European migrant crisis


The European migrant crisis,[2][3][4][5][6] also known as the refugee crisis,[7][8][9][10][11] is a period characterised by high numbers of people arriving in the European Union (EU) overseas from across the Mediterranean Sea or overland through Southeast Europe.[12][13] In total, EU countries received over 1.2 million asylum applications in 2015, two-thirds of which were made in four states (Germany, Hungary, Sweden and Austria).[14]

Map of Crisis,[lower-alpha 1] Operation Triton, Refugees at Skala Sykamias Lesvos, Protesters at "Volem acollir" ("We want to welcome"), Protesters after New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Germany

The migrant crisis was part of a pattern of increased forced migration to Europe from other continents which is said to have begun in 2014.[15] At the peak of the crisis in 2015, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) observed that the top three nationalities among over one million refugees arriving from the Mediterranean Sea were Syrian (46.7%), Afghan (20.9%) and Iraqi (9.4%).[16] Around 3600 people died crossing the Mediterranean Sea.[17] By 2019, the number of displaced arrivals to the Mediterranean had dropped to 129,663 people.[18]

Many refugees that arrived in Italy and Greece came from countries where armed conflict was ongoing (Syrian Civil War, Afghanistan War, Iraqi conflict) or which otherwise were considered to be "refugee-producing" and for whom international protection is needed. The collapse of border controls during the Second Libyan Civil War (2014–2020) abetted human smuggling through Libya, with the Libya route used by huge numbers of people.[19][20]

Terminology


The BBC used the term "migrant" to represent all the people on the move during this period in its review articles published in 2016 "Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained"[12] and 2015 "Europe migrant crisis".[2] According to the BBC, the crisis included people who had not yet applied for asylum, refugees, and economic migrants.[12]

Background


The most significant root causes of the wave of refugees entering Europe in 2015 were several interrelated wars in the Middle East, most notably the Syrian civil war and the 2014–2017 War in Iraq.

Syrian Civil War

The Syrian Civil War began as a result of Bashar al-Assad's government violent response to the Arab Spring protests of March 2011, which quickly escalated into widespread conflict as soldiers defected en masse. By May 2011, thousands of people had fled the country and the first refugee camps opened in Turkey. In March 2012, the UNHCR appointed a Regional Refugee Coordinator for Syrian Refugees, recognising the growing concerns surrounding the crisis. By March 2013, the total number of Syrian refugees reached 1,000,000,[21] the vast majority of whom were internally displaced within Syria or had fled to Turkey or Lebanon; smaller numbers had sought refuge in Iraq and Egypt.[22]

Escalation of the War in Afghanistan

Afghan refugees constitute the second-largest refugee population in the world.[23] According to the UNHCR, there are almost 2.5 million registered refugees from Afghanistan. Most of these refugees fled the region due to war and persecution. The majority have resettled in Pakistan and Iran, though it became increasingly common to migrate further west to the European Union. Afghanistan faced over 40 years of conflict dating back to the Soviet invasion in 1979. Since then, the nation faced fluctuating levels of civil war amidst unending unrest. The increase in refugee numbers has been primarily attributed to the Taliban presence within Afghanistan. Their retreat in 2001 led to nearly 6 million Afghan refugees returning to their homeland. However, after civil unrest and fighting alongside the Taliban's return, nearly 2.5 million refugees fled Afghanistan.[24]

Refugees in Europe before 2015

In 2014, the year before the 2015 refugee crisis, the European Union counted around 252,000 "irregular arrivals," especially refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia. Most crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya.[25] The EU countries that hosted the largest numbers of refugees at the end of 2014 were France (252,000), Germany (217,000), Sweden (142,000) and the United Kingdom (117,000).[26]

Means of entry into the EU


Mediterranean sea arrivals to Greece and Italy from January 2015 to September 2016, according to UNHCR data[27]
Island groups of the Aegean Sea

