6 Ways Europe’s Refugee Crisis Is Unlike Any Other

The OECD has released a new report on Europe’s refugee crisis, the biggest since the second world war. Here’s how the agency says this crisis is different from those in the past.

1. This crisis is on a bigger scale than anything Europe’s seen for a very long time.

OECD report

The number of people entering Europe had already been increasing sharply since 2012, largely as a consequence of the conflict in Syria, but also due to the effects of ISIS in Iraq and internal strife in Eritrea.

However, in 2015, things have shifted gear entirely. Most people who go on to claim asylum in Europe, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says, initially enter the continent through illegal border crossings. In the entirety of 2014, there were 280,000 such crossings. In the first eight months of 2015, there were 500,000.

2. There are a lot of children traveling alone.

Nikolay Doychinov / AFP / Getty Images

The report warns that a “striking and worrying” feature of this refugee crisis is that there is a large portion of unaccompanied minors – children with no parent or guardian making the journey with them.

The figures for this are a little out of date, but show 24,000 of the EU’s asylum-seekers in 2014 were unaccompanied minors, around 4% of the total. Reports from on the ground in 2015 suggest this figure and proportion are both set to rise.

Children traveling alone have a particularly hard time even once they’re in a safe country, the report warns, as well as proving a particular challenge for host countries when they arrive in large numbers – as housing, carers, and education must be provided.

Older teens – the most predominant sub-category of this group – are particularly badly affected, often getting only a year or two of state support before being ejected from the care and education systems at 18, with little education or understanding of their new country.

3. People are coming from a lot more countries.

OECD report

In the first three months of 2015, only 14% of people seeking asylum in the EU were originally from Syria. This has increased through the year, but people from the three countries covered by the European Commission’s new plans for relocation – Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea – represented only around a quarter of all claims in the first six months of the year.

This did, however, increase to a third of all claims in June, and is expected to increase further.

4. Germany is by far the top destination – and its lead is growing.

OECD report

Some countries are taking, and accepting, huge numbers of people seeking asylum, while others are barely registering the crisis – increasing the burden on the rest.

In the first three months of 2013, Germany was the destination for 17% of OECD asylum-seekers, already more than any other nation. By 2015, this had risen hugely, to 31%, and will rise still further as the state forecasts over a million people will enter.

By contrast, the UK dropped from being the destination for 6% of asylum-seekers in 2013 to just 3% in the early months of 2015.

5. Refugees aren’t coming in through just one route.

OECD report

People are entering Europe to claim asylum from a number of routes, with varying degrees of danger to themselves and their families – even if they originally came from the same country.

The route through Greece was the busiest in the first six months of 2015, but Hungary and Italy also saw large numbers of entrants. The mix of people differed markedly for each entry, too: Most people entering through Greece and Spain were Syrian, while Eritrea was the most common source of people entering the EU through Italy.

6. Many people who are entering Europe are skilled workers.

Nikolay Doychinov / AFP / Getty Images

“Contrary to public perception,” the report writes, “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.”

This seems to be particularly true in this crisis, with data collected in Sweden and Germany suggesting that Syrians in particular entering the EU have higher levels of education than even those who entered during the humanitarian crisis caused during the collapse of the former Yugoslavia.

In Germany, 15% of Syrian refugees had a university degree or equivalent, a further 16% had completed upper secondary education, and 35% had completed lower secondary education.

For this reason, the OECD report suggests, though accepting refugees will be costly and disruptive for host countries in the short term, in the medium and longer term, they can probably expect economic benefits from accepting people into their country.

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James Ball is a special correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. PGP: here
Contact James Ball at James.Ball@buzzfeed.com.
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