World Faces Historic Asylum Requests as States Falter, OECD Says


Migrants walk through Athens’ old international airport, which is used as a camp for about 2,800 refugees and migrants.

Photographer: Panayiotis Tzamaros/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • New routes across Balkans, Mediterranean aggravate crisis
  • ‘Integration -- that’s where the work is,’ says OECD’s Gurria

The number of people requesting asylum in the developed world surged to its highest since World War II last year as populations fled battlefields in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the OECD said in its annual migration report.

More than 1.2 million people applied for refugee status in the European Union in 2015, making up the bulk if the 1.6 million total across the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. About a quarter of all refugees came from Syria and 12 percent from Iraq, up from 16 percent and 12 percent the previous year.

“This unprecedented increase was fueled partly by the deterioration of the security situation in Syria, Iraq and Libya,” the Paris-based OECD said. “But fueling it as well was also the development of new smuggling routes, such as the eastern Mediterranean and western Balkan routes.”

The political fallout from the refugee crisis is continuing across Europe. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party was dealt another blow in a regional election, posting its worst result in Berlin on Sunday since the 1945 as the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany gained.

Under Merkel, Germany operated an open-arms policy for refugees last year. As a result Germany alone accounted for a quarter of asylum applications in the rich world. It registered the 441,900 applications in 2015, more than double the 173,070 in 2014 and up from less than 50,000 five years earlier.

For a QuickTake explainer on Europe’s refugee crisis, click here

In the U.K., disgruntlement with immigration was one of the factors that drove voters to opt to leave the EU after more than four decades in a June 23 referendum. Theresa May, who replaced David Cameron following that ballot, will call on the United Nations this week to urge stricter controls on mass migration.

“This is an urgent matter -- more people are displaced than at any point in modern history and it is vital that we provide ongoing support for those people most in need of protection,” May said in a statement released by her office. “While we must continue our efforts to end conflict, stop persecution and the abuse of human rights, I believe we also need a new, more effective global approach to manage migration.”

Migration flows are rising generally, the OECD said. Including those who are moving for economic and family reasons as well as refugees, there were 4.8 million migrants in OECD countries last year, the highest in at least a decade, according to the report.

OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria urged governments to step up their efforts to integrate those newly arrived, noting that the flows tend to bring economic benefits if properly managed.

“Integration, integration, integration -- that’s where the work is,” Gurria said at a press conference in Paris.

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