In a November 16, 2016 op-ed in the New York Times titled Donald Trump, Help Heal the Planet’s Climate Change Problem, Thomas L. Friedman claims:

When you visit the Pentagon, ask the generals about climate change. Here’s what they’ll tell you: A majority of immigrants flooding Europe today are not coming from Syria or Iraq. Three-quarters are from arid zones in central Africa, where the combination of climate change and runaway population growth are making small-scale farming unsustainable.

Does the data support this claim?

  • 1
    Hmm - because of the use of the word "flooding", I thought it was by a right wing commentator. I was wrong.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 9:20
  • 2
    @AndrewGrimm Friedman puts the word in the mouth of Pentagon generals, though.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 11:58
  • I'm far more curious about the other two parts of the claim (the farming being unsustainable, and separately, assuming it is a correct claim, that there is causal relationship between that and refugees going to Europe - as opposed to a host of countries on the way to Europe that don't have farming issues, presumably)
    – user5341
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 14:44

2 Answers 2


For immigration into Europe, African immigrants account for 24% of all migrants (2013).

Refugees/asylum seeker numbers are mentioned in the other answer, but I'd stress how important it is not to confuse the two.


In 2015 the vast majority of those applying for asylum in the EU were from war-torn regions like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq


It is not clear which years these generals were referring to but it certainly looks like they are wrong.

Here is the source for this data:

Citizens of 148 countries sought asylum for the first time in the EU in the second quarter of 2016. Syrians, Afghanis and Iraqis were the top 3 citizenships of asylum seekers, lodging 90 500, 50 300 and 34 300 applications respectively (Table 1).

Table showing asylum seekers by country of origin

We could also look at data on illegal border crossings which are logged by Frontex (The EU's external border force). The three major migratory routes are from:

  • The central Mediterranean route (127,599 illegal crossings so far in 2016). These people mostly come from Nigeria, Eritrea and the Ivory Coast

  • The western Balkan route (121,712 illegal crossings so far in 2016). These people are mostly crossing over through Croatia and so will mostly come from war torn regions.

  • The eastern Mediterranean route (172,982 illegal crossings so far in 2016). These people mostly come from Syria, Afghanistan and the Iraq

This supports the data on asylum seekers and indicates that most immigrants these days are arriving from war torn regions of the Middle East.

  • 1
    From the source it is unclear to me if those numbers represent the real originating countries or the claimed originating countries of the asylum seekers.
    – Shihan
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 12:29
  • 10
    Perhaps Central Africans aren't claiming asylum? Note the different words, immigrants in the claim versus asylum seekers in this answer. Even if most asylum seekers come from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, that doesn't tell us anything about the source of most immigrants unless you also establish something like most immigrants being asylum seekers.
    – Brythan
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 13:12
  • Not necessarily the generals; it could well be that Friedman is wrong or unreliable. Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 18:27
  • If you check my first link it also contains an image which gives numbers on immigrants (not just assylum seekers). These support my answer an illustrate that the vast majority of immigrants have arrived from the East rather than the South. This comes from Frontex, the EU's external border force which monitors the different routes migrants use and numbers arriving at Europe's borders. My answer is correct. ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/375/cpsprodpb/11F0A/production/… Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 22:35
  • I have now sorted my answer with data from Frontex who monitor illegal border crossings Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 23:01

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