Will more than 1 million refugees and migrants arrive in Europe by sea in 2016? (update)

The recent deal between the EU and Turkey[a] is probably behind the recent drop in the GJ consensus on this question[b].


But I doubt that’s the entire story. There’s also been a fall off in the number of migrants and refugees since January[c].

Refugees_Migrants_Emergency_Response_-_Mediterranean_-_Regional_OverviewThe numbers really tell two difficult-to-reconcile tales. On the one had, the decline from January to February and from February to March suggests that we’re riding a function that will get asymptotically close to zero as the summer months approach. If that happens, then – of course – there won’t be anything close to 1 million refugees and migrants entering Europe this year. On the other hand, two factors push toward the opposite conclusion. First, the number of refugees and migrants tends to increase sharply as we get closer to the second half of the year because of the better weather. Second, there have already been more than 161,000 refugees and migrants in 2016, 8 times as many as the 22,000 at the end of March in 2015[d].

So now what? I suppose one could use a simple function to describe last year’s flow of refugees and migrants and then develop another function from this year’s flow up to this point in order to extrapolate the flow for the remainder of the year, and, finally, average the two functions. That would be a nice way to kill a little time.

But it might be more fruitful to think about the causal factors in play. bout half (44%) of the refugees and migrants are Syrian, and it’s no secret why so many of these good folks want to leave their homeland, at least for now. If conditions stabilize in Syria, the rate of flow will decrease or at least stabilize at a lower level; if not, then not. Russia’s unexpectedly swift withdrawal does not, in and of itself, resolve this matter. Assad is in much better shape now than he was six months ago[e]. But that doesn’t mean the civil war is over. It’s probably closer to the truth to say that Syria has returned to the status quo from a few years ago: a stalemate between Assad and his enemies[f]. Will the parties to the conflict recognize this situation and deescalate? Maybe[g]. And maybe not[h]. I think it’s way too soon to tell, and I doubt I can do better than to assign a 0.50 probability to each outcome for now. If nothing else, that means the expected number of refugees and migrants should decrease, since I was operating under the assumption of continued bloody civil war. That said, only half of the refugees and migrants are coming from Syria. There are enough coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq to push the number of refugees and migrants quite high.

The other major causal factor in play at the moment is Europe’s (let me be frank) clumsy and embarrassing attempt to get Turkey to staunch the flow of refugees and migrants. It hasn’t been going well so far:

Thousands of Afghans and Iraqis may escape deportation to Turkey as the EU’s €6 billion (£4.7 billion) deal descended into chaos.

In a major blow for Brussels, Turkish government sources said they would not change their domestic law to grant Afghans and Iraqis refugee status in Turkey, and to prevent them being deported to warzones.

The EU says those changes are essential to make the deal compliant with international law, and therefore to commence deportations.[i]

Read the whole thing, but only if you’ve got a strong stomach. Anyway, it’s not even clear that the efforts to stop the flow of refugees and migrants is likely to have much of an affect even if interdiction were carried out with considerably less pandaemonium. Problems with sea-worthy vessels appears to be a larger deterrent than the antics of the Keystone Cops a la Turk[j]. But the take away from the point of view of forecasting this question (for me, at any rate) is that some effort to interdict refugees and migrants is being made. My earlier forecast operated on the (then valid) assumption that no such thing was going on. And there’s at least some chance that this farrago of willful myopia, selfishness, moral cowardice, and brutality will keep some desperate people from landing on the shores of Lesvos.

<<getting off my soapbox now>>

On the basis of all of this, I’m adjusting the probability that there will be 1 million or more new refugees and migrants in Europe this year from 68% to 59%, with more downward revisions in sight if Syria continues to stabilize and EU can manage to wash its hands of the kinds of people who were some common in Europe just a few decades ago.

[a] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35854413

[b] https://www.gjopen.com/questions/106-will-more-than-1-million-refugees-and-migrants-arrive-in-europe-by-sea-in-2016

[c] http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php

[d] http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php

[e] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/03/putin-russia-withdrawal-syria-assad-turkey.html#

[f] http://www.vox.com/2016/3/15/11240318/putin-syria-withdrawal-retro

[g] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/03/13/world/middleeast/syria-control-isis-maps-cease-fire-civil-war-five-years.html

[h] http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/syria-war-five-years-hunger-horror-heartbreak-n538661

[i] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/greece/12200270/Chaos-surrounds-EU-Turkey-deal-as-migrants-keep-flowing-into-Greece.html

[j] http://www.dailysabah.com/nation/2016/03/21/boat-problems-not-turkey-eu-deal-deter-migrants-heading-to-europe


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