We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

cé mhéad fáilte

Asylum and refugees: How Ireland compares to the rest of the world

A new analysis of official figures, by

90360821 President Michael D Higgins, at a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY yesterday responded to public outcry by saying Ireland could take in more than 1,800 refugees, as our contribution to alleviating the current crisis.

But how have we been doing over the last few years?

According to a new analysis by of data from the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), Ireland ranks poorly among European nations for our administrative treatment of asylum-seekers over the last few years, by several different measures.

We have recognised fewer asylum claims than many smaller or similarly-sized countries, since 2012.

For example, Ireland’s favourable asylum decisions were 20 times fewer than Norway’s, despite the two countries having almost identical populations.

However, it should also be noted that Norway’s economy is twice the size of ours, with an average GDP (gross domestic product) of $511 billion from 2012-2014, as opposed to $233 billion.

Its land mass is also five times larger.


Our analysis also found that Ireland grants refugee status at a strikingly low rate for a developed, EU member state, rejecting more applications than it accepts, and deferring decisions in most cases.

And even accounting for our relatively small population, Ireland ranks lower than Bulgaria, Armenia and next-door neighbours the UK.

Kosovo/Ireland-refugees-airport Kosovar Albanian refugees arriving in Farranfore airport, Co Kerry, in 1999. EMPICS Sports Photo Agency EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

This week, a coalition of non-profits, including the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Irish Refugee Council, and Trócaire, called the government’s response to the current crisis “unacceptable,” saying:

Ireland is failing to adequately respond to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
This is an extraordinary situation and it is unacceptable that the Irish Government has not provided a clear statement of leadership, when Irish people are calling for action.

However, in response to a query from this website, the Department of Justice said:

When everything is taken into account, Ireland has a very humanitarian regime which compares very favourably with the rest of the EU.
The UNHCR works with the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and indicates they are very satisfied with its determination processes.

Our analysis is based on raw data from the UNHCR, and population statistics from the World Bank – all of which you can download below.

Here’s what we found…

Applications Granted


In terms of sheer volume, the world’s most generous country to asylum-seekers since 2012 has been the United States – granting refugee status to 68,137 people.

Notably, applicants came from throughout the entire world, but with a particularly high number from South America, Mexico, the Middle East and China.

The Germans gave refugee status to 52,904 individuals in the last three years, and were particularly favourable towards those from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Ireland ranks 55th out of 183 nations – recognising asylum claims in 677 cases since 2012.

That places us above fellow EU member states such as the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Slovakia.

However, we rank significantly below similarly-populated nations like Norway and Finland, and poorer countries such as Zambia and Armenia.

The figure for Ireland doesn’t include the 90 Syrian refugees who arrived in Ireland last year, under the UNHCR’s separate resettlement programme.

Applications Received


The country that handled the highest number of asylum applications since 2012 is South Africa, with 1,119,184.

The majority of these came from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

However, just 24,604 of them (2%) were recognised.

Germany and France dealt with 691,038 and 446,776 applications, respectively – and granted refugee status at a rate of 7.7 and 7.4% each.

Interestingly, the United States has been far more inclined to positively receive asylum bids, granting 16.7% of the 408,535 it received.

Ireland ranks 46th in the world, handling 22,194 applications for refugee status over the last three years.

Factoring in Population


Perhaps one of the fairest ways to gauge generosity in granting refugee status is to factor in population.

For example, while the US recognised more than 68,000 applications in the last three years, it does have a population of nearly 317 million.

By contrast, the Caribbean island of Curaçao accepted 22 asylum applications in the same period, but it only has a population of 151,000.

By this measure, the world’s most generous nation is none other than Nauru.

However, this is more a statistical anomaly than anything else.

Last year, the tiny central Pacific Ocean island formally granted refugee status to 381 people, and rejected the applications of 1,178 others.

However, with a population of just 9,488, this means Nauru’s rate of recognition of refugee status is 4,015 per 100,000 people – the highest in the world.

After Nauru comes Malta, which undoubtedly leads the way among EU nations, by several measures.

Despite being home to just 418,000 people, the island, which has borne some of the brunt of this year’s Mediterranean refugee crisis, accepted 3,185 applications since 2012.

That’s nearly five times more than Ireland, with a population smaller than one-tenth of ours, a tiny land mass, and a GDP 20 times smaller than ours, as shown in this animation:


The Scandinavian nations of Norway and Sweden rank 5th and 6th, recognising 248 and 238 asylum applications, per 100,000 people.

Ireland ranks 42nd overall by this measure, and 18th among 29 European countries – recognising more refugees per capita than the Baltics and Central Europeans, but fewer than France, Germany and the UK.


Likelihood of acceptance

Another crucial measure is, of course, the probability that an application for refugee status will be accepted.

Here, Ireland ranks particularly poorly – with just 3% of cases being recognised.

However, it’s very important to note that this does not mean 97% were rejected.

In a given year, asylum authorities in every country will often simply not make a decision, leaving cases pending, sometimes for many years.

In other instances, applications will be closed (for administrative reasons, because an asylum-seeker leaves the country, or withdraws their application).

Of the 22,194 applications counted by UNHCR in Ireland, since 2012:

- 677 (3%) were granted
- 4,551 (21%) were rejected

The remainder were left pending for another year, or closed, without either recognition or rejection.

So Ireland’s low acceptance rate very much reflects a slow system of dealing with asylum backlogs, as well as a tendency to reject applications more often than we accept them.

Overall, Ireland ranks 128th (of 183 countries) in terms of the likelihood of refugee status being granted in a given year.

Among 30 European nations, we rank 21st – behind the UK, the Scandinavians, and Bulgaria and Romania.


Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban this week attracted criticism for his approach to the current crisis, ranks lowest in Europe – granting just 454 asylum applications since 2012, 0.06% of a total of 66,419.

Notably, African nations, often immersed in migration crises, have the highest recognition rates in the world, with Rwanda leading the way at 92%.

As the UNHCR explains, the central African region is “fraught with multiple conflicts and political instability,” and Rwanda has been resettling refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi, under the auspices of a UNHCR program.

By contrast, Bulgaria – which has the second-highest rate in Europe at 19% – ranks 52nd in the world.


Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics agency, counts “recognition rate” to measure the likelihood of a positive asylum outcome in a given year.

Unlike the UNHCR measure above, however, it doesn’t account for non-decisions and cases left pending, but provides a ratio of acceptance-to-rejection, in first-instance decisions.

By their count, Ireland ranks 18th of 32 countries, with a recognition rate of 38%.


Explore the data for yourself:

  • To download the UNHCR’s raw data on asylum applications worldwide, since 2000, click here.
  • To download‘s collated figures, and filter by population, and other factors, click here.
  • To explore the WorldBank’s data on population, GDP and land mass, click here.

Read: Refugee crisis – Taoiseach says Ireland could take in more than 1,800 people>

Read: Over 6,000 people pledge to home refugees as humanitarian crisis worsens>

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.