Europe's Record Asylum Requests Are the New Normal, OECD Says

  • Germany faces most asylum requests of any country in history
  • Environmental factors in Africa adding to Middle East conflict

The number of asylum requests in Europe will hit a record this year and the flow of refugees is likely to continue at the same pace in years ahead, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development said.

European countries have received 700,000 asylum requests so far this year and there will likely be 1 million by year-end, the OECD said in its annual report on migration. That’s up from 630,000 last year, which itself was the highest figure since the Balkan conflicts of the early 1990s.

“Looking forward, it is unlikely that pressure from sending countries will ease,” the 34-member OECD said, citing continued instability in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine, as well as environmental and demographic pressures in Africa.

The origin of asylum seekers is more varied than often presumed, the OECD said. Syrians represented 14 percent of requests in Europe in the first half of 2015, Serbians and Kosovans another 14 percent, Afghans 11 percent and Iraqis 10 percent. The OECD said the percentage of Syrians will rise throughout the year because of recent massive moves through Turkey to Greece, and as European countries increasingly turn down asylum requests from the Balkans, which are now considered largely safe.

“Contrary to public perception, refugees are generally not the poorest of the poor in their country of origin and tend to have higher skill levels than the general population in origin countries,” the OECD said. Syrian migrants arriving now in Europe are on average better educated than the Balkan refugees who arrived in the 1990s, it said.

“Europe has better legal and institutional systems in place for asylum-seekers and migrants than it did in the 1990s,” the report said. “However, these have not ensured a fair burden-sharing between countries.”

Record Flows

Germany, the U.S., Turkey, Sweden and Italy are receiving the largest number of asylum requests, it said, with Austria receiving among the most for the size of its population. Some countries, such as Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria, have little tradition of accepting refugees, the report noted, and Australia has tightened its procedures to discourage applications.

If Germany does receive the 800,000 asylum requests this year that its government has forecast, it would be equivalent to 1 percent of its population and “would be in absolute numbers the largest annual flow of people seeking asylum of any OECD country ever recorded.”

Europe has taken in massive number of refugees before, the report noted. The Bosnian conflict in the early 1990s sent 800,000 people to other OECD countries including 300,000 to Germany alone. Germany accepted 3 million ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union from the 1980s to 2000, and the end of colonial empires sent 1 million people to France in 1962 and 600,000 to Portugal in the 1970s.

Overall immigration flows in OECD countries are back to the same level as before the financial crisis, the report said, with 4.3 million permanent legal entries in 2014, up 6 percent from 2013. The U.S. and the EU took in the same number of people from outside their borders, about 1 million each, and for the first time Korea received more immigration than Japan.

China was the largest source of immigrants, accounting for 10 percent of the total. Next were India, Romania and Poland.

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