2015: European Refugee Crisis

If you asked people all over Europe what comes to their minds mentioning the year 2015, most likely you will get one and the same answer:

2015 is known as the beginning of the “European Migrant Crisis”.

Television, Newspapers and the Internet were flooded with alarming news about vast numbers of migrants fleeing their home countries and heading towards Europe. But what happened? Where did all these people come from and where did they go?

Reasons for the 2015 refugee crisis

It is incredibly difficult to say what led to the 2015 refugee crisis.1 However, there are some points that might give a little insight into what contributed to it. Most of the people who fled to Europe in 2015 came from Syria. Four million refugees had already moved to neighbouring countries and yet more and more people were coming to Europe, especially to Germany. In the same year, the United Nations (UN) analysed the backgrounds and defined seven main factors for the flight to Europe.2

1. Armed Conflicts in Syria

Syria has been at war since 2011. With the beginning of 2015, it became clear that the war would continue for a long time. The inhabitants of Syria faced an uncertain future and lost hope for an improvement of the situation. Therefore, many people tried to improve their living conditions by fleeing to Europe and escape the dangers of war.

The Syrian War

In March 2011, many people demonstrated for political reformations. These originally peaceful demonstrations evolved into a war and the dictator Assad attacked his own country and its citizens. Additionally, the Islamic State and rebel militias attacked civilians.

Syria’s strategic importance for many external interest groups added another international level to the war.

  • Syria is Russia’s last direct access to the Mediterranean. There are supply routes for money and weapons for Hezbollah from Iran for the ideological struggle against Israel and it grants access to oil and gas.
  • China has economic and political interests, Europe and the USA subordinate some decisions to the primacy of Israel’s security.
  • Iran on the Shiite side and Saudi Arabia on the Sunni side are struggling for political-religious supremacy in the Islamic Middle East.
  • On the Sunni side there is additional competition between Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
According to Caritas International, this is also the main reason for the constant continuation of the war. The war opponents are fragmented into many parties fighting each other out of different reasons. It is estimated that a total of 1200 oppositional groups from about 90 countries are involved.

In September 2014, IS targets in Syria and Iraq were attacked by a military coalition consisting of the US and several Arab states. In 2015 Russia also intervened and tried to weaken the IS. However, critical voices suspect that the attacks were directed against rebel groups fighting against the Assad regime. Turkey participated in 2016. Since 2017, the IS has been regarded as successfully pushed back. 3

2. Increasing poverty
Many refugees could no longer support their own families in their home countries and became indebted because of the high living expenses. According to the UN Refugee Aid, refugees from Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon stated, that in particular the financial situation was a reason for leaving their homeland.
3. A lack of legal job offers
Many refugees were confronted with a lack of legal employment opportunities in 2015. The falling oil price and the ever-increasing number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq further worsened the situation.
4. Underfinanced Aid Programmes
According to the UN, aid programmes and host societies in Syria suffered from chronic underfunding, so that some refugees had to live on about 0.50 US dollars a day. Undersupply, further indebtedness and hopelessness caused many refugees to flee to Europe.
5. Tightening of Residence Rules
In Lebanon, new legal regulations led to limited access to asylum for Syrians. People who were already in Lebanon had to pay 200 US dollars per year to extend their stay. In addition, they were obliged to sign a declaration that they would not work.
6. Lack of Education
By 2015 about 90,000 Syrians of school age had never had access to formal education. Some had no access to education in general, others could not take advantage of it. In Lebanon, although education for Syrians was offered in a free two-shift system, many found the curriculum too difficult and/or could hardly be present because they had to support their families.
7. Insecurity in Iraq
Many of the displaced Iraqis with whom UNHCR has spoken outside their country reported general insecurity in Iraq. Many left the country to live in safety.

The European Migrant Crisis in numbers

In 2015 a total of 1,015,078 arrivals were counted throughout Europe.4 Within the first 6 months already 400,000 people sought safety in the EU, which was an increase of 85% compared to the year before.5

Between 2014 and 2017 a total of more than 919,000 applied for asylum in the European Union which places Syria at the top of the list of all origin countries. Aside from Syria, the following countries were tagged as the top origin countries of asylum seekers since 2014:6

The following chart demonstrates the different proportions via country:7

The following citizenships were most strongly represented in the first few months in 2019:8


In 2015, the three main refugee-hosting countries where Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon. Turkey, to this day, is one of the main arrival countries worldwide with 3.5 million refugees. The top three countries of destination are Germany, France and Greece.9




  1. https://www.zeit.de/politik/2015-11/migration-fluechtlinge-deutschland-europa/komplettansicht
  2. https://www.uno-fluechtlingshilfe.de/informieren/aktuelles/
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35806229
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44660699
  5. http://www.bpb.de/apuz/217302/ein-rueckblick-auf-die-eu-fluechtlingskrise-2015?p=all
  6. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44660699
  7. http://www.bamf.de/SharedDocs/Anlagen/DE/Publikationen/Broschueren/bundesamt-in-zahlen-2018-asyl.pdf?__blob=publicationFile
  8. http://www.bamf.de/SharedDocs/Anlagen/DE/Downloads/Infothek/Statistik/Asyl/aktuelle-zahlen-zu-asyl-maerz-2019.pdf?__blob=publicationFile
  9. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44660699