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June 26, 2019
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International Organization for Migration data shows how biased reporting is about migrants in Europe

1.8.2016 17:35
A snapshot at the Bapska border crossing in Croatia. (Photo: We Help People Who Are Fleeing initiative - Pomáháme lidem na útěku)
A snapshot at the Bapska border crossing in Croatia. (Photo: We Help People Who Are Fleeing initiative - Pomáháme lidem na útěku)

Because the flood of (mainly negative) reporting about the so-called refugee crisis in the Czech Republic can make it seem like we are living at a time of unprecedented migration and that Europe is at risk of an exodus from the rest of the world onto its territory, it is worth taking a look at the data and statistics that are available about this phenomenon. A closer look at the numbers on migration to the Czech Republic, to Europe, and around the globe not only refutes many myths, it introduces some surprising findings.

Even though some members of the public, mistakenly influenced by biased information from the media, are of the opinion that the entire word is on the move, a new publication by the International Organization for Migration, "Global Migration Trends", tells us that 97 % of the inhabitants of planet Earth remain in the same country where they were born. The number of international migrants worldwide may have risen by more than one-third during the past 25 years, according to the UN (to about 240 million people), but given the growth in the human population, the proportion of human beings migrating this way has remained at around 3 % of the world's population since the 1950s.

That number includes migration for humanitarian purposes as well as migration for study or work. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of migrants worldwide even fell slightly compared to the 2005 -2010 period.

As an analysis by the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital at the University of Vienna found, from 2010 to 2015 a total of 36.5 million people changed their country of residency, eight million fewer than did so from 2005 to 2010. Migration reached record levels during the first half of the 1990s after the fall of the so-called Iron Curtain and as a result of the civil wars in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Rwanda.

The Austrian scientists also point out that for quite some time, UN statistics have factored in numbers of "new" migrants annually irrespective of the fact that the persons in question may have already been living in their new country for many years, so it is of greater predictive value is to monitor trends in people's movements over five-year cycles, for instance. This new methodology demonstrates that the proportion of migrants to the global population has basically been stable since the 1950s, oscillating by a maximum of 0.7 % over the course of each five-year period.

If we look at numbers for the last five years, annually on average more than seven million people migrated, which corresponds to not quite one one-thousandth of one per cent of the human population of Earth. Does this data correspond at all to the "historical exodus" we are hearing about almost daily in the media? 

Is Europe even the main destination?

Critics of this approach might object that we should look at the global data presented above from the perspective of Europeans, a large number of whom have the feeling that their continent is the primary destination for all these foreigners on the move. While it might seem from the depictions in the media that the entire developing world is heading to Western EUrope, that is not actually the case.

Migration into the EU Member Sates (and between them as part of EU citizens' freedom of movement) involved less than 10 million people total between 2010 and 2015. From 2000 to 2005, migration in Europe involved just 11 million people.

Europe is naturally an attractive destination, but one must realize that many people also leave the continent. For example, during 2013, while a total of 3.4 million people migrated into the EU, 2.8 million EU inhabitants left.

That means the EU population actually grew by just 600 000 immigrants that year. Europe is the second-largest geographic area sending migrants abroad, with a total of 62 million Europeans living elsewhere in the world (by the way).

Europeans comprise one-quarter of all the world's emigrants. The largest number of emigrants comes from Asia (104 million).

Africa comes third in the world in terms of emigrants, after Europe. Despite this fact, for quite some time now, and recently with much more intensity, we can see comments in the media that "almost all of Africa" seems to be heading to Europe.

During 2015 less than 150 000 people of the 1.3 billion inhabitants of Africa left it as part of the so-called refugee wave - in other words, a number on the order of one one-thousandth of the population. More migrants, asylum-seekers included, have arrived into southern Africa, with its population of 56 million, than have arrived into Europe with its population of 500 million.

What is actually happening is that the vast majority of migrants in Africa (just like on other continents) are migrating to neighboring countries or regions. Migration numbers between developing states have also been higher than migration numbers from developing countries to developed ones.

The USA is home to one-fifth of all the world's migrants. The almost 50 million immigrants in the United States comprise 15 % of the US population.

Far behind the United States in terms of immigrant populations come the countries of Germany, Saudi Arabia and Russia, which has more than 10 million foreign nationals living there. Russia is also one of the countries from which the largest numbers of people are leaving.

