FactCheck readers have asked us to check a story that appeared over the weekend.

Several newspapers and websites splashed on the story that only one in five migrants claiming asylum in Europe is from Syria.

The Mail quoted Conservative backbencher David Davies as saying: “This exposes the lie peddled in some quarters that vast numbers of those reaching Europe are from Syria.

“Most people who are escaping the war will go to camps in Lebanon or Jordan. Many of those who have opted to risk their lives to come to Europe have done so for economic reasons.”

Let’s see what the latest figures on people coming to Europe to claim asylum show.

A Syrian refugee reacts in an overcrowded dinghy after landing safely on the Greek island of Lesbos

The analysis

It’s perfectly true to say that about 20 per cent of the non-EU citizens who migrate to Europe are from Syria.

It’s true, but not news: FactCheck “revealed” the figures in a blog post on the migration crisis in Europe earlier this month:


Syrians made up 19 per cent of all non-EU asylum applicants who migrated to 32 European countries in 2014.

We noted at the time that Syria wasn’t the only cause of rising numbers of people coming to Europe to claim asylum. Even if you strip Syria (green) and the rest of the top five countries out of the statistics, the number of asylum seekers from elsewhere (red) is still rising.

Saturday’s story emerged after the EU statistics agency Eurostat published its latest quarterly report.

In the second quarter of 2015, the percentage of Syrian asylum seekers is almost exactly the same – just under 19 per cent (we’re looking at first-time applicants only in the 32 countries covered by Eurostat):


For context: Syrians still make up the biggest single nationality among asylum seekers visiting the EU, and their numbers rose by more than any other group between the second quarter of 2015 and the same period this year.

However, the numbers of people coming from other countries like Afghanistan and Albania have risen more sharply in percentage terms:


Camps in Lebanon and Jordan?

Mr Davies is right to say that most people who escape the war in Syria go to neighbouring countries.

We found that the numbers of refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and elsewhere dwarf the number who have fled to Europe:


It’s not accurate to say that most end up in “camps”. In some countries, like Lebanon, the large Syrian refugee population is largely dispersed among the normal resident population rather than living in camps.

Economic migrants?

The question raised by Mr Davies about how many of the migrants are refugees and how many are coming for economic reasons cannot be answered definitively.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has long warned that it is too simplistic to try to divide people into these two neat groups – for many, the distinction between fleeing some kind of danger or persecution and wanting a better standard of living will be blurred.

We do know what happens to asylum applications. In 2014 just over 60 per cent of people had their claim rejected by the authorities in various European countries:


The rest were either given refugee status or allowed to remain for humanitarian reasons.

Media “lies”?

The Mail article offers this comment: “To listen to the BBC, you might believe that every one of the hundreds of thousands of migrants clamouring to get into the EU was a Syrian refugee fleeing the horror of Islamic State or tyrannical president Bashar al-Assad.”

It’s difficult to FactCheck this, as no specific BBC article is referred to, but these figures don’t necessarily prove that TV news viewers who are presented with images of “Syrian” migrants are being hoodwinked.

Much of the most memorable reporting in recent weeks has been from hot-spots where large numbers of people are trying to get into Europe or cross borders, and we don’t have any reliable breakdown of how many Syrians are among the people filmed arriving on the coast of Greece in boats or cramming themselves into trains in central Europe.

The EU border agency Frontex, which tracks illegal border crossings, produces figures on how many Syrians are using the main migration routes:


It’s a similar story to the asylum stats. Syrians are the single biggest group on the most popular routes, but even without them, we would still be talking about significant numbers of people migrating to Europe.