrounding this issue, I would have liked to see your article provide some more context to this (I believe part of the reason for the gender imbalance is for example that men are perceived as more able to make the hazardous journey from home to Europe, and are sent first to bring dependents over later, and also that women and children, sadly, are more likely to die crossing borders in this fashion). Alternatively, if no context could be provided, it would have been better for another, less controversial finding to be presented as lead-in to the article on Facebook.

    1. Mikhael Izsak-Dicker2 years ago

      I disagree