Approximately 10 million Russians now live abroad, a number similar to that of Chinese or Mexican citizens. The biggest diaspora in the world belongs to India's 15 million emigrants.

Proportionally speaking, Bosnia has the world's highest emigration rates (43 % of its population lives abroad), but both Ireland and Portugal also have 20 % of their populations in the diaspora. Given the current concerns about Muslims migrating into Europe, it must be noted that Russia is in first place in that regard, with 16 million Muslims total in the country.

France has 4.7 million Muslims out of a population of 65 million people, but most of its immigrants are not from Islamic countries, but are Chinese people and citizens of other EU Member States. No European state even makes it to the top of the chart for the countries with the highest proportion of foreign nationals in their populations.

The leader in that regard is the United Arab Emirates, where almost 90 % of the country comes from elsewhere. In the EU, the countries with the highest proportions of foreign nationals are Luxembourg (almost 40 %) and Switzerland (almost 20 %). 

To the Czech Republic for work

Currently 470 00 foreign nationals live in the Czech Republic, or roughly 4.5 % of the population. Among them are 100 000 Slovaks (almost as many Slovaks as Ukrianians, who have long been the biggest group of foreign nationals in the Czech Republic), tens of thousands of Germans and Poles, and increasing numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians.

On the other hand, the number of immigrants to the Czech Republic from countries outside the EU is gradually falling. The Bureau of Statistics reports that in 2015 immigration into the country was responsible for increasing the Czech population by 16 000 persons compared to 2014.

Roughly 35 000 persons total immigrated into the country during last year, a decline of 6 700 persons year-on-year. Most of those immigrants, once again, were Slovak and Ukrainian citizens.

Amost 19 000 persons emigrated from the Czech Republic, a decline of 1 000 compared to the year before. Most of those who emigrated were Czech citizens, Ukrainian citizens, and Russian citizens.

With the exception of the years 2001 and 2013, the number of persons emigrating from the Czech Republic has always exceeded the numbers immigrating. Since 2013, the number of foreign nationals with permanent residency has exceeded the number of foreign nationals with long-term residency, and the proportion of foreign nationals who are permanent residents is constantly increasing.

Another trend is that after legislation made dual citizenship possible, the number of foreign nationals becoming Czech citizens has doubled year-on-year since 2014. In that year, 5 114 foreign nationals became Czech citizens, the most since the beginning of the millenium.

In comparison with the rest of Europe, however, the Czech Republic has long been among those countries reporting the lowest numbers of citizenship awarded to foreign nationals (24th place in the EU-28). Portugal, the population of which is comparable to that of the Czech Republic, awards citizenship six times more frequently, while Germany awards citizenship more than 50 times more often.

A total of 870 000 people were awarded citizenship in an EU Member State during 2013 alone. Migrants from Morocco constituted the largest identifiable group (at 8 % of the total number awarded citizenship) and were primarily awarded Spanish citizenship, followed by persons from India, Turkey and Colombia (all three groups comprising roughly 5 % each of the total).

The statistics also show that most foreign nationals come to the Czech Republic to do business or to work (more than two-thirds of them are economically active). The Czech Republic is one of only a few EU Member States where the unemployment levels among foreign nationals are lower than for the domestic population.    

Humanitarian migration

Last year the number of persons requesting international protecton in the Czech Republic did grow. The total was 1 525, which is 12 times smaller than the number was 15 years ago.

The countries from which asylum-seekers come most frequently include Ukraine, Syria and Cuba. Most of the asylum-seekers awarded protection in recent years have come from Russia, Afghanistan and Belarus.

These persons comprise just approximately 0.02 % of the population. The ratio of one asylum-seeker to every 7 000 Czechs, more or less, during 2015 (and almost half of the 1 500 asylum-seekers were Ukrainians) also confirms the fact that while public opinion polls show the Czech Republic is the country most afraid of refugees in the entire EU, the so-called refugee crisis is actually giving the country a wide berth.

For the sake of comparison, consider these facts:  Last year one asylum application was filed in Hungary for every 55 Hungarians (but most asylum-seekers did not remain there long), one was filed for every 60 Swedes, and one was filed for every 170 Germans. Throughout the entire EU, there is one refugee for every 500 Europeans.

The one million asylum-seekers who arrived in Europe last year can sound like an overwhelming number, taken out of context. However, it corresponds to just two-tenths of one per cent of the inhabitants of the EU, which has a population of more than half a billion.

