Category: Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Migrants

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

@redacted writes in response to an earlier post:

The physical constraints imposed by the actual watercraft that are required for various routes need to be considered. Longer distances require more substantial (expensive) boats. Rubber dinghies, more or less “disposable,” and suitable for the Turkey-Greek Aegean route, won’t suffice for Libya to Sicily runs, will they? Beside the logistics and manpower involved in transiting the middle of the Mediterranean, smugglers would be losing valuable (and difficult to replace) watercraft assets via confiscation of vessels.

Of course, @redacted is quite right. Smugglers need both labor and capital to get refugees and migrants to Europe. That said, seaworthy craft are relatively easy to acquire on the white market. Hell, you can even buy them on eBay. Okay, don’t take that too seriously. But the labor part of the equation would be, I believe, much harder to solve in the short run than the capital problem, and that’s why I focused on it above.

Of course, what I just said, assumes that [1] the smugglers (Should I call them “Coyotajes”?) would be able to pass these costs on to their customers, and [2] that the customers would be able to pay these costs. I’m pretty sure [1] is correct since this is a clandestine black market transaction, and as a result there wouldn’t be a lot of open price competition. (I lived in Colorado before the new pot laws took effect, and I used to see signs that said “$25/for an Eighth” in some seedy shop windows, but that was pretty rare.)

I’m confident, though not certain, about [2]. There’s _some_ reason to believe that refugees and migrants coming from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan would have more wealth than those coming from the countries that are currently taking the north Africa-Italy route. Approximate GDP/capita –> Nigeria=$6,000, Gambia=$1,800, Senegal=$2,300, Guinea=$1,200, Ivory Coast=$3,000, Somalia=$600 (not a misprint: $600), Mali=$1,700. In contrast, Syrian GDP/capita was about $5,000 before the war began. Iraqi GDP/capita is about 3 times larger. While Afghan GDP/capita lags well behind both Syria and Iraq at about $2000, it is still higher than that of Gambia, Guinea, Somalia, and Mali.

Obviously, GDP/capita is a very, very crude measure of the expected wealth of people who are fleeing for their lives from their war ravaged homes. And it doesn’t take into consideration, for example, the considerable expenses involved with the longer overland passage to North Africa. But reports of, e.g., middle class (by the standards of their situation) Syrians being among the refugees have been common for some time[1][2]. And the reports[3][4] about the absolutely disgraceful practice by some European states of confiscating the wealth of refugees presupposes that they have wealth worth confiscating. One might add to this the fact that at least some bourgeoisie migrants and refugees[5] bring with them professional skills that can be used to generate wealth too. A doctor, nurse, engineer, car mechanic, skilled machinist, etc. would be in a better position to earn a buck than someone from a much poorer country who wasn’t lucky enough to have this kind of training.

So, yeah, I guess I do think that there’s a good chance that if refugees and migrants coming from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan make it to North Africa, some – perhaps even most – will be able to pay higher prices to the human smugglers in order to cover the cost of the capital involved. But not all. And that’s even more reason to think that we’ll see fewer than 1,000,000 refugees and migrants arrive by sea in Europe this year.

NB: GDP/capita numbers taken from the IMF, CIA, and World Bank via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita

[1] http://www.ibtimes.com/europe-refugee-crisis-facts-wealthy-educated-syrians-risking-lives-leave-war-2089018

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10450787/Rich-refugees-pay-thousands-to-flee-war-torn-Syria-in-luxury.html

[3] https://www.rt.com/news/329736-germany-denmark-refugees-confiscate/

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/26/danish-parliament-approves-plan-to-seize-assets-from-refugees

[5] http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/10/2/syrias-battered-middle-class-hopes-for-a-fresh-start-in-germany.html