In all, over 1 million refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean (mostly the Aegean Sea) in 2015, three to four times more than the previous year.[28] 80% were fleeing from wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.[29] About 85% of sea arrivals were in Greece (via Turkey) and 15% in Italy (via northern Africa). The European Union's external land borders (e.g., in Greece, Bulgaria or Finland) played only a minor role.[17]

Crossing the Central Mediterranean Sea to Italy is a much longer and considerably more dangerous journey than the relatively short trip across the Aegean. As a result, this route was responsible for a large majority of migrant deaths in 2015, even though it was far less used. An estimated 2,889 died in the Central Mediterranean; 731 died in the Aegean sea.[17]

The EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) uses the terms "illegal" and "irregular" border crossings for crossings of an EU external border but not at an official border-crossing point.[30] These include people rescued at sea.[31] Because many migrants cross more than one external EU border (for instance when traveling through the Balkans from Greece to Hungary), the total number of irregular EU external border crossings is often higher than the number of irregular migrants arriving in the EU in a year. News media sometimes misrepresent these figures as given by Frontex.[25]

Turkey to Greece

Because the refugees entering Europe in 2015 were predominantly from the Middle East, the vast majority first entered the EU by crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece by boat. A number of Greek islands are less than 6 km (4 mi) from Turkey, such as Chios, Kos, Lesbos, Leros, Kastellorizo, Agathonisi, Farmakonisi, Rhodes, Samos and Symi.[32][33][34] At one point, incoming refugees on some of these islands outnumbered locals.[35] A small number of people (34,000 or 3% of the total) used Turkey's land borders with Greece or Bulgaria.[17] From Greece, most tried to make their way toward through the Balkans to Central and Northern Europe.[36] This represented a stark change to the previous year, when most refugees and migrants landed in Italy from northern Africa. In fact, in the first half of 2015, Italy was, as in previous years, the most common landing point for refugees entering the EU, especially the southern Sicilian island of Lampedusa. By June, however, Greece overtook Italy in the number of arrivals and became the starting point of a flow of refugees and migrants moving through Balkan countries to Northern European countries, particularly Germany and Sweden. By the end of 2015, about 80% of migrants had landed in Greece, compared to only 15% in Italy.[37]

Greece appealed to the European Union for assistance; the UNCHR European Director Vincent Cochetel said facilities for migrants on the Greek islands were "totally inadequate" and the islands were in "total chaos".[38] Frontex's Operation Poseidon, aimed at patrolling the Aegean Sea, was underfunded and undermanned, with only 11 coastal patrol vessels, one ship, two helicopters, two aircraft, and a budget of €18 million.[39]

A section of northeastern Croatia is believed to contain up to 60,000 unexploded land mines from the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s. Refugees were feared to be at risk of unknowingly detonating some of these minefields as they crossed the area. However, there were no reported cases of this happening in 2015 or 2016.[40]

Northern Africa to Italy

The number of people making the considerably more dangerous sea journey from northern Africa to Italy was comparatively low at around 150,000.[17] Most of the refugees and migrants taking this route came from African countries, especially Eritrea, Nigeria, and Somalia.[41] At least 2,889 people died during the journey.[17]

Other routes

A few other routes were also used by some refugees, although they were comparatively low in number. One such route was entering Finland or Norway via Russia; on a few days Arctic border stations in these countries saw several hundred "irregular" border crossings per day.[42] Norway recorded around 6,000 refugees crossing its northern border in 2015.[43] Because it is illegal to drive from Russia to Norway without a permit, and crossing on foot is prohibited, some used a legal loophole and made the crossing by bicycle.[44][45] Some observers argued that the Russian government facilitated the influx in an attempt to warn European leaders against maintaining sanctions imposed after Russia's annexation of Crimea.[42][46][47] In January 2016, a Russian border guard admitted that the Russian Federal Security Service was enabling migrants to enter Finland.[48]

