The graph depicts asylum seekers who arrived in Austria in the course of 2015 by year of birth, gender and country of origin. For cohorts born between 1975 and 2005 (between 10 and 40 years of age), more men than women applied for asylum in Austria in 2015 across all three countries of origin. Among male asylum seekers, the graph shows a peak for birth cohorts between 1990 and 1997, i.e. asylum seekers between 20 and 27 years of age. For female asylums seekers, this peak is less pronounced. (Source: Austrian Ministry of the Interior – BMI)
The overrepresentation of young men among the recent refugee inflows to Europe can be attributed to a variety of socio-cultural and economic factors. Both physically and financially, the journey to Europe is typically easier to undertake for men than women. The stronger patriarchal orientation of the countries of origin certainly also comes into play. In addition, many young men aim to avoid the military draft in Syria and other countries affected by violent conflict, or flee from being forced into conscription by Islamist groups, including ISIS.
For receiving countries, the young age of new arrivals can cautiously be assessed as favorable: In addition to counteracting aging societies in Western Europe and mitigating potentially negative effects on social security systems and provision of elderly care, integration in society and the labor market tends to be less challenging for the young than the elderly.
The graph shows asylum seekers who arrived in Austria in 2015 by year of birth, gender and country of origin. Dots below the curve indicate a higher share of men than women for a given year of birth. In particular for younger cohorts, men are overrepresented in the cohort of asylum seekers that arrived in 2015. (Source: Austrian Ministry of the Interior – BMI)
This trend is consistent with global trends in forced migration movements. The flight from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to safety in Europe involves the investment of extensive financial resources, in addition to potentially high personal costs: Data from the Displaced Persons in Austria Survey (DiPAS) conducted among asylum seekers in Vienna shows that the majority of forced migrants who arrived in late summer and fall 2015 paid between $ 2.000 and $ 3.999 for their journey (Buber-Ennser et al. 2016), which roughly corresponds to an average yearly income in the countries of origin. Hence, it is sometimes only one member of an extended family who can afford to undertake the expensive and perilous journey, with money borrowed from relatives, friends and acquaintances. Owing to the manifold dangers they potentially have to face during their journey via water (Mediterranean route) or land (West Balkan route, which was still operating in 2015), young, healthy men are typically the ones to embark on this journey, with the aim of eventually also bringing their family members (partners and children under 18) to the host society via safer routes, especially via official family reunification programs. Indeed, as depicted in graph 5, the majority of male asylum seekers from late summer and fall 2015 are married (Source: Displaced Persons in Austria Survey – DiPAS).
The graph depicts the origins of Syrian asylum seekers who arrived in Austria in 2015 by region. It compares Syrian census data (last full and reliable census in 2004) with data collected in the Displaced Persons in Austria Survey (DiPAS) among asylum seekers in and around Vienna in late summer and fall 2015. Transparent bubbles depict total population size (in percent) in the respective region, while colored bubbles show the share of asylum seekers from 2015 per Syrian region. Where colored bubbles exceed transparent bubbles, the respective city/region is overrepresented among asylum seekers who arrived in Austria in late summer and fall 2015. (Sources: Displaced Persons in Austria Survey and Syrian Census 2004)
When choosing the option “Population”, the comparison shows that the regions of Damascus, Alraqqah, and Qamishli are overrepresented among asylum seekers from fall 2015, while proportionally less asylum seekers have fled from the other seven Syrian regions. This is in line with the location of the Syrian conflict in 2014 and 2015, when most of the fighting took place in Damascus. Recently, the center of the conflict has shifted to the Northern regions of the country, especially Aleppo. (Note: This is a selective snap-shot at a specific moment in time and not representative for the general regional distribution of migration outflows from Syria to Austria)
The option “Education” compares the share of residents with at least post-secondary education with the respective share in the Displaced Persons in Austria Survey (DiPAS). In almost all the regions, asylum seekers who arrived in Austria in fall 2015 are more highly educated than the total population in the region (colored bubbles exceeding transparent ones). This suggests a positive self-selection among forced migrants, a trend that has also been shown for regular migration all over the world: The more educated a person is, the more mobile he or she will be, especially as education correlates strongly with socio-economic status in the countries of origin and the necessary resources for emigration. This selection effect must be assessed as a favorable condition for integration in the host society: The higher an individual’s education, the more open they will be for new experiences and the faster and easier they will learn new skills, including languages, professional qualifications, social habits and customs.
The graph shows the age distribution of asylum seekers who arrived in Austria in 2015 by country of origin. Individuals aged below 30 constitute a much larger share in the Afghan subsample than among asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria. Individuals aged between 30 and 45 are overrepresented in the Iraqi and, to lesser extent, Syrian subsample. Finally, there is a small peak of Iraqi asylum seekers around 50 years of age. (Source: Austrian Ministry of the Interior – BMI)
The continuous support of refugee children and teenagers and their families is important for integration success and should, among other measures, include mental health offers for treating delayed symptoms of trauma. In view of future labor market participation in the host society and the fact that young refugees aged between 20 to 35 years will be available on the labor market for the most extended period of time, subsidizing (dual) vocational trainings or other higher level qualification measures seems – as it does with young people in general – pertinent.
The graph depicts the socio-demographic characteristics of asylum seekers who arrived in Austria in 2015 by country of origin, as captured in the Displaced Persons in Austria Survey (DiPAS).
