We are seeing a lot of numbers thrown around at the moment in regards to asylum seekers. Unfortunately, we are not seeing much context to them though. So, in the interests of trying to put some into the debate, here it is.

First published in August 2020.


It is the number of migrants crossing the channel so far this year, about. Now this looks at the outset like a big number. Let’s be honest, for a lot of people it is. It is more than double the 1,892 migrants crossing in 2019.

For one festival, about 200,000 people descend on a farm. That is nearly 50 times the number of asylum seekers we are talking about here, just for a little perspective. It is also, despite how it may be framed, only a fraction of the 154,620 people seeking asylum in France.

There is no denying that it has increased from last year though. There are good reasons for that. I am not going to go too heavily into why France may not be a safe country here as I cover that in this previous piece.

I will give another number though.


That is the approximate number of attacks directly against refugees and asylum seekers carried out in Germany in 2019, another such “safe country”.

Deutsche Welle, 27 March 2020.

There are some truly big numbers in this debate though, which for some reason tend to be skipped over.

79.5 million.

That is the number of displaced people in the world at the end of 2019.

26 million.

The number of refugees.

4.2 million.

The number of asylum seekers.

Some percentages next.


The percentage of displaced people who are children.


The percentage living in developing countries.


The percentage living in countries with acute food shortages.


The percentage of displaced people hosted across every developed nation on the planet.

4,100 sounds big. It sounds scary.

Though it is roughly 11.7% of the current figure for asylum applications in the UK this year (35,099). It is also only 2.7% of the currently being reported 151,070 people seeking asylum in France.

So it is not like everyone is trying to get to the UK.

Asylum in the UK. / Home Office – UNHCR

Where we do have a seriously big number though is with 392 million. That is the amount we spend on immigration enforcement, and is liable to keep going up, despite successive government’s proving it doesn’t work. I wrote a piece on alternatives.

There are smaller numbers which are far scarier.


It is the number of recorded fatalities of migrants this year.


The number of asylum seekers who suffocated and froze in the back of a refrigerated truck last year.


The picture of a three-year-old boy dead on the shore.

Numbers mean nothing at the best of times without context. They are useful at the moment for the anti-asylum supporters to push their agenda though. It is important to look at all of them and remember that those numbers are people.

People trying to reach safety.🔷

[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 12 August 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Shutterstock/Andrea Izzotti.)

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