Role of smugglers

Many migrants payed smugglers for advice, logistical help and transportation through Europe. Human traffickers charged illegal immigrants $1,000 to $1,500 (€901 – €1352) for the 25-minute boat ride from Bodrum, Turkey to Kos.[32] An onward journey, not necessarily relying on smugglers, to Germany was estimated to cost €3,000 – €4,000 and €10,000 – €12,000 to Britain.[49] Airplane tickets directly from Turkey to Germany or Britain would have been far cheaper and safer, but the EU requires airlines to check that passengers have a visa or are exempted from carrying one.[50]

In September 2015, Europol estimated there were 30,000 suspected migrant smugglers operating in and around Europe. By the end of 2016, this number had increased to 55,000. 63 percent of the smugglers were from Europe, 14 percent from the Middle East, 13 percent from Africa, nine percent from Asia (excluding the Middle East) and one percent from the Americas.[51]

On several occasions, unscrupulous smugglers caused the deaths of the people they were transporting, particularly by using poorly-maintained and overfilled boats and refusing to provide life jackets.[32][52] At least 3771 refugees and migrants drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015. A single shipwreck near Lampedusa in April accounted for around 800 deaths.[53] Apart from drownings, the deadliest incident occurred on 27 August 2015, when 71 people were found dead in an unventilated food truck near Vienna.[54] Eleven of the smugglers responsible were later arrested and charged with murder and homicide in Hungary.[55]

The Mafia Capitale investigation revealed that the Italian Mafia profited from the migrant crisis and exploited refugees.[56][57]

Causes of increased number of asylum seekers


Escaping from conflicts or persecution

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, most of the people who arrived in Europe in 2015 were refugees fleeing war and persecution[58] in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea: 84 percent of Mediterranean Sea arrivals in 2015 came from the world's top ten refugee-producing countries.[37] Wars fueling the migrant crisis are the Syrian Civil War, the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, the War in Somalia and the War in Darfur. Refugees from Eritrea, one of the most repressive states in the world, fled from indefinite military conscription and forced labour.[59][60]

Below are the major regions of conflict that have resulted in the increase of asylum seekers in the European region.

Asylum applications by nationality in percent / year[61]
Sort20152016
Syrian29%28%
Other26%28%
Afghanistan14%15%
Iraq10%11%
Albanian05%02%
Eritrea03%03%
Iran02%03%
Kosovo05%
Nigeria02%04%
Pakistan04%04%
Syria

Anti-government forces were supported by external governments (including the US, UK and France[62]) in an effort to topple the Syrian government via classified programs such as Timber Sycamore (begin: 2012 or 2013 end: 2017) that effectively delivered thousands of tons of weaponry to rebel groups.[63][64][65][66][67][68][69][70]

Kosovo

Migration from Kosovo occurred in phases beginning from the second half of the 20th century. The Kosovo War (February 1998-June 1999) created a wave. On 19 May 2011, Kosovo established the Ministry of Diaspora. Kosovo also established the Kosovo Diaspora Agency (KDA) to support migrants. Migrants from Kosovo newly arriving in the EU, detected but not over an official border-crossing point, was around 21,000 in 2014 and 10,000 in 2015.[71] At the same period detected illegal border crossings to the EU from Kosovo was 22,069 in 2014 and 23,793 in 2015.[72] In 2015 there was sudden surge, which Kosovo became helpless to stem.[73]

Peak of the crisis


Gradual surge in early 2015

The first half of 2015 saw around 230,000 people enter the EU. The most common points of entry were Italy and Greece.[76] From there, arrivals either applied for asylum directly or attempted to travel to other countries, especially Northern and Western European ones. For many, this involved traveling through the Balkans and re-entering the EU in Hungary or Croatia. As required by EU law, Hungary registered most of them as asylum seekers and attempted to prevent them from traveling on to other EU countries. At the same time, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán began using fear of immigration as a domestic political campaign issue[77][78] and stated his hard opposition to accepting any refugees long-term.[79]

By August 2015, Hungary housed about 150,000 refugees[80] in makeshift camps.[81] Due in part to the Hungarian government's unwelcoming stance towards refugees, squalid conditions in the camps, and their poor prospects of being allowed to stay, most had little desire to remain in Hungary.[82] Footage of police brutality in the Hungarian camps engendered a wave of pro-refugee sentiment throughout much of Europe, particularly in Germany.[83]