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

There’s strong evidence that the EU’s (ham-fisted and ill-considered) attempts to reduce the inflow of migrants and refugees is working. During the period of April 1-15, less than 8,000 migrants and refugees have arrived on Europe’s shores. That’s about half of what we saw last year during this same period[1]. As @Anneinak, @dkc, and @Milosz (as well as others) have pointed out, migrants and refugees are already seeking out other routes – especially Libya-Italy – in place of Turkey-Greece. But it is in no way clear that these alternative routes will support that average of 100,000 migrants and refugees/month for the rest of the year that would be necessary to reach 1,000,000 sea-borne arrivals that is the subject of this question. At the moment, the “human smuggling infrastructure” (I’m sorry, but I can’t recall from whom I’ve borrowed that phrase) does not appear to be in place to move so many people. That might change in the long-run, but I have some doubts about it doing so before 2016 ends. All that said, caution is warranted. Most of the inflow of migrants and refugees to Europe occurs during the last 4 months of the year. So there’s a very real possibility of reaching a million, but right now I don’t think that possibility can be much more than 2-to-1 against.

Let me add a little perspective. Almost four months into 2016, less than 25,000 migrants and refugees have arrived on Italian shores (mostly Sicilian shores, to be precise). So (assuming that seaborne arrivals via the Turkey-Greece route fall to about 10% of 2015 numbers), you’d have to see about a twenty-fold increase of migrants and refugees coming from North Africa to get close to 1,000,000 total. I doubt that that kind of increase is likely during the next 8 months.

Why? Well, here’s the a priori case: Smuggling isn’t easy. Generally, it’s a reprehensible line of work, but clandestinely getting people across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Sicily, landing these folks on the coast, and then skedaddling it back home to do it all again involves a lot of skill. It’s not as if fishmongers and waiters are going to enter the smuggling market. Nor is it likely that smugglers could hire qualified people to do this work on short notice.

To repeat, that’s just the a priori case. Maybe there are facts on the ground that make this easier than I’m imagining. Tell me if I’m wrong! Along these lines, in an intriguing comment, @Milosz suggests that ISIS in Libya might get into the smuggling game. Quite right, but I suspect it would take them some time to ramp up production (as it were), and that means ISIS (or a similar jihadist group) would be unlikely to have a decisive affect on whether we’ll see 1,000,000 seaborne arrivals this year.

Four brief points: First, Syria is much closer to Turkey than it is to Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia (which are the major points of embarkation to Italy). Trust me on this, even though I’m an American; I looked this up on a map and everything. Anyway, getting from Syria to Tunisia will take a lot of time, and that means (once again) less relevance for the number of seaborne refugees and migrants in 2016.

Second, if I’m reading the data right, at least 96% of the seaborne refugees and migrants who’ve arrived in Italy this year were themselves African. Nigerians, for instance, have been the most numerous. There just doesn’t seem to be a history of Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans making their way across north Africa in order to make it to Europe, and that means (I think) a lot of informal barriers to travel. (Think of the time you went on vacation where people weren’t used to folks from your country – it’s much harder and slower to get around.)

Third, though arrivals in Italy were 4 times higher in March 2016 than in March 2015, the pace has slowed a lot since then. There were more than 16,000 arrivals in Italy during March 2015, but there have been less than 6,000 halfway through April 2016. So perhaps we’re not seeing the uptick that I expected when I thought about a few weeks ago.

Fourth, while the overall flow of seaborne refugees and migrants peaked during November of 2015, the peak of the north Africa-Italy route was already falling fast in September of 2015. Let’s assume (as seems reasonable) that these ebbs and flows are a result of seasonal weather conditions. If so, we’re likely to have a pretty good guess about how many seaborne refugees and migrants will arrive in Europe via this route long before the end of the year[2].

[1] http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php
[2] http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/country.php?id=105

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

@Harry-Wijnberg writes in response to my last post of this topic:

Following your shift to Sicily:  (West) Africans use to take the Italian way, whereas people from the Middle East and Asia use to come by Turkey-Greece seaborder.

If an average Syrian is willing/ able to pay higher prices as (west) Africans for the Italian route it might be more advantageous for smugglers to change smuggling Syrians in stead of Africans. Lets say that an average Syrian can pay 50% more per place as an average (West) Africans (might be much more), then with the increase of Syrian and Afghan sea arrivals in Italy the numbers of arrivals from Africans will drop severely. We might have to take that in account to get over 1 MM in 2016

Wow! Harry-Wijnberg makes a very good point. I hadn’t given any thought to the possibility that Syrian refugees/migrants, etc., might crowd out[a] African refugees/migrants. In the long run, I suspect (without any real evidence) that the number of smugglers is pretty flexible, and more suppliers will enter the market if the price becomes high enough. But in the short run, barriers to entry might mean the price goes up without much change in the number of refugees/migrants.

One source claims that the number of landings in Italy has already spiked:

The number of refugees arriving in Italy is rising sharply amid fears that a controversial deal struck with Turkey could force asylum seekers to take longer and more dangerous routes to Europe. The Italian interior ministry has documented 16,075 migrants crossing to its shores so far this year, compared to just over 10,000 during the same period in 2015. Most were rescued from smugglers’ boats off the Libyan coast and brought ashore in Sicily by the coast guard.[b] (see also [c] and [d]).

To make matters even more confusing, some sources are claiming that the number of refugees/migrants entering Greece is now going up again:

Arrivals of refugees and migrants to Greece from Turkey rose sharply on Wednesday, just over a week since the European Union and Turkey struck a deal intended to cut off the flow.[e]

The drop might have been due to a large degree to recent bad weather. I remain in let’s-just-wait-and-see mode and calling it an even-money operation. This question isn’t scheduled to close for another 9 months!

[a] http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/1013/economics/crowding-out/

[b] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/refugee-crisis-arrivals-rocket-in-italy-amid-warnings-turkey-deal-could-force-migrants-on-more-a6959491.html

[c] http://nation.com.pk/international/30-Mar-2016/italy-rescues-over-1-500-migrants-in-strait-of-sicily

[d] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3514736/Now-thousands-enter-EU-different-route-crackdown-Turkey-migrants-make-trip-Libya-Italy.html

[e] http://www.ekathimerini.com/207459/article/ekathimerini/news/refugee-migrant-arrivals-to-greece-rise-sharply-despite-eu-turkey-deal

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

Europe has already received more than 160,000 refugees this year, about 90.8% of which made landfall in Greece[a]. But, we’re told, the migrant flow in Greece has recently fallen from about 1,000/day to about 100/day:

Where thousands arrived in a day, now hundreds — and some days far fewer — splash onto the Greek shores from Turkey, a possible sign that the largest mass migration of the 21st century is slowing or that refugees are changing course as Europe scrambles to erect new barriers.[b]

Let’s assume that the fall in the number of arrivals is really a result of political changes and not just changes in the weather or in other conditions that would cause a sharp but temporary lessening of the flow of refugees and migrants. How should we extrapolate this change over the rest of 2016?

One answer is that we should expect current conditions to continue more-or-less as they are. So by December 31, the total number of refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe will be 160,000 (i.e., the number who are already there) + 27,700 (100 refugees per day for the next 277 days arriving in Greece) + 48,000 (the remaining 9.2% of refugees who arrive by sea elsewhere than in Greece and who – I think – won’t be deterred by the EU’s deal with Turkey). So the answer is that we should expect about 235,700 by the end of 2016.

But what are the assumptions behind this model, and how reasonable are they? Well, the number of refugees in 2015 varied greatly by month, and October saw more than 40 times as many refugees and migrants as January. So perhaps it’s more reasonable to project a 90% reduction in refugees and migrants over the year, rather than a constant flow of 100/day. Using last year as a baseline, that would mean 90,000 more refugees and migrants in Greece, not 27,700. But that’s still a lot less than 1,000,000.

In fact, if we leave aside (for the moment) the question of refugees and migrants arriving elsewhere than in Greece, the EU would only have to impose a 25-or-so% reduction on 2015 on the flow of refugees and migrants in order to keep the total number under 1 million. That seems achievable, though that fact has to be counterbalanced with the fact that the flow of refugees and migrants is 7 times higher during the first 3 months of 2016 than it was during the same months in 2015.

