Why are most of the refugees arriving in Europe Muslim men?

According to Eurostat data for 2022, the most asylum applications in Europe were submitted by citizens of Syria (131,970) and Afghanistan (113,495). More than 70% of them are men, while 29.2% are women1. With such a trend that most of the asylum seekers in Europe are men coming from Muslim countries, the Western media often presents the "refugee crisis" to the public as a potential threat of terrorism. Muslim men fleeing the atrocities of war are often associated with violence, spreading fear in refugee-hosting countries in Europe. There have also been statements by politicians that among the refugees there may also be jihadists recruited by ISIS. Even the Pope himself warned people in 2015 to be vigilant about the possible invasion of Europe by ISIS through the infiltration of refugee groups (Allsopp 2017, p.159). In the absence of concrete evidence of the refugees' threat to the security of the European countries receiving them (and sometimes by providing false information), the media portray men fleeing war-ravaged Syria as a security threat just because of their gender (often mentioning religion as well). However, such conclusions based solely on a person's gender and/or religion are not correct. Further in this article, the real reasons why most refugees arriving to Europe are Muslim men will be presented.

The journey of refugees from Muslim countries in the Middle East to Europe is extremely dangerous and often deadly. Firstly, these people must cross the Mediterranean Sea. Sailing in overcrowded small boats in various weather conditions poses a particularly high risk of drowning before reaching your destination. 1,848 deaths were recorded in the Mediterranean Sea solely until August 7th, 2023 (before the end of the year), compared to 1,417 deaths for the whole year of 20222. Most of the drowned are women and children, because men are usually physically stronger and can survive longer in the water. For this reason, women and children are often left in refugee camps in neighboring countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan), while young men embark on the long and dangerous journey by sea. If they successfully reach the shores of Europe, they can bring the rest of their family by a much safer route after applying for asylum. These men are often the sole providers of the family, who, to ensure a better future for it, are the first to bravely embark on a risky journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Being loving fathers, sons, brothers, men try their best to protect their family. Anyone in their place would probably do the same. 

It is also easier for men traveling alone to pass border control than families traveling together in a large group. Looking after multiple people takes time and is more difficult logistically. Groups often get stuck in transit countries, do not have enough energy for everyone to continue the journey, or decide to stay in the first place where they feel safe3.

Last but not least: no one would send their daughter to make such a dangerous trip by herself. The risks for a girl traveling by herself on a dangerous route such as from Syria to Europe are too high. Along the coastline, criminal gangs are reportedly charging Syrian families tens of thousands of dollars to transport them to Greece. In addition, women and children are among the main victims of sexual abuse, violence and exploitation when fleeing war zones on their way to a safe haven. They are much more vulnerable than men. However, this does not mean that male refugees do not face such dangers.

It is true that women and children are one of the most vulnerable groups during military conflict, but the media often use this argument that women and children are more "real" refugees and victims of war than Muslim men, who are often falsely associated with terrorism, violence, and aspiration to "conquer" Europe. If not a potential threat to the security of European countries, male refugees from the Middle East are accused of being unmanly and weak because they refuse to defend themselves in their own country and instead flee, leaving their families behind. But in most cases these men leave their war-torn homelands not out of cowardice. Usually, the remaining young men are forced to join militant groups, and those who speak out are persecuted. Indeed, those who choose to leave demonstrate their refusal to support the current regime and violence. Many unmarried and childless men traveling to Europe are the only remaining hope for their family’s better life. Some young men who lost their fathers in a war or due to illness suddenly become the main providers of the family, who have a lot of responsibility for the women and children of the household. Some are sent away by the remaining family members against their will, others decide to leave on their own, seeing no other option (Allsopp 2017, p.166). If they are lucky enough to reach Europe and get asylum, there is an opportunity to bring family members left in the war zone, and until then to support them financially with remittances.

A question may arise for the reader: if during the ongoing war in Ukraine, all healthy men stay to defend their homeland by sending women and children to a safe place in Europe, why do young Syrians and Afghans choose to flee their country instead of fighting? First, Ukrainian men must stay in their country and defend it against the invasion of the Russian army. Only those who are unable to fight (women, children, the elderly and the disabled) are allowed to leave the country. Meanwhile, in Syria and Afghanistan, young men are being forced to join militant groups fighting within the country against each other rather than against an external enemy. They are forced to join a military group that has taken over the government (such as the Taliban in Afghanistan), which brutalizes its own citizens, and if they do not agree, they are imprisoned or even killed. In addition, Ukrainian refugees who want to enter Europe do not need to move by sea, they can do it by land through neighboring countries: Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova4. However, refugees from the Middle East who want to reach Europe must embark on a dangerous (and sometimes deadly) journey by boat across the Mediterranean Sea.

Statistically, most of the refugees arriving in Europe are Muslim men from Syria and Afghanistan because they do not want to join the brutal military groups inside their country and fight against their disobedient compatriots. To avoid the bloodshed of their brothers, they choose better to leave their homeland. The trip to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea is dangerous, so it is usually done by men, and if they reach European shores, they can bring the rest of their families by a safer route when they apply for asylum. So, whether the refugee is from a Muslim country or from Ukraine, every man tries to protect his family as best he can.


H. Gray & A.K. Franck, “Refugees as/at risk: The gendered and racialized underpinnings of securitization in British media narratives”. Security Dialogue, 2019, Vol. 50(3) 275–291.

J. Allsopp, "Agent, victim, soldier, son: Intersecting masculinities in the European “refugee crisis”." A gendered approach to the Syrian refugee crisis. Routledge, 2017, 155-174.

1. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Asylum_statistics&oldid=558844

2. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-66478091

3. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/five-explanations-to-why-the-majority-of-refugees/

4. https://www.brookings.edu/articles/ukrainian-refugees-challenges-in-a-welcoming-europe/

Gintare Bieliauskaite
[marzo 2024]

Foto credits: archivio redazione