Refugees in Germany

As stated in a report earlier this year, “wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere” (see more details and a global map series at In Europe, this has lead to a human crisis with many refugees seeking to get to the continent via sea and land. Beyond the human tragedy, the political debate has become ever more heated over who is willing to host the migrants.
Unlike the debate in the UK, where the government is more concerned about closing the borders into Britain at the most vulnerable entry point in France, Germany’s government is looking into ways how an expected 800,000 migrants can be accommodated this year. Using data from the most recent official statistics the following cartogram shows where refugees and asylum seekers are allocated in Germany showing the states (or Laender) rezised according to the absolute number of asylum seekers and refugees living there (the colours merely distinguish the different Laender and do not represent any further data):

Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Germany 2014/2015
(click for larger version)

The patterns of the distribution of asylum applicants shown in this map relate a lot to how German authorities deal with migration cases. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees outlines that “allocation to initial reception facilities depends on capacity levels at the particular time. Consideration is also given to which branch office of the Federal Office deals with the asylum-seeker’s home country. In addition, there are acceptance quotas for individual Federal Länder: this involves a percentage that each Federal Land is obliged to take, known as the “Königsteiner Schlüssel”. It is calculated each year according to the tax receipts and population numbers of the Länder.”
The rhetoric of a welcoming and tolerant Germany coincides with a number of incidents of intolerance directed at migrants especially in parts of the country that show some of the lowest relative intake of refugees as shown in the map above by the ratio of the number of refugees compared to a state’s population. Unlike in Britain, the government’s rhetoric remains positive, acknowledging that this is a global crisis which needs joint European efforts for a solution beyond building higher fences.

The picture shown in this map focuses on the national perspective of the issue. Putting this in a European or even global context leads to very different stories – some of which are harder to quantify due to difficulties in consistent ways of estimating such statistics. Two further features on this blog looked at the topic beyond the German perspective:

Addendum (21st September 2015): While this map has proven quite frequently used and seen in recent weeks, also by people who are much less familiar with this type of cartographic depiction, I felt that a few additional explanatory words might help to understand what this image shows (of which there are numerous other examples for applications on this website, often supplemented by additional commentary that helps to understand the approach used in cartogram visualisations). So here are some important key points which were raised by feedback that I have received:
(1) The above map shows uses absolute numbers in order to allow them to be compared in relative proportions to each other. An area twice as large therefore simply means that the number in the larger area is twice as big. As such, cartograms are simply geographic versions of pie charts which care less about the absolute extent of the underlying quantities. This means that this map would still look the same, even if the absolute numbers in each area are twice as big.
(2) The map uses official data from 2014 as provided by the Federal Statistical Office (see the source where it is quoted). For obvious reasons, these concluding statistics can never be entirely up to date to the current day (or even month), although I have also analysed the most recent available data at the time (which were the first six months of 2015). I have created several versions of this cartogram, one for all of 2014, one for the first six months 2015 and one for the most recent 12 months (July 2014 to June 2015). In their visual appearance, all maps look very similar, not least due to the procedure of how asylum seekers are allocated between the Federal States (see explanation above). The differences to the designated numbers by the reallocation key are so minor that they are hardly visible in the three maps I made from the statistics. I therefore decided to publish the 2014 data on this website because it covers the extent of a full year with all seasonal variation taken into account, while at the same time is not distorted by the considerably larger numbers of migrants that already showed up in the first official statistics for 2015 (which would overemphasize these numbers and relativise the statistics of the second half of 2014 accordingly). The above picture is that of a full year with all seasonal variation taken into account, while the 2015 data is still incomplete and for the first half of the year less representative. From the trends that emerged in my analysis of the whole dataset it can be assumed with quite some certainty that the proportions this year will continue to look as in the image above.
(3) The ratios of population per asylum seeker shown on top of each Bundesland also represent the 2014 data. Again, it would not provide a valid conclusive picture for 2015 if the preliminary data for the first six months was to be taken instead (and anyway it would be cartographically bad practice to show one point in time in the visual image and display different set of statistics in the text). However, it is important to understand that the rations are not what is shown in the distorted map. Relative data cannot correctly be shown in cartogram form (just as relative data would not be used in a pie chart, to use that analogy again). It makes no sense! The rations are valuable to be shown because the actual reference for this map would normally not be a conventional land area map (as shown in the inset map here to allow for a comparison with a more familiar shape of Germany), but rather a population cartogram (as the one on the bottom of this page which I published on my website in a different context). Many people are not familiar with this image and would need more context and explanation to read it as a reference, hence I chose to display a ‘normal’ map of Germany alongside the above map and add the ratios in order to understand the relation between population distribution and the allocation of asylum seekers.
(4) It is mentioned above, but some seem to have missed this point: The colours display no extra information. Colours in cartograms (as by the way in ‘normal’ maps quite frequently as well) are often used to allow for a better distinction of the different areal units (here: the federal states), usually also used in combination with an equally coloured reference map. This is what I did here. The shadings do not relate to the topic displayed in the map, and the colours are (more or less) random (with some regional differentiation in mind).
To conclude, this map is neither better or worse than others on the topic. It is a different way of displaying data and understanding quantitative data in their relational context. The data is not ancient as explained, and the map using the most recent data looks almost the same, though for reasons of objectivity and some academic due diligence I have chosen to publish the 2014 version of this map. If you don’t believe it, go to the original source, download the 2014 and 2015 (to date) data and put both in a pie chart – see? They are almost the same…that’s why I explained the so-called Königsteiner Schlüssel in the original text above, which makes the map look more or less look like it does (and will continue to do). As a matter of fact, such a map (as seen in other contexts quite frequently over the years) is not very helpful to claim that a place is ‘full’. A cartogram always shows these regions larger that have the bigger numbers, but it looks the same if the totals add up to 100, 10000 or 1000000. Any claim that ‘a country is full‘ in the context of migration is a pointless simplification of this complex issue (the built-up area in Germany was at 2.6% in 2012, 2.1% in the UK, to name only two European countries). To put these statistics into even more context, I recommend following the links of the European and global perspective of refugees and asylum seekers and follow up the links and external resources from there. Not a single image as the above but only the full picture does provide the context within which an honest debate about the issue can be led.
If you share this map (which you are more than welcome to do), please think of sharing a link to this page as a source as it will help people to read about the context (or at least having the chance to read it, though many will probably not do so). Just sharing the image is not always helpful if one wants to provide full detail and the full context that people can judge upon and discuss about. The current debate about these issues in Europe is heated enough, so that a little bit more facts could be helpful to calm everyone down again…

The content on this page has been created by Benjamin Hennig using data by the German Federal Statistical Office as published on ZEIT Online. Please contact me for further details on the terms of use.

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