Beyond Europe there are states that have long hosted millions of refugees - not just just Turkey (2.5 million) but also Pakistan (1.8 million), Ethiopia and Jordan. In Lebanon, refugees represent 20 % of the country's population.

As far as new asylum requests go, the UNHCR says that in 2015 Germany came in first place. It may be surprising to learn that Russia came in second place (and was in first place in 2014) with 100 000 refugees, most coming from Ukraine.

Third place was the USA, with almost 80 000 asylum requests. Despite the urgent need for an effective solution to the situation of these refugees, the numbers of which are the highest they have been since the Second World War, humanitarian migration still does not exceed 25 % of the overall number of people moving around the globe.

Two-thirds of that number continues to be labor migration. The data show us, among other things, that refugees are also gradually becoming a source of labor, to a great extent, in their destination countries.  

Europe, now and then

Last year's refugee crisis was unexpectedly intensive. That is why it was not easy to find a quick solution for it.

However, in the past European states have faced similar numbers of refugees and dealt with them and all their problems, big and small. As a detailed analysis available at shows, in 1992, when Yugoslavia collapsed, a total of 672 000 people sought asylum in the EU.

At that time the EU had only 15 Member States. If we count the numbers of asylum requests filed at that time in the other 13 European countries that have since become EU Member States, such as Sweden, for example (84 000 requests), or Austria (25 000 requests), then the 1992 numbers approximate last year's number of one million.

During the 1990s, several hundreds of thousands of refugees arrived annually to the countries that are today's EU Member States. The trend continued at the beginning of the new millenium (424 000 asylum applications total during 2001).

In the years that followed, the numbers were around 200 000 - 300 000 annually. Those numbers began to grow again significantly in 2013 (431 000 asylum-seekers) and reached a total of 626 000 in 2014.

As an economic analysis by the Cyrrus company shows, if we were to look even further back into the past, we might compare the current situation with the post-war transfers of people, mainly from Germany and Poland, that numbered in the millions. Then, at the beginning of the 1970s, roughly one million people returned to France from its former colonies, 600 000 returned to Portugal from its colonies, and there were partial colonial returns to Belgium and Great Britain also.

The number of foreign nationals living in Spain increased by four million between 2000 and 2010 (i.e., threefold). In Great Britain, the number of foreign nationals living there grew after the EU enlargement by one million.

In 1992, a total of 300 000 Albanians relocated to Greece and Italy, while the Kosovo War of 1998-1999 displaced several hundreds of thousands of people - and not just to neighboring countries, but also to Austria, Germany, Great Britain and Switzerland. Nevertheless, despite the fact that all of these immigration waves have always sparked concerns, they have never resulted in the disruption of either Europe's labor markets or of the societies in the countries hosting the newcomers.

Illegal and uneducated?

Fear of so-called illegal migrants is resonating throughout developed states, or to be more precise, fear of foreign nationals without valid identification. The fact is, according to an analysis from the Clandestino project (, the number of such persons worldwide is estimated at approximately 50 million, or just 0.7 % of the population.

By far the greatest number of such persons live in the USA, approximately 12 million, or 15 % of all foreign nationals living there. In the EU, their numbers are estimated at just 0.38 % - 0.77 % of the population, i.e., several million people.

It is erroneous to believe that most asylum-seekers are illegal migrants - rather, most "illegals" usually arrive through legal routes and then remain after their residency permits expire. Naturally, this applies to the Czech Republic also, where the estimates of how many migrants are in an illegal position differ
dramatically, from several thousand (those apprehended annually by police) to several tens of thousands.

Statistics also refute the well-worn falsehood that those who migrate are primarily poor and uneducated. According to an OECD study from 2015, most immigrants have achieved higher levels of education than the average population in the European country they are aiming to join.

For example, 21 % of Syrian refugees arriving in Germany between 2013 and 2014 were college-educated. That number is similar to the German population (where 23 % are college-educated), but it is above-average from a Europe-wide perspective.

Overall, from 1980 until 2010, the proportion of college-educated immigrants arriving in developed countries has doubled to approximately 40 %, while just one-third had not achieved a high school education. Many people may also be surprised by the fact that half of the world's migrants, who are currently being perceived primarily as security risks are women, according to IOM statistics.  

First reprinted with the kind permission of the Bulletin Slovo magazine, published by the Slovo 21 NGO.

Jan Schroth, project manager, IOM Praha, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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