On August 21, 2015, the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, overwhelmed with the number of incoming asylum applications and the complexity of determining whether each applicant had previously made an application in another EU country, and faced with the reality that almost all asylum applications by Syrians were being granted anyway, began to permit asylum applications even from people who had previously applied for refugee status in another EU country. Sweden made a similar decision. Up to that point, Germany had been deporting such refugees 'back' to the first country where they had claimed asylum.[lower-alpha 2][85] Interpreting this to mean that Germany would begin accepting larger numbers of refugees, tens of thousands in Hungary and southeastern Europe began attempting to make their way towards the country.[83] Viral video footage of refugees being warmly received by German crowds also burnished the country's reputation as a welcoming one for immigrants.[86]

Germany accepts refugees stranded in Hungary

On September 1, Hungarian government closed outbound rail traffic from Budapest's Keleti station, which many refugees were using to travel to Austria and Germany.[87] Within days, a massive buildup of people had formed at the station. On September 4, several thousand set off to make the 150 km journey towards Austria on foot, at which point the Hungarian government relented and no longer tried to stop them. In an effort to force the Austrian and German governments' hands, Hungary chartered buses to the Austrian border for both those walking and those who had stayed behind at the station.[88] Unwilling to resort to violence to keep them out, and faced with a potential humanitarian crisis if the huge numbers languished in Hungary indefinitely,[83][89] Germany and Austria jointly announced on September 4 that they would allow the migrants into their borders and apply for asylum.[90][91] Across Germany, crowds formed at train stations to applaud and welcome the arrivals.[92]

Within ten days, the sudden influx had overwhelmed many of the major refugee processing and accommodation centres in Germany and the country began enacting border controls[93] and allowing people to file asylum applications directly at the Austrian border.[94] Although Austria also accepted some asylum seekers, for a time the country effectively became a distribution centre to Germany, slowing and regulating their transit into Germany and providing temporary housing, food and health care.[95] On some days, Austria took in up to Germany-bound 10,000 migrants arriving from Slovenia and Hungary.[96]

Though under pressure from conservative politicians, the German government refused to set an upper limit to the number of asylum applications it would accept, with Angela Merkel arguing that the "fundamental right to seek refuge...from the hell of war knows no limit."[97]

September–November 2015: peak of the crisis

Between September and November 2015, an estimated 550,000 people entered Germany to apply for asylum, around half the total for the entire year.[98]

Sweden took in over 160,000 refugees in 2015, more per capita than any other country in Europe (other than Turkey). Well over of these half came to Sweden in October and November.[99] Most entered Sweden by traveling through Germany and then Denmark; few wanted to apply for asylum in Denmark because of its comparatively harsh conditions for asylum seekers.[100] There were occasionally scuffles as Danish police tried to register some of the arrivals, as they were technically required to do according to EU rules.[101][102] In early September, Denmark temporarily closed rail and road border crossings with Germany.[103] After initial uncertainty surrounding the rules, Denmark allowed most of the people wishing to travel on to Sweden to do so.[104] In the five weeks following 6 September, approximately 28,800 refugees and migrants crossed the Danish borders, 3,500 of whom applied for asylum in Denmark; the rest continued to other Nordic countries.[105]

As winter set in, refugee numbers decreased, although they were still many times higher than in the previous year. In January and February 2016, over 123,000 migrants landed in Greece, compared to about 4,600 in the same period of 2015.[106]

Border closures

Many countries, especially those opposed to accepting refugees, reacted to the tens of thousands of people passing through them by closing their borders to neighboring countries. While intended to regain some measure of control, these measures often contributed to chaos as huge numbers of people repeatedly became trapped in one country or were shunted back and forth to another.

