As of 31 December 2020, there were 12 million people of concern to UNHCR living in Europe, 100,000 less than in 2019. The number of people of concern to UNHCR globally is 82,4 million. With one Regional Bureau and 37 offices in Europe, we are able to operate in 49 countries and one territory* in the region.

Below is information on how UNHCR carries out its mandate.

What role does UNHCR play in Europe?

As the custodian of the 1951 Refugee Convention, UNHCR supports States to fulfil their international obligations in building and maintaining fair and effective asylum systems in accordance with international law. It is particularly worrisome to see how the fundamental human right to asylum has been increasingly questioned in Europe over the past few years, and we spare no effort to speak out on violations of international refugee law, as well as counter fear-mongering and anti-refugee rhetoric.

As part of these efforts, we forge and strengthen partnerships and coordination mechanisms to garner wide-ranging support from relevant stakeholders in the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees, to enhance joint advocacy efforts, mobilize resources and counter negative discourse.

UNHCR supports efforts by governments and other stakeholders to find solutions for refugees, notably in the form of local integration or resettlement, as well as voluntary return. We also promote safe and regulated avenues under which refugees can be admitted to a third country. These include community sponsorship programmes, family reunification, scholarships and humanitarian visas.

UNHCR also advocates to end statelessness in Europe and globally by 2024, in line with the #IBelong campaign. At the same time, we are also pressing for concerted European action to prevent loss of life in the Mediterranean and to improve reception for asylum-seekers.

We produce and publish statistics and data on refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people and engages with the public to foster inclusiveness and empathy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had important socio-economic consequences for everyone in Europe since 2020. Refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people have been particularly affected. It has also made it harder for us and our partners to access people we work for. To address this challenge, we have expanded the use of social media, hotlines and other methods of communication to ensure continued delivery of protection services.

What is the difference between a refugee, an asylum-seeker and a migrant?

People who are forced to flee their country in fear of persecution are refugees. They have legal protections under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as other legal instruments. UNHCR, governments and humanitarian organizations offer assistance to refugees, who are recognized by state authorities or UNHCR, because it is too dangerous for them to return home. Asylum-seekers are people whose request for refugee status, or asylum, is being processed.

People who move to a different country primarily to improve their lives by finding work or gaining education or to reunite with family are called migrants.

This distinction is important. States interact with refugees through specific norms dealing with refugee protection and asylum defined in regional and international frameworks.

How many refugees arrive in Europe?

According to UNHCR data, the total number of our people of concern in Europe has reduced by some 100,000 between 2019 and 2020. Of the 12 million people of concern to UNHCR in Europe, nearly one third live in Turkey, which remains the largest refugee-hosting country with 3.7 million refugees. The largest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region continued to be in Ukraine, with some 734,000 IDPs and an additional 1.6 million conflict-affected persons.

For up-to-date numbers on people arriving to Europe via Mediterranean and Canary Islands routes – as well as the numbers of people who have died or are missing after attempting to cross the sea, you can have a look at this interactive data page.

You can find more statistics and data visualizations on the numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe on UNHCR’s data portal, Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, and in the latest Global Trends Report.

Who are the asylum-seekers in Europe?

Asylum-seekers in Europe come from low or middle-income countries. Since 2014, the largest groups have fled wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Around 18 per cent of people arriving in Europe in 2020 to seek asylum were children, according to our data. Around one-third of these were not accompanied by an adult, making them particularly vulnerable to harm, exploitation and abuse.

Are all refugees coming to Europe?

No. Nearly 9 in 10 refugees (86 per cent) - are hosted by countries neighbouring crisis areas and low- and middle-income countries. The Global Compact on Refugees emphasizes the importance of greater responsibility- and burden-sharing. Yet, when it comes to hosting refugees, the burden is not equally shared. Developing regions continue to shoulder a disproportionately large responsibility for hosting displaced populations.

According to the Global Trends Report, by the end of 2020, there were 82.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, and 42 per cent of them were girls and boys under the age of 18. Children are particularly vulnerable, especially when crises continue for years. New UNHCR estimates show that almost one million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020. Many of them may remain refugees for years to come.

Where can I find statistics and information about refugees and asylum-seekers arriving in Europe?

UNHCR maintains a public database of statistics on refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe and around the world, and has also developed a mobile application for iOS and Android. Each year, we publish a Global Trends report, an authoritative overview of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced people and stateless persons.

In addition, data on specific situations in Europe can be found on dedicated operational portals (Mediterranean and South Eastern Europe).

Who are UNHCR’s partners in Europe?

As per its mandated responsibilities and in line with the Global Compact on Refugees, UNHCR engages with various stakeholders to pursue its protection and solutions priorities in Europe. These include governments, international organizations within and outside the UN system, other humanitarian and development actors, regional actors (notably the European Union and its agencies, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), local authorities, municipalities, academia, the private sector, media and civil society including faith-based organizations. Refugees and other populations of concern are key partners and we have been strengthening our engagement with refugee-led organizations. In collaboration with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), we organize regular regional dialogues and consultations with civil society actors to identify opportunities for joint and complementary advocacy.

We are also committed to supporting the realization of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. In Europe, UNHCR is an integral part of the regional UN system and co-chairs the Issue-Based Coalition on Large Movement of Persons, Displacement and Resilience.

How do I get in touch with UNHCR?

The best way to contact UNHCR is via our website.

How do I locate a spokesperson who can tell me more about UNHCR’s work in Europe or the world?

UNHCR spokespeople at our headquarters in Geneva or in many of our country offices worldwide can be contacted to answer media enquiries and provide interviews.

If I am an asylum-seeker or refugee in Europe and need help or advice, what should I do?

You can use the help.unhcr.org page in some countries, or contact UNHCR or one of its partners directly in the country where you are.

If I want to work for UNHCR, what should I do?

You can find available job openings, internships and other opportunities on the careers page on UNHCR’s website and on the organization’s country-specific and regional websites. There are also opportunities to volunteer with UNHCR and its partner organizations.

How can I contribute to and support UNHCR’s work?

UNHCR relies almost entirely on voluntary contributions from governments, UN and pooled funding mechanisms, intergovernmental institutions and the private sector, as well as individual donations. We encourage for these funds to be allocated as flexibly as possible to enable us to assist where the needs are the most acute, by providing protection, shelter, water, health, education and other essential support to refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless and internally displaced people across the region.

UNHCR’s website contains information on how to contribute financially. Donations can also be made to individual refugee-hosting countries through our private sector partnerships and also to specific emergencies.

How can I stay informed with the latest reports and updates on UNHCR’s work in Europe?

Please check out our website, data portal or subscribe to our newsletter.

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