Perhaps this way of thinking of it helps: The demand curve for refugee/migrant status in the EU has been moving sharply out and to the right when compared to 2014 and even 2015 (though its has been slowing steadily since November). Up to this point, the supply curve for refugee/migrant status in the EU has been pretty flat. The result is just what you’d expect: the quantity of refugees/migrants in the EU has gone up dramatically when compared to previous years. But the EU is now trying to cut the quantity supplied by indirectly raising the price of admission. (Obviously, the EU can’t directly raise the price, though it is a monopolist of sorts, because the price is paid, not to the EU, but to people who facilitate their travel[c].)

So while the demand curve is moving out and to the right, the supply curve is shifting on its axis to be less horizontal and more vertical, i.e., it is experiencing greater price inelasticity of supply [d]. Under these conditions, one can’t say what will happen to the equilibrium quantity of refugees/migrants in the EU, unless one knows more about the relative shapes, positions, and movements of both the supply and demand curves. And I doubt anyone has anything more than a crude guess about any of that. Well, I sure don’t.

But when the demand curve moves out and to the right while the supply curve become for inelastic, you can be damn sure that the price will go up. How much are people willing and able to pay to get the European shores (that is, what’s the price inelasticity of demand, as opposed to supply)? That’s really the big question, as I see it. If demand is highly inelastic, then, in the long run, refugees and migrants who are trying to get to the EU will just consume other, more expensive, ways of getting there (other than, e.g., the fairly cheap trip from western Turkey to one of the nearby Greek islands, like Lesvos).

Are refugees and migrants willing and able to pay enough to land in Italy including Sicily (please forgive me, my Sicilian friends) as they already have this year to the tune of almost 5,000/month? The trip from Libya to Italy runs $500-$2,000[e]. That’s half as much as people were paying for the land voyage to the EU last year[f], and I’m not even sure that’s a real option anymore. If we see a sharp rise in the amount of money that refugees and migrants are willing and able to pay during the next, say, five weeks, then I’d expect the chances of getting to 1,000,000 by the end of 2016 are still pretty high. If not, then not. How to find out whether such a sharp rise occurs? I’m working on that….

But for now, I’m going straight down the middle and setting the odds at 50/50.

 

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

[b] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/eu-deal-to-stop-migrants-puts-fear-in-those-waiting-in-turkey/2016/03/26/77c2cc3e-f114-11e5-a2a3-d4e9697917d1_story.html

[c] http://www.ibtimes.com/syrian-refugees-heading-europe-are-big-business-lebanons-travel-agents-2126557

[d] http://www.economicsonline.co.uk/Competitive_markets/Price_elasticity_of_supply.html

[e] http://www.altaiconsulting.com/mixedmigrationlibya/Altai_Consulting-UNHCR-Mixed_Migration_Libya.pdf

[f] http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/refugee-smuggling-a-big-business-in-the-balkans-a-1051461.html

[g] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/17/world/europe/turkey-greece-mediterranean-kos-bodrum-migrants-refugees.html?_r=0

 

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

Just a small update to my last forecast. There are some initial reports that the flow of refugees and migrants to the Ionian islands is falling fast:

[A]t least here on Lesbos, 48 hours after the deal went into effect, the number of refugees landing seemed to be slowing, though the figures were still being tabulated. Sunday brought more than 1,500 new refugees to the Greek isles, but early tallies suggested that the figure might have dropped to just a few hundred on Monday.”[a]

The awful events in Brussels yesterday are likely to lend a greater sense of urgency to reducing the number of refugees and migrants into Europe[b], however tenuous the connection between refugees and terrorism is[c]. The long-term consequences for Europe are not likely to be pretty[d], but there you are. The probability of over 1 million refugees and migrants arriving in Europe by sea during 2016 is now 0.58.

[a] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/22/world/europe/deal-appears-to-curb-migrant-flow-but-greece-still-faces-uphill-effort.html

[b] http://time.com/4268072/brussels-attack-refugees-greece/

[c] http://www.vox.com/2016/3/22/11285962/brussels-attack-refugees-immigration

[d] http://www.businessinsider.com/unhcr-children-refugees-wont-forget-how-europe-rejected-them-2016-3?r=UK&IR=T

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].

Good_Judgment™_Open

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