Hungary was the first to close its EU borders on September 15, 2015 with the completion of a barbed-wire fence along its border with Serbia.[107] This resulted in large numbers attempting to pass through Croatia and Slovenia instead. Croatia tried to turn back the arrivals en masse, resulting in violent clashes and military involvement. The leaders of Croatia and Hungary each blamed each other for the situation and engaged in a bitter back-and-forth about what to do about the tens of thousands of stranded people.[108] On September 18, three days after Hungary, Croatia likewise closed its border with Serbia,[109] although it initially declined to build a fence[110] (it did end up building one the following year[111]). As refugees were shunted back and forth between them, Hungarian, Croatian and Slovenian police occasionally resorted to force and pepper spray.[112] The Hungary-Serbia border remained closed for the duration of the crisis; Croatia re-opened its border to Serbia on October 19.[113]

On 13 September, Germany introduced temporary border controls on its border with Austria to regulate the inflow of people.[114] The restrictions included suspending rail travel and spot checks on automobiles.[115][116]

The following month on October 17, Hungary also closed its border with Croatia, forcing migrants to go through Slovenia instead.[117] Slovenia responded by saying it would only allow 2,500 people per day to pass through its border, stranding thousands of migrants in Croatia, Serbia and North Macedonia, while new migrants continued to add to the backlog.[118][119] In November, Slovenia began erecting temporary fences along the border to direct the flow of people to formal border crossings.[120]

In late December 2015, Slovenia erected a razor-wire fence along the Istria and Gorski Kotar sections of its border with Croatia. The WWF and locals warned that the fence would threaten endangered species that roam across the area, such as lynx and brown bears, which are protected by law in Croatia.[121][122]

Several countries, such as Hungary,[123] Slovenia[124] and Austria,[125] authorized their armies to secure their borders or repel refugees; some passed legislation specifically to give armed forces more powers.[126]

EU officials generally reacted with dismay at the border closures, warning that they undermined the mutual trust and freedom of movement that the bloc was founded on and risked returning to a pre-1990s arrangement of costly border controls and mistrust. The European Commission warned EU members against steps that contravene EU treaties and urged members like Hungary to find other ways to cope with an influx of refugees and migrants.[127]

Diplomatic incidents

In October 2015, the Slovenian government accused Croatian police of helping migrants bypass Slovene border controls and released a night time thermovision video allegedly documenting the event.[128][129]

EU-Turkey refugee return agreement

In March 2016, the European Union negotiated an agreement with Turkey to close the Greek-Turkish border. Under the terms of the deal, Turkey agreed to take back all irregular entrants into Greece from Turkey. In return, the EU would pay Turkey 6 billion euros (around 5 billion USD).[130] The agreement resulted in a steep decline of migrant arrivals in Greece; in April, Greece recorded only 2,700 irregular border crossings, a 90 percent decrease compared to the previous month.[131] This was also the first time since June 2015 that more migrants arrived in Italy than in Greece.[131]

One effect of the closure of the "Balkan route" was to drive refugees to other routes, especially across the central and eastern Mediterranean. As a result, migrant deaths due to shipwrecks began increasing again. On 16 April, a large boat sank between Libya and Italy, with as many as 500 deaths.[132] In addition, countries that had seen comparatively few refugee arrivals began recording significant numbers. In 2017, for instance, there was a 60% significant jump in the number of migrants reaching Spain.[133] Similarly, Cyprus recorded an approximately 8-fold increase in the number of arrivals between 2016 to 2017.[134][135]

In response to the increased numbers of people reaching Italian shores, Italy signed an agreement in early 2017 with the UN-recognized government of Libya, from where most migrants started their boat journeys to Italy. In return for Libya making more efforts to prevent migrants from reaching Europe, Italy provided money and training for the Libyan coast guard and for migrant detention centres in northern Libya. In August of that year, the Libyan Coast Guard began requiring NGO rescue vessels to stay at least 360 km (225 mi) from the Libyan coast unless they were given express permission to enter.[136] As a result, NGOs MSF, Save the Children and Sea Eye suspended their operations after clashes with the Libyan Coast Guard after the latter asserted its sovereignty of its waters by firing warning shots.[137] Soon afterwards, refugee arrivals in Italy dropped significantly. At the same time, the lack of rescue vessels made the crossing much more dangerous; by September 2018, one in five migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya either drowned or disappeared.[138] In 2019, the deal was renewed for a further three years.[139]

