In this section we present an overview of facts and figures on refugees at the global, European and Belgian level.


Who is a refugee?
Refugees are specifically defined and protected in international law. Refugees are people outside their country of origin because of feared persecution, conflict, violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order, and who, as a result, require ‘international protection’. Their situation is often so perilous and intolerable, that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries, and thus become internationally recognized as ‘refugees’ with access to assistance from states, UNHCR, and relevant organizations. They are so recognized precisely because it is too dangerous for them to return home, and they therefore need sanctuary elsewhere. These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences.

Are the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ interchangeable?
No. Although it is becoming increasingly common to see the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ used interchangeably in media and public discussions, there is a crucial legal difference between the two. Confusing them can lead to problems for refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as misunderstandings in discussions of asylum and migration.

Don’t migrants also deserve protection?
The reasons why a migrant may leave their countries are often compelling, and finding ways to meet their needs and protect their human rights is important. Migrants are protected by international human rights law. This protection derives from their fundamental dignity as human beings. For some, failure to accord them human rights protection can have serious consequences. It may result in human rights violations, such as serious discrimination; arbitrary arrest or detention; or forced labour, servitude, or highly exploitative working conditions.
In addition, some migrants, such as victims of trafficking or unaccompanied or separated migrant children, may have particular needs for protection and assistance, and have the right to have those needs met. UNHCR fully supports approaches to migration management that respect the human rights of all people on the move.


In Belgium the number of asylum applications in 2015 doubled compared to 2014. The Immigration Office registered 35,476 asylum applications Most asylum seekers come from conflict areas: 21.8 % of asylum seekers come from Iraq, 21.3 % from Syria, and Afghanistan completes the top 3 of countries of origin with 20 %.
Significantly more unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 2015: 3,919 individual asylum applications were filed.
In 2015, the CGRS concluded in 60.7 % of its decisions that the asylum seeker actually needed protection. The total number of positive decisions was 8,122, concerning 10,783 persons (including minor children accompanying their parents).

Learn more about Belgian figures:

Asylum statistics – Survey 2015 (CGRS)
Figures CGRS


graphe info centre copieThe number of people seeking asylum in the EU surpassed 1 million applications in 2015 according to Eurostat.
Increasing numbers of refugees and migrants take their chances aboard unseaworthy boats and dinghies in a desperate bid to reach Europe. The vast majority of those attempting this dangerous crossing are in need of international protection, fleeing war, violence and persecution in their country of origin. More than one million refugees and migrants reached the Europe by sea since the start of 2015.
In 2016 so far 173.728 migrants arrived by sea. 716 people are dead or missing.

UNHCR provides the most recent data and detailed maps to show arrivals to Europe by sea on its website.

Learn more about other European asylum systems:
The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions and detention across 20 countries. This includes 17 European Union (EU) Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Spain, France, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom) and 3 non-EU countries (Switzerland, Serbia, Turkey). You can compare Belgium with other European countries with this tool.


Worldwide displacement is at the highest level ever recorded. Wars, disasters and persecution have forced more people to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere than at any other time since records began, according to UNHCR. The number of people forcibly displaced rose to a staggering 60 million in 2015 compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.
Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest. Every day last year on average 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced, a four-fold increase in just four years. Developing countries host over 86% of the world’s refugees, compared to 70% ten years ago. The war in Syria is now the world’s single-largest driver of displacement.

Read more about statistics related to refugees and explore information about UNHCR and partners response to emergencies.