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No, the number of migrants arriving in Europe has not fallen by 95% since 2015

Migration
Fact-check

Pagella Politica, Italy

16 May 2019, Updated: 16 May 2019

No, the number of migrants arriving in Europe has not fallen by 95% since 2015CC-BY Wikimedia/EU2017EE

In conversation with the press, the Austrian chancellor made claims concerning the number of migrants arriving in Europe. We’ve checked the accuracy of these claims.

In conversation with Italian daily La Stampa, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, head of the ruling conservative and right-wing populist coalition, called for sanctions against European border countries that don’t identify migrants, even though the number of arrivals has “fallen by 95% compared with 2015”.

It’s true that the total number of migrants arriving in Europe has fallen since 2015, but the figure suggested by Kurz is inaccurate.

Arrivals in Europe in 2015

2015 was the year when the largest number of migrant arrivals in Europe was recorded (but not in Italy, where the record was reached in 2016).

According to UNHCR, the UN agency dealing with migrants and refugees, the total number of arrivals in Europe - by sea or by land - in 2015 was more than one million: 1,032,408, to be precise.

Comparison with the latest data

Annual data

Sticking to UNHCR data, the situation already began to change in 2016 (though not for Italy), when arrivals fell by 373,652 (-64% compared to 2015). The fall was even greater over the following two years: 185,139 arrivals in 2017 (-82% compared with 2015) and 141,472 in 2018 (-86% compared with 2015).

Thus, when we look at the latest annual data, the fall is indeed significant, but not to the extent suggested by Kurz: between 2018 and 2015 there is a reduction by 86 percent, as opposed to the 95 percent cited by the Austrian chancellor.

Monthly data

Now let’s compare the first four months of 2019 with those of 2015.

For 2015, there’s a hole in the UNHCR data for April, but the proper figure can still be retrieved by subtracting the combined monthly data from the annual total.

In the first four months of 2015, there were 35,880 arrivals. The significant increase in numbers, with more than 100,000 arrivals per month, occurs later in the year, between August and November.

In 2019, by April 30 the number of arrivals had reached 20,274, mainly in Greece and Spain. Arrivals therefore fell by 66 percent.

The Italian figures

In his conversation with La Stampa, Kurz seems to be referring to arrivals throughout Europe, not just in Italy.

However, for the sake of completeness, we can also take a look at the data for Italy. According to data from Italy’s Department of Civil Liberties and Immigration (who as we saw recently don’t take into account the phenomenon of “phantom ships”), 746 migrants arrived in Italy during the first four months of 2019.

In 2015, over the same period, 26,221 migrants arrived in Italy. The number of arrivals therefore fell by 97%.

An annual comparison, 2018 compared with 2017, shows a fall of 80%.

Conclusion

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz cited an inaccurate figure concerning the current fall in migrant arrivals in Europe compared with 2015. Whether we look at the first four months of 2019, or the entire year of 2018, in neither case does the fall reach 95 percent: it is 66 percent by monthly comparison, and 86 percent by annual comparison.

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