Housing conditions

After inspecting a refugee camp in Traiskirchen, Austria, in August 2015, Amnesty International noted inhabitants were receiving insufficient medical care and claimed Austria was "violating human rights".[140]

In late November, Finnish reception centers were running out of space, which forced authorities to resort to refurbished shipping containers and tents to house new asylum seekers.[141] Deputy prime minister Petteri Orpo announced that special repatriation centers would be established to house denied asylum seekers. While he stressed that these camps would not be prisons, he described the inhabitants would be under strict surveillance.[142]

Many migrants tried to enter the United Kingdom, resulting in camps of migrants around Calais where one of the Eurotunnel entrances is located. In the summer of 2015, at least nine people died in attempts to reach Britain, including falling from trains, being hit by trains, or drowning in a canal at the Eurotunnel entrance.[143] In response, a UK-financed fence was built along the A-216 highway in Calais.[144][145] At the camp near Calais, known as the Jungle, riots broke out when authorities began demolishing the illegally constructed campsite on 29 January 2015.[146] Amid the protests, which included hunger strikes, thousands of refugees living in the camp were relocated to France's "first international-standard refugee camp" at the La Liniere refugee camp in Grande-Synthe which replaced the previous Basroch refugee camp.[147]

Germany has a quota system to distribute asylum seekers among all German states, but in September 2015 the federal states, responsible for accommodation, criticised the government in Berlin for not providing enough help to them.

In Germany, which took in by far the highest number of refugees, the federal government distributes refugees among the 16 states proportionally to their tax revenue and population;[148] the states themselves are required to come up with housing solutions. In 2015, this arrangement came under strain as many states ran out of dedicated accomodation for incoming refugees.[149] Many resorted to temporarily housing refugees in tents or repurposed empty buildings. The small village of Sumte (population 102), which contained a large unused warehouse, famously took in 750 refugees.[150] Although media and some locals feared racial strife and a far-right political surge, the town remained peaceful and locals largely accepting. By 2020, most of the arrivals had moved on to bigger German cities for work or study; a small number have settled in Sumte permanently.[151]

Asylum applications by country
Country Total processed asylum applications in 2015–17[note 2]
Germany
1,404,550
France
276,340
Italy
239,455
Sweden
205,405
Austria
108,670
United Kingdom
96,825
Belgium
68,425
Netherlands
65,285
Switzerland
60,645
Greece
45,605
Norway
35,485
Finland
30,890
Denmark
29,585
Spain
25,545
Bulgaria
13,960
Hungary
12,615
Poland
8,590
Cyprus
6,490
Romania
4,680
Malta
4,035
Ireland
4,015
Czech Republic
3,825
Luxembourg
3,745
Portugal
1,915
Croatia
945
Lithuania
830
Latvia
790
Slovenia
635
Estonia
525

Source: Eurostat[152]
^ note 2: although the majority of refugees arrived in Europe in 2015,[153] many did not file asylum claims until 2016 or 2017.

Migrants at Vienna's Westbahnhof train station, 5 September 2015
Migrants in Germany, October 2015
Migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos, January 2016
A group of Syrian refugees arrive by boat from Turkey to airport area of Mytilini, Lesvos island, Greece, 13 December 2015
Migrants at the Greece–North Macedonia border near Gevgelija, 24 August 2015
Rescued male migrants are brought to southern Italian ports, 28 June 2015
Migrants in a hunger strike in front of the Budapest Keleti railway station, 3 September 2015
Migrants arrived in Lampedusa
Eritrean migrants in Messina, October 2015
Migrants in Slovenia, November 2015
Arrival of migrants in Dobova, Slovenia

EU response


Political positions

Europe needs to fulfil its humanitarian duty, helping those fleeing for their lives, and as a Christian Democrat, I want to reiterate that is not Christian rights, but human rights that Europe invented. But we also need to better secure our external borders and make sure that asylum rules are used properly and not abused.

