Germany: Making refugees visible in population statistics
Between 2014 and June 2017, Germany admitted approximately 1.5 million asylum seekers, making it the most important destination for asylum seekers in the European region during this period. The large number of arrivals in a comparatively short amount of time placed a huge strain on established systems and structures, including administrative processes, accommodation capacity at reception centers, registration, the asylum procedure, and administrative courts. Against this background, a demand for more reliable data on the situation arose from German policymakers and the general public.
Increased attention helped to reveal a major data gap: while data on asylum applications and decisions were available from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, there was a lack of clarity on the total number of refugees and people in refugee-like situations in the country – stock and flow data needed to be more clearly distinguished.
Clarifying the number of persons seeking humanitarian protection in Germany
Faced with this situation, the German Federal Statistical Office has explored ways to quantify the stock of foreigners present in Germany for humanitarian reasons. This resulted in the design of a new official statistic on people seeking humanitarian protection in Germany.
This new official statistic makes use of the administrative data from the Central Register of Foreigners (AZR). This register, managed by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees – the competent registration authority -, contains information on all foreigners residing in Germany, as well as data on asylum procedures.
The Federal Statistical Office receives an annual extract from the Central Register in order to prepare and disseminate official statistics. Through the combination of information on residence permits and asylum- related decisions in the register, the Federal Statistical Office is able to determine the stock of refugees and people in refugee-like situations at a given point in time. Moreover, the data allows providing information on the basic demographics, citizenship, length of stay and legal protection status (including who qualifies as a refugee) of protection seekers in Germany. Furthermore, the statistic allows fine-grained regional disaggregation at the district-level.
The use of the international recommendations
In November 2017, when the draft of the International Recommendations on Refugee Statistics (IRRS) was still undergoing final consultations, the Federal Statistical Office already published the new statistic on people seeking humanitarian protection.
Nonetheless, the IRRS statistical framework has been guiding the Federal Statistical Office, which was also involved in compiling the draft later endorsed by the Statistical Commission. In this context, the IRRS were of practical use for aligning definitions whenever possible and transparently laying out deviations. For example, in the case of the definition of protection seekers with a refused protection status, the definition used by Germany differs from the one provided in IRRS. Importantly, such variations demonstrate how each country can adapt the recommendations to its own national context.
Thus, the IRRS have functioned as a reference point in Germany. This rendered it possible for the country to develop a comprehensive statistical framework tailored to its national context. The Federal Statistical Office has used the recommendations to determine the extent to which its approach to measuring the stock of persons seeking humanitarian protection corresponds to or deviates from the international standards.
In parallel, the recommendations have been an important advocacy tool, facilitating the Federal Statistical Office’s initiative to incorporate statistics on protection seekers as an integral part of population statistics in Germany.
Statistics on refugees and people in refugee-like situations in Germany have been strengthened through use of the international recommendations.
The process of incorporating refugees into population statistics heavily relies on the coordination mechanisms between Statistical Offices and the agencies responsible for producing the relevant administrative data. In Germany, the well-functioning collaboration between the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and the Federal Statistical Office is a key factor, with the former not only providing the essential data but also working with the statisticians on how to interpret the data for their use in population statistics.
“It was an important step to get basic demographic statistics, but it should not be the end. That is why we are exploring new ways to measure refugee integration, inspired by the IRRS”.
Mr. Jan Eberle
Assistant head of the section responsible for statistics on people seeking humanitarian protection, German Federal Statistical Office
These efforts have also generated momentum for new initiatives in the country. The Federal Statistical Office is currently exploring new methodologies to measure the integration of refugees into society using data integration techniques, inspired from the IRRS. As highlighted by Jan Eberle, assistant head of the section responsible for statistics on people seeking humanitarian protection, “it was an important step to get basic demographic statistics, but it should not be the end”. Notably, measuring integration could help to inform targeted policies that improve the lives of refugees and refugee-like populations, and provide insights for other countries struggling with similar challenges.