Borders Start with Numbers. Measuring Migration in Times of Crisis

Borders Start with Numbers. Measuring Migration in Times of Crisis

By Filip Savatic, Hélène Thiollet, Thibaut Jaulin, Alice Mesnard, & Jean-Noël Senne
A MAGYC deliverable
  • Borders - Copyright: EFDN for ShutterstockBorders - Copyright: EFDN for Shutterstock

Sudden rises in migration at the borders of the Global North have attracted substantial media and policy attention and generated public anxieties. During these crises, data on previously unauthorized border crossings have been used uncritically in public discourses, eschewing the politically constructed nature of migration categories, while scholars have struggled to develop accurate measures of migration flows. In this research note, we present a novel method to distinguish between border crossers who would likely be granted asylum in destination states (“likely refugees”) and those who would not (“likely irregular migrants”) given asylum acceptance rates. We apply our method to data on “irregular border crossings” (IBCs) into Europe between 2009-2020 and estimate that 75.5% of irregular crossings were likely refugees at the peak of arrivals in 2015, and that 54% were likely refugees across the period. We thus confirm the humanitarian nature of the 2015 crisis and show that likely refugees are present on all migration routes, albeit to varying extents. Additionally, we find that nationalities most likely to obtain asylum are typically concentrated on single primary routes while nationalities unlikely to obtain asylum can be present on multiple pathways to Europe. Altogether, our findings reveal how border policies start with the production and use of migration numbers as well as the importance of critically assessing migration categories in public statistics. This opens avenues for re-examining the relationship between border policies and migration flows.

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The MAGYC (MigrAtion Governance and AsYlum Crises) project seeks to assess how migration governance has responded to the recent “refugee crises” and has since been influenced by it, and how crises at large shape policy responses to migration. This four-year research project (2018–2022) brings together twelve international partners: the Hugo Observatory from the University of Liège (Coordinator), Sciences Po, the University of Economics in Bratislava, the GIGA institute of Global and Area Studies, Lund University, the IDMC, SOAS University of London, the University of Milan, the Lebanese American University, the University of Macedonia, Sabanci University, IfPO/CNRS.


Illustration copyright: Border between New Mexico and Juarez, Mexico. Photo by EFDN for Shutterstock

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