For education, it can be noticed that the Syrian and Iraqi asylum seekers in the Displaced Persons in Austria Survey (DiPAS) are well educated, nearly half of them have attained an upper secondary education. This by far outpaces the country they left behind, where the figures are closer to 10% and 20%, respectively. More than a quarter of Syrian and Iraqi asylum seekers from fall 2015 have at least obtained a post‐secondary degree, such as a high‐school diploma or a higher education degree. This corresponds to roughly the same percentage of people with post‐secondary education in Austria. Afghan asylum seekers are less well educated than Syrians or Iraqis, but still present a positively selected group when compared with the general population in their home country, where almost 80% have received no formal education (Source: Central Statistics Organisation for Afghanistan). Among Afghans who arrived in Austria in fall 2015, the share of formally uneducated asylums seekers ranges at 30%.
Regarding the costs of travel, roughly one in four asylum seekers have spent less than $ 2,000 per capita for their journey. About one in four paid $ 2,000 to $2,999. About 20% paid $ 3,000 to $ 3,999, and 30% mentioned costs of $ 4,000 or more per person. In the groups of individuals that spent more than $ 3,000, Afghan asylum seekers are overrepresented. If we consider that per capita income per year amounted to about $ 3,000 in Syria in 2010, this corresponds to an average income in pre-war times in Syria. Families travelling together had to pay a multiple thereof. Given the fact that exchange rates have seen drastic changes between 2011 and 2015, the average costs of travel in 2015 indicate a much higher financial burden in real terms (Buber-Ennser et al. 2016).
Regarding the family status of the individuals captured in the Displaced Persons in Austria Survey (DiPAS), a considerable share of asylum seekers from fall 2015 were married. The proportion of married individuals is higher among Syrians and Afghans than among Iraqis. Men in their twenties represent the largest group of unmarried individuals. The family status of asylum seekers corresponds to their socio-economic status, with most of them stemming from the middle-class. For instance, four fifths of asylums seekers from fall 2015 lived in their own or their family’s house before they had to flee (Buber-Ennser et al. 2016).
The positive selection in the dimensions education, economic background and social status suggests that Austria is faced with encouraging conditions for integrating the refugees from fall 2015. The more educated a person is, the steeper their learning curve and the more willing they are to invest in it. This applies just as much to learning the essential skills for leading a productive life in a new country and contributing to its society as it does to any other kind of know-how. A sound social network provided by family members as well as a good socio-economic background add to this cautiously optimistic assessment for future integration success.
The line chart depicts the development of total population (purple line), employment (green line), and refugees (blue line) in Austria on a yearly basis from 1947 to 2016. The number of employed individuals steadily rises over the last six decades, while the number of refugees (i.e. persons who received a positive asylum status in Austria) remains relatively stable at a much lower level. While the general population has increased over time, this rise was not caused by an increase in the inflow of refugees to the country. Indeed, the refugee population in Austria represents only a very minor share in the population that is hardly visible in the graph. Additionally, and despite the high inflow of refugees in 2015 and 2016, the share of positive asylum applications in both years is significantly below that of regular (labor) immigration to Austria: Of the altogether 113,100 migrants who came to Austria in 2015 (net migration), only 19,003 persons were refugees or persons under subsidiary protection. Hence, the economic impact of refugees, whether positive or negative, has remained rather small.
Overall, the inflow of refugees remains on a relatively stable level, but peeks around three distinctive events, namely after WW2, during the Balkan war, and during the war in Syria in the last three years. In contrast to these considerable fluctuations in the number of refugees over time due to conflicts, the employment trend in Austria remained relatively stable.
While the number of employed persons has steadily increased since the post-war era, it does not seem to be systematically driven by changes in the stock of refugees in Austria, which is considerably smaller compared to the post Second World War period. For instance, neither the war in Kosovo nor the wars in Chechenia, Afghanistan, and the Iraq led to major increases in unemployment. Although it’s too early to assess whether the Syrian conflict will have an impact, it becomes clear that refugee inflows do not necessarily affect the employment situation in the host country’s labor market (Rengs et al. 2017).
Visualizations: Fabian Stephany (@fabian_stephany)
Concept and Text: Judith Kohlenberger (@j_kohlenberger)
Buber-Ennser, Isabella, Kohlenberger, Judith, Rengs, Bernhard, Alzalak, Zakarya, Goujon, Anne, Striessnig, Erich, Potančoková, Michaela, Gisser, Richard, Testa, Maria Rita, Lutz, Wolfgang. 2016. “Human Capital, Values, and Attitudes of Persons Seeking Refuge in Austria in 2015.” PLOS ONE 11 (9), 1-29.
Kohlenberger, Judith, Buber-Ennser, Isabella, Rengs, Bernhard, Alzalak, Zakarya. 2016. “A Social Survey on Asylum Seekers in and around Vienna in Fall 2015: Methodological Approach and Field Observations.” VID Working Papers.
Rengs, Bernhard, Buber-Ennser, Isabella, Kohlenberger, Judith, Hoffmann, Roman, Soder, Michael, Gatterbauer, Marlies, Themel, Kai, Kopf, Johannes. 2017 “Labour market profile, previous employment and integration potential of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan: An Austrian Case Study.” VID Working Papers.