Manfred Weber, leader of the European People's Party in the European Parliament.

Czech politician Tomio Okamura speaks at the anti-immigration rally in Prague, 17 October 2015

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, used uncharacteristically strong language addressing the refugee crisis and warned that freedom of travel and open borders among the 28 member states of the EU could be jeopardised if they did not agree on a shared response to this crisis.[154]

Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the Republicans and former French president, compared the EU migrant plan to "mending a burst pipe by spreading water round the house while leaving the leak untouched".[155] Sarkozy criticised Merkel's decision to allow tens of thousands of people to enter Germany, saying that it would attract even greater numbers of people to Europe, of which a significant part would "inevitably" end up in France due to the EU's free movement policies and the French welfare state. He also argued that the Schengen agreement on borderless travel should be replaced with a new agreement providing border checks for non-EU citizens.[156]

British Home Secretary Theresa May said that it was important to help people living in war zone regions and refugee camps, "not the ones who are strong and rich enough to come to Europe".[157]

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the EU should forge a single European policy on asylum.[158] French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stated, "There must be close cooperation between the European Commission and member states as well as candidate members."[159] Sergei Stanishev, President of the Party of European Socialists, stated:

At this moment, more people in the world are displaced by conflict than at any time since the Second World War. ... Many die on the approach to Europe – in the Mediterranean – yet others perish on European soil. ... As social democrats the principle of solidarity is the glue that keeps our family together. ... We need a permanent European mechanism for fairly distributing asylum-seekers in European member states. ... War, poverty and the stark rise in inequality are global, not local problems. As long as we do not address these causes globally, we cannot deny people the right to look for a more hopeful future in a safer environment.[160]

Attempted reforms

Distribution of refugees among EU member states

In the years preceding the refugee crisis, EU officials had made numerous attempts to coordinate refugee and immigration policies, all of which failed due to stark differences in members' openness to immigration.[161] In April 2015, several months before the massive surge in refugee arrivals, Angela Merkel had called for redistributing asylum seekers across the EU member states.[162]

In May 2015, the European Commission proposed distributing a portion of newly arrived refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Iraq (chosen because applicants from these countries had high rates of success in obtaining asylum) across EU states based on their GDP and population. Countries also had the option of not to accepting any asylum seekers and instead contributing money to support their resettlement in another country.[163] Due to objections from several countries, the idea was never implemented, as decisions by the European Commission generally require unanimity.[164] However, by September that year, the large numbers of refugees arriving in the EU put renewed pressure on leaders to pass meaningful reforms. This time the Commission proposed redistributing 120,000 refugees and forced the plan through on a highly unusual qualified majority vote rather than unanimity.

The plan proved extremely divisive; the countries that had voted against it — Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic — declared their intention to defy the decision and refuse to accept any refugees at all.[165][166] As a result, even countries voting for it questioned its feasibility.[167] Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, began using the issue in political campaigns, claiming the EU was planning to flood Hungary with immigrants.[168] The Czech Secretary for European Affairs Tomáš Prouza commented that "if two or three thousand people who do not want to be here are forced into the Czech Republic, it is fair to assume that they will leave anyway... we can't just move them here and there like a cattle." Meanwhile, western European politicians, particularly from countries with historically high refugee intakes, criticized what they saw as these member states' intransigence.[169] Some called for the EU to reduce funding for member countries that blocked burden-sharing initiatives.[170] French President Hollande declared, "those who don't share our values, those who don't even want to respect those principles, need to start asking themselves questions about their place in the European Union."[171]

In September 2017, the European Court of Justice dismissed legal actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary against the redistribution system.[172] Nevertheless, the Commission, in the face of continuing opposition by dissenting countries and in acknowledgment of their success in instrumentalizing the issue with domestic voters, abandoned the idea in 2020,[173] although several thousand refugees did ultimately end up being resettled to willing countries.[174]

