Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Migrant and Refugee Myths 1: Why are they all young men? They’re not

First, they’re not. Of the one million people who came to the EU by boat from non-EU countries in 2015, half were women and children. As the vast majority of migrants come by boat, this will mean close to 50% of all migrants were women and children.  Eurostat figures on all non-EU asylum applications in EU countries in 2014 (coming by land and sea) show 70% were male and 30% were female, and of those who were male, many were children  (1) – (2).

The figures for the first half of 2015 were similar. This led to claims that migrants were “mostly young men”, but by the end of it , as mentioned already, half were women and children.

Some claimed the change in the percentages over time was due to the UN and EU fiddling the stats, ignoring the fact that well over half a million more migrants arrived in the EU in the last several months of 2015.

One of the actual reasons for the change over that period is that many of the men are making the long, hard, dangerous journey to an EU country so their wives and children can follow them from the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon or Syria. If they are granted asylum then their families are likely to be granted asylum too. Then their family can join them legally, without having to be at the mercy of criminal gangs of people smugglers, or the significant minority of criminals among the migrants who prey on the ordinary refugees, often robbing, raping or killing them (3).

Of Syrian refugees in Middle Eastern countries , over 50% are female and 26% are 17 or younger on UN statistics (4).

The higher proportion of young men among refugees travelling to the EU is likely also down to the fact that  the journey to the EU is a long, hard one and can be risky too. And men are not any safer from being killed in a civil war – they may even be more likely to be jailed, tortured or killed as they’re more likely to be suspected of being a fighter for another side.
The Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica in 1994 massacred every “male of military age” which they defined as from 16 to 65 years old.

Of course some migrants from some countries will be more economic migrants than refugees, but that does not make every male asylum seeker a fake, or an economic migrant.

Another reason why more younger men may come is that families in poor countries often send one member to go to a wealthier country to get a job and send money home. Money sent back to the country they were born in by people who have come to wealthier countries dwarfs the amount of foreign aid provided by governments (5).



(1) = UNHCR Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response – Mediterranean (retrieved 20 Jan 2016),

(2) = Eurostat 21 May 2015 ‘Asylum Statistics :  Share of male (non-EU) asylum applicants in the EU-28, by age group and status of minors, 2014 (%),http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Asylum_statistics  and http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/File:Share_of_male_%28non-EU%29_asylum_applicants_in_the_EU-28,_by_age_group_and_status_of_minors,_2014_%28%25%29_YB15_III.png

(3) = National Review 12 Oct 2015 ‘Why So Many of Europe’s Migrants Are Men’, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/425398/why-europes-migrants-are-men

(4) =  UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response - Inter-agency Information Sharing Portal (retrieved January 2016) http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

(5) = www.theguardian.com 30 Jan 2013 ‘Migrants' billions put aid in the shade’,

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