— Donald Trump, campaign rally, April 28, 2016
Trump often points to the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe to make a case for tough immigration policies along the U.S.-Mexico border and, of course, to build a wall. Migrants and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa continue to arrive in droves in European Union nations, fleeing war and poverty in their home countries or seeking economic opportunities.
During a Republican presidential debate earlier this year, Trump said there were “very few women, very few children” among Syrian refugees arriving in Europe. We found that men and women were split evenly among registered Syrian refugees at the time.
At a recent rally, he spoke more generally about the migration flows into Europe. What do the latest data show?
Trump may be referring to the earlier flows of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ data on arrivals by sea (the most commonly used route) show migrant and refugee flows in 2015 mainly were made up of men.
The number of sea arrivals peaked in October, after a steady rise starting around April 2015. As of June, 74 percent of the people arriving in Greece and Italy were men. The gender imbalance began to change after June. As of this March, 47 percent of people arriving in Greece and Italy were men, 34 percent were women and 19 percent were children.
In Greece, the main entry point into Europe, there are now more women and children than men arriving. In June, 73 percent of sea arrivals in Greece were men. This March, 38 percent were men, 22 percent were women and 40 percent were children. But male arrivals continue to far outweigh female or child arrivals in Italy, another entry point to Europe.
However, the number of children arriving by sea — especially unaccompanied — has been increasing. In June, 16 percent of sea arrivals were children. That increased to 35 percent last month. The proportion of unaccompanied children has increased in recent months, the majority of them from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the European Commission.
Are the arrivals “young” men? UNHCR’s age breakdown for all migrants and refugees classifies adults as those 18 to 59 years old, and there is no further breakdown. But recent surveys of people who arrived in Greece give us an idea of how “young” the men are. Among Syrians, the biggest group arriving in Greece, 17 percent were 15 to 24 years old and 20 percent were 25 to 59 years old, as of February. Among Afghans, the second-biggest group arriving in Greece, 26 percent were 15 to 24 years old and 21 percent were 25 to 59 years old.
So, while Trump makes it seem as if it’s mostly “young, strong men” arriving, there is actually no such massive influx of Syrian or Afghan men 15 to 24 years old; they make up 17 to 26 percent of the most recent arrivals.
First-time asylum applicants in 2015 were mostly male. Among those 14 to 34 years old, asylum applicants were disproportionately male (about 80 percent), according to asylum statistics by Eurostat. The share of male applicants dropped to about two-thirds for those in the 35-to-64 age group. But this is a smaller group of the overall population, because not everyone who arrives files an asylum claim. Eurostat statistics for the first quarter of this year are not yet available publicly.
The number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum spiked in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. This is similar to the surge of undocumented immigrants who arrived along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, mainly from Central America.
What is driving this demography shift? The migrant crisis confronting Europe is extremely complex, and there are many factors affecting the movement of migrants and refugees, so experts say it doesn’t come down to one, clear explanation.
Generally speaking, unauthorized arrivals (via seaboat, for example) are dominated by men, particularly young men — because the journey is dangerous and women and children are especially vulnerable to exploitation. After men arrive, they tend to seek refugee status so that they can bring family members over in authorized, less dangerous ways, such as the reunification process, said Susan Fratzke, policy analyst and program coordinator at the Migration Policy Institute’s International Program.
But more European countries are placing restrictions on family reunification policies. Some countries are blocking access to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and adding security along their borders. These restrictions may have led to the increase in women and children arriving through unauthorized routes, Fratzke said.
“One possible explanation is that as it becomes more difficult for people in Europe to bring families legally, there’s increased pressure on the unauthorized migration route,” she said.
The Trump campaign, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Pinocchio Test
The overall flow of migrants and refugees into Europe was dominated first by men, including younger men, when the numbers began spiking last year. But since the middle of 2015, the demographics began to shift and more women and children started making trips across the Mediterranean Sea. Of note is the sharp increase in unaccompanied children in 2015.
In particular, the breakdown of men, women and children arriving in the main entry point of Greece has shifted dramatically. This March, there were more women and children (62 percent) than men — a reversal from June, when 73 percent of arrivals were men. But Italy continues to see far more men (73 percent) than women and children. Trump says there are “so many young, strong men.” Among recent arrivals in Greece, there wasn’t a clear massive influx of Syrian or Afghan men ages 15 to 24. For Syrians (the biggest group of arrivals), 17 percent fit in that age range. For Afghans, 26 percent fit in that category.
Trump exclaimed during the speech: “When you look at that migration, you see so many young, strong men. Does anyone notice that? Am I the only one?” We don’t notice that — because, well, the numbers don’t show it.
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