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Europe headed for higher Muslim population – report

20 December 20170 comments

The percentage of Muslims among the population of Europe will continue to rise over the next thirty years whether borders are closed or not, according to a new report released by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

According to the report, which included the 28 European Union members, plus Norway and Switzerland, Muslims made up 4.9 per cent of Europe’s population in 2016, with an estimated 25.8 million people across 30 countries, up from 3.8 per cent, or 19.5 million people, in 2010.

The number of Muslim migrants arriving in Europe surged after 2014 to almost a half-million annually, largely the result of people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the report said.

The report considered three scenarios: zero migration between 2016 and 2050; medium migration, in which the flow of refugees stops but people continue to migrate for other reasons; and high migration, in which the record flow of migrants between 2014 and 2016 continues indefinitely with the same religious composition.

Under the first scenario, the population would continue to grow because Muslims are, on average, 13 years younger than other Europeans and also have a higher birthrate. The study projected Muslims could make up 7.4 per cent of the European population by 2050, even with zero migration.

Under the medium migration scenario, Muslims could account for 11.2 per cent of Europe’s population by 2050.

While under the high migration, the record flow of migrants who came to Europe between 2014 and 2016 would continue indefinitely, resulting in 75 million Muslims in Europe, or about 14 per cent of the population by the middle of the century.

But the report says that even under the largest growth scenario, the Muslim population would be considerably smaller than the populations of both Christians and people with no religion in Europe.

Muslim immigrants have been a politically sensitive topic in Europe following the influx of newcomers between 2014 and 2016. Some countries have seen backlashes that have included populist parties campaigning on anti-Islamic messages.

Not all countries would be affected evenly by future immigration, according to the Pew report. In the high migration scenario, Germany and Sweden would have the biggest increases because both countries took in the most asylum-seekers during the height of the refugee crisis two years ago.

While Muslims made up 6 percent of Germany’s population last year, their proportion would go up to 20 per cent by 2050. Sweden’s Muslims, who were at 8 per cent in 2016, would account for 31 per cent of the population in that same scenario.

Meanwhile, some countries that had comparatively few Muslim residents in 2016 would continue to have few by 2050 in all three scenarios.

Countries that have received relatively large numbers of Muslim refugees in recent years are projected to experience the biggest changes in the high migration scenario – the only one that projects these heavy refugee flows to continue into the future.

For instance, Germany’s population (6 per cent Muslim in 2016) would be projected to be about 20 per cent Muslim by 2050 in the high scenario – a reflection of the fact that Germany has accepted many Muslim refugees in recent years – compared with 11 per cent in the medium scenario and 9 per cent in the zero migration scenario.

Sweden, which also has accepted a relatively high number of refugees, would experience even greater effects if the migration levels from 2014 to mid-2016 were to continue indefinitely: Sweden’s population (8 per cent Muslim in 2016) could grow to 31 per cent Muslim in the high scenario by 2050, compared with 21 per cent in the medium scenario and 11 per cent with no further Muslim migration.

By contrast, the countries projected to experience the biggest changes in the medium scenario (such as the UK) tend to have been destinations for the highest numbers of regular Muslim migrants. This scenario only models this type of migration.

And those countries with Muslim populations that are especially young, or have a relatively large number of children, would see the most significant change in the zero migration scenario; these include France, Italy and Belgium.

The report notes that Europe’s Muslim population is diverse. It encompasses Muslims born in Europe and in a wide variety of non-European countries. It includes Sunnis, Shiites, and Sufis.

Levels of religious commitment and belief vary among Europe’s Muslim populations. Some of the Muslims enumerated in this report would not describe Muslim identity as salient in their daily lives. For others, Muslim identity profoundly shapes their daily lives, it said.

Syria also was by far the single biggest source of Muslim migrants to Europe overall in recent years. But Morocco, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran also sent considerable numbers of Muslim migrants to Europe between mid-2010 and mid-2016 – more than 1 million combined – and the vast majority of Muslims from these countries came to Europe as regular migrants and not as refugees.

The report said Germany was the destination for an estimated 670,000 refugees between mid-2010 and mid-2016 – more than three times as many as the country with the next-largest number, Sweden (200,000).

A similar number of regular migrants from outside Europe also arrived in Germany in recent years (680,000). But religiously, refugees and other migrants to Germany look very different; an estimated 86 per cent of refugees accepted by Germany were Muslims, compared with just 40 per cent of regular migrants to Germany, it said.

Germany has the largest population and economy in Europe, is centrally located on the continent and has policies favorable toward asylum seekers. The UK, however, actually was the destination for a larger number of migrants from outside Europe overall between mid-2010 and mid-2016 (1.6 million).

Relatively few recent immigrants to the UK (60,000) were refugees, but more than 1.5 million regular migrants arrived there in recent years. Overall, an estimated 43 per cent of all migrants to the UK between mid-2010 and mid-2016 were Muslims, the report said.

Combining Muslim refugees and Muslim regular migrants, Germany was the destination for more Muslim migrants overall than the UK (850,000 vs. 690,000).


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist