Refugees and migrants wait for a train to continue their journey towards western Europe from the Macedonia-Greece border at the Vinojug Temporary Transit Centre outside the village of Gevgelija, Macedonia, February 1, 2016.REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi MALTA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN MALTA - RTX24Z7G
factfiction_108x60The claim

“For the first time since the start of the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, there are more children and women on the move than adult males.”
Unicef press release, 2 February 2016

The background

Women and children now outnumber men as migrants and refugees continue to attempt to enter Europe, according to the children’s charity Unicef.

It’s been a recurring theme in the comments section of much of our coverage of the migration crisis: the claim that there are more men of working age than any other group.

We noted in a post in September last year that figures for 2014 suggested there was some truth in this at the time.

But new evidence suggests the nature of this crisis may now be changing. Let’s take a look.

The analysis

The figures released by Unicef come from just one entry point for migrants and refugees crossing into Europe, albeit a major one: Gevgelijia on the Greek/Macedonia border.

The charity has collected data at a transit centre where new arrivals are given 72 hours to apply for asylum. The figures cover asylum seekers registered by the authorities in Macedonia.

Unicef’s graph shows us what has been happening since last summer:


In July 2015, 70 per cent of all asylum seekers were adult males (dark blue). By January this year, men made up just 41 per cent of the total.

Over the same time period the proportion of women went up from 14 to 22 per cent, and the percentage of children travelling with their parents more than doubled from 15 to 37 per cent.

There was a spike in the number of unaccompanied minors – under-18s travelling without a parent or guardian – around October and November.

A migrant fits boots onto her child as refugees and migrants wait to continue their journey towards western Europe from the Macedonia-Serbia border at a transit camp in the village of Presevo, Serbia, February 2, 2016. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi MALTA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN MALTA - RTX255ON

This is just one route into Europe and of course it could be a blip, but similar trends were recently reported in Sweden.

The percentage of men applying for asylum in the Scandinavian country also fell, though less dramatically, over a similar period: from 50 per cent June last year to 44 per cent in December.

The number of children – both travelling with their parents and unaccompanied – also spiked in the autumn of last year.

Sweden saw asylum applications from more than 35,000 unaccompanied minors in 2015, about five times the total for 2014.

Long-term trends

Europe-wide statistics are unfortunately not as up-to-date as these local snapshots. Complete figures from the EU statistics agency Eurostat only take us up to October 2015.

But there is some evidence of a long-term trend of more women and children on the move.

These were the proportions of men, women, boys and girls (that’s under-18s) who applied for asylum in the 28 EU countries plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein in January 2015:

We’ve excluded some very small numbers of people whose age and gender was not recorded.

Men made up 54 per cent of the total of asylum applications.

And here’s how the numbers look in October last year. Adult males have now dropped to 51 per cent. Remember that this only takes us up to October last year, so if the downward trend continues, it’s likely that women and children will soon outnumber men in the Europe-wide figures.

We also see a long-term increase in unaccompanied minors claiming asylum across Europe. The number more than doubled from 2010 to 2014:

Unicef doesn’t offer a theory as to why all this may be happening. We don’t have any way of knowing if, for example, families are joining men who have already migrated.

But it is concerned about the humanitarian implications: more women and children on the move, undertaking dangerous land and sea crossings in winter.