Reluctant Journeys: Syrian Refugees in Europe and the Middle East 2012 - 2015



This project analyzes trends and spatial shifts in the migration of Syrians fleeing from the Syrian Civil War. A particular area of focus is in charting the relationship between regional effects of Syrian migration patterns in contrast with the effect on European nations, about which the News Media coverage of the migrant situation seems consistently focused.

The geography of the project focuses on Syria, the Middle East Region, and Europe. Iran, Afghanistan, and other nations to the east were excluded from this analysis due to limited available data, and in order to focus the project area on the relationship between Syria and Europe.

Germany was specifically targeted to represent Europe, and is compared to Syria's direct neighbor nations.

The project spatializes and presents data in order to expose patterns of movement of Syrian refugees, asylum seekers, and other people of concern.



PEOPLE OF CONCERN within a given country includes refugees from abroad, internally displaces people, stateless people, and returning refugees from within.

ASYLUM SEEKERS are individuals who have formally requested asylum in a foreign area. While some Asylum requests come after an individual has already left their host country, many do not.

REFUGEES are individuals who have physically relocated to a foreign area to seek refuge from crisis in their homeland.

Some refugees come through formal channels, but many are undocumented until arrival. However, many displaced peoples are not able to escape the geography of their home country. These INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLES (IDP) are refugees within their own country.


According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), In 2016, there were 65.3 MILLION forcibly displaced peoples globally. Of these, 21.3 MILLION are refugees who have fled their home country and take refuge internationally, over half of whom are under 18 years old.

The Syrian Civil War has led to over 450,000 deaths, 90,000 of which have been civilians. OVER HALF of the Syrian population has been displaced. The Assad government has lost 60% of its territory.

Of all forcibly displaced peoples globally, over 11 MILLION are Syrian, or nearly 17%. Of these, 6.75 MILLION are internally displaced people (IDP). These are individuals who have been displaced from their homes, but have not left the geography of Syria. Additionally, 4.9 MILLION Syrians are refugees, more than any other nation on earth.

Shown below are the total counts by year for all People of Concern within Syria from, the majority of which are internally displaces people.




These maps show, by relative volume, the number of internal PEOPLE OF CONCERN for each country in the Middle East Region and Europe. These are total numbers, including refugees from abroad, internally displaces people, stateless people, and returning refugees from within.

Number counts for Syria, Germany, and Middle Eastern nations near or contiguous to Syria are shown to the right of each map for comparison.


While the numbers fluctuate wildly from year to year, Syria remains a huge outlier in the region during this time period, with more People of Concern than any other nation. Often, this is by a factor of 2 to 5 MILLION.

As was noted in the chart breakdowns on the previous page, the overwhelming majority of Syrians of concern were INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLES (IDP), indicating that the main causes of concern were taking place within Syria. Further, increases in numbers in Syria's neighboring countries rise in tandem with internal conflict in Syria, suggesting that in addition to internal displaces, the Syrian conflict has led many Syrians to flee their home country.



These maps show, by relative volume, the number of ASYLUM SEEKERS and REFUGEES from Syria to each country in the Middle East Region and Europe, represented by half circles. Again, number counts for Syria, Germany, and Middle Eastern nations near or contiguous to Syria are shown to the right of each map.


The number of Refugees in Syria’s neighboring countries massively dwarfs that of Europe. Indeed, Turkey alone has more Syrian refugees that all of Europe combined. The numbers of Asylum Seekers in these neighboring countries is very small, in some cases zero. Meanwhile, the number of Asylum Seekers into Germany and other European countries is significantly larger, although still dwarfed by the Middle Eastern Region's Refugee count.

All of this suggests that while Europe is in high demand - nearly 700,000 asylum applications in 2015 - the majority of Syrians who have fled have remained in the Middle East. Europe, on the other hand, has accepted a relatively small number of refugees, with a few notable exceptions such as Germany.


While most data is only easily available by year, the UNHCR does track Syrian Asylum Applications by month. These data were compiled and spatialized to create a 'heatmap' which indicated by intensity the number of asylum applications received by each country. In conjunction with an annotated histogram, a more complete understanding of how the conflict affected asylum applications from Syria emerges.

The number of ASYLUM SEEKERS remained relatively low until the middle of 2015, when a massive spike in applications to Europe began shortly before Russian airstrikes against ISIL began. In general, the number of asylum applications filed does not seem related to any major events of the conflict which occur specifically within Syria.


The growth in the number of ASYLUM SEEKERS spikes in late 2015, most likely due to external forces, such as the lack of political and physical infrastructure at the international level to facilitate more asylum applications into Europe and elsewhere.

In contrast, the numbers of REFUGEES and INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLES (IDP) does not follow this pattern. Instead, they began to grow in 2012, with massive growth occurring from 2013 onward as the conflict devolved into a full civil war.

As shown in the chart to the left, the number of asylum applicants is dwarfed every year by refugees and IDP. While the number of Internally Displaced Peoples fell slightly in 2015, the general trend for all of these categories is upward.

Thus, it is paramount that continued monitoring and research is done, both by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and independent researchers. Numbers never tell the whole story, but they can put into proper scale the intensity and severity of conflicts such as the Syrian Civil War.


Total Syrian Refugees – 4.9 MILLION
Syrian Refugees in Contiguous Countries – 4.6 MILLION
Percent of Global Refugees who are from Syria - 23%
Syrian Asylum Applications to Europe – 903,545
Syrian Refugees in Europe - 277,825


All data was collected from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). These data are estimates, and contained some inconsistencies within. Thus, a large amount of cleaning and data sorting was required. Cross-referencing data from other sources would the reduce risk of error.

Additional investigation into available data, such as breaking down yearly numbers to a smaller unit would provide a more detailed portrait of the events in Syria.

An analysis of movement patterns to explore actual paths taken, along with qualitative data regarding the experience of these movements, as well as interventions by other nations in Syria can help elucidate the difficulties of the refugee situation.



- Alaraby