Munich Security Report 2017

(Forced) Migration: Here to Stay

The global population of forced migrants – including refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons – continues to grow dramatically. In 1996, it stood at 37 million people, 20 years later at 65 million.1 A significant increase was observed after state structures in North Africa were considerably weakened in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and after the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. Forced migration also took a larger death toll in 2016 than in previous years: an estimated 7,495 migrants worldwide died during their voyage, most of them drowned.2 

“We are facing a crisis of epic proportions. More than 65 million people have been driven from their homes.”7 

20 SEPTEMBER 2016 

Last year, developing countries again hosted the lion’s share of forcibly displaced persons – while arrivals in Europe have fallen significantly. In 2015, almost 1.8 million asylum seekers were counted in Europe, while in the first two quarters of 2016, only 540,000 people arrived.3 A major reason for this is the Turkey-EU deal, which came into effect in March 2016 and led to a steep decrease in arrivals in Greece – from 853,000 in 2015 to 174,000 in 2016. Tragically, 2016 saw an increase in total deaths of migrants at European borders – the International Organization for Migration recorded almost 5,079 dead migrants in the Mediterranean, up from 3,777 in 2015. Thus, the Mediterranean was the world’s deadliest migration route in 2016 – accounting for almost 70% of recorded migrant deaths worldwide.4 

Key dynamics that make this an age of forced migration are likely to get even more pronounced in the future. Those include environmental stress, Africa’s demographic surplus as well as low fertility rates and skill gaps in developed countries, failing states, and conflict. The war in Syria, in particular, was the single most important event to lead to forced migration in the past years. 4.9 million Syrians have fled their country since 2011, according to UNHCR – more than a quarter of the entire Syrian population.5 

Management and coordination of large migration flows are key issues to be addressed in the short term. Due to lower influx numbers, inner-EU disagreements on refugees and asylum seekers have for now been mitigated. However, the underlying mechanisms aimed at distributing asylum seekers across the European Union have not been fixed. Progress on improving institutional arrangements remains weak, on a European as well as a global level. In September 2016, the host countries of the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees – including the US and Germany – recognized “that no routine mechanism exists yet to facilitate the kind of voluntary responsibility-sharing for refugees that was demonstrated today or to more comprehensively address other challenges arising from large-scale refugee crises.”6 Thus, unsatisfactory unilateral and ad-hoc actions will likely remain the norm – at the expense of some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. 


  1. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Global Report 2015,” 20 June 2016,, p. 6. Data for end of 2016 not yet available. 
  2. International Organization for Migration, “Mediterranean Update,” 6 January 2017,
  3. Data provided to MSC by McKinsey Global Institute. For further information on methodology, see
  4. See endnote 2.
  5. See endnote 1. 
  6. The White House, “Joint Statement on Leaders’ Summit on Refugees,” 20 September 2016,
  7. Barack Obama, “Remarks by President Obama at Leaders Summit on Refugees,” The White House, 20 September 2016,
  8. McKinsey Global Institute, “People on the Move: Global Migration’s Impact and Opportunity,” December 2016,, p. 45. Based on United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNDESA.
  9. McKinsey Global Institute, “People on the Move: Global Migration’s Impact and Opportunity,” December 2016,, p. 50. Based on Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron and Meera Balarajan, Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future, Princeton University Press (Princeton/Oxford), 2012; Flore Gubert and Christophe J. Nordman, “The Future of International Migration to OECD Countries,” OECD, 2009,
  10. International Organization for Migration, “Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals Top 363,348 in 2016; Deaths at Sea: 5,079,” 6 January 2017,
  11. See endnote 2.
  12. McKinsey Global Institute, “Europe’s New Refugees: A Road Map for Better Integration Outcomes,” December 2016, Based on Eurostat, 1996 and January 2015 to August 2016.
  13. See endnote 12.