Common European Asylum System (CEAS)

In 2016 the European Commission began reforming the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) which was initially designed to create a unified asylum system for the EU. In an attempt to create measures for safe and managed paths for legal migration to Europe, the European Commission created five components that sought to satisfy the minimum standards for asylum.[175]

On 13 July 2016, the European Commission introduced the proposals to finalise the CEAS' reform. The reform sought to create a just policy for asylum seekers while providing a new system that was simple and shortened. Ultimately, the reform proposal attempted to create a system that could handle normal and impacted times of migratory pressure.[176]

Reform of the Dublin regulation

The Dublin Regulation was criticised for placing too much responsibility for asylum seekers on member states on the EU's external borders (especially Italy, Greece, Croatia and Hungary), instead of sharing responsibility among EU states.[177] In June 2016, the European Commission proposed reforms to the Dublin Regulation.[178]

Centralized processing of asylum applications

One component of the European Commission's 10-point plan in April 2015, drawn up in response to a deadly shipwreck on April 19, called for the European Asylum Support Office to deploy teams in Italy and Greece to asylum applications to eliminate the need for dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossings.[179]

On 25 October 2015, the leaders of Greece and other states along Western Balkan routes to wealthier nations of Europe, including Germany, agreed to set up holding camps for 100,000 asylum seekers.[180] On 12 November 2015, it was reported that Frontex had been maintaining combined asylum seeker and deportation hotspots in Lesbos, Greece, since October.[181]

Rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea

Migrants crossing illegally into Hungary underneath the unfinished Hungary–Serbia border fence, 25 August 2015
In June 2015, Royal Navy ship HMS Enterprise replaced HMS Bulwark in the mission to rescue migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy[182]
Hungarian border barrier
Government operations

In 2014, Italy had ended Operation Mare Nostrum, a large-scale naval search-and-rescue operation to save stranded migrants in the Mediterranean, saying the costs were too large for one country alone to manage. The Italian government had requested additional funds from the EU to continue the operation but did not receive sufficient support.[183] The UK government cited fears that the operation was "an unintended 'pull factor', encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and contributing to drownings.[184] The European Border and Coast Guard Agency took over search and rescue operations throughout the Mediterranean under the name Operation Triton,[185] although its budget, equipment and mandate were far more limited than Mare Nostrum.[186][187] On 18 May 2015, the European Union launched a new operation based in Rome, named EU Navfor Med, under the command of the Italian Admiral Enrico Credendino,[188] to identify, capture and dispose of vessels used by migrant smugglers.[189] By April 2016, the operation rescued more than 13,000 migrants at sea and arrested 68 suspected smugglers.[190]

Non-governmental organizations

Non-governmental organizations often filled the vacuum when Italian or EU operations were insufficient to rescue migrant boats in the Mediterranean. Some Italian authorities feared that rather than saving lives, the NGO operations encouraged more people to use the dangerous passage facilitated by human traffickers.[191] In July 2017, Italy drew up a code of conduct for NGO rescue vessels delivering migrants to Italian ports. These rules prohibited coordinating with human traffickers via flares or radio and required vessels to permit police presence on board. More controversially, they also forbade entering the territorial waters of Libya and transferring rescued people onto other vessels, which severely limited the number of people NGOs could save.[192] The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International criticised the code of conduct and some NGOs, including Doctors Without Borders, eventually suspended rescue operations.[191] In the years following its implementation, Mediterranean Sea crossings dropped considerably, although the degree to which this was caused by the NGO code is disputed. A study conducted from 2014 to 2019 concluded that external factors like weather and the political stability of Libya contributed more to the ebbs and flows of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.[193]

In September 2016, Greek volunteers of the "Hellenic Rescue Team" and human rights activist Efi Latsoudi were awarded the Nansen Refugee Award by the UNHCR "for their tireless volunteer work" in helping refugees arrive in Greece during the 2015 refugee crisis.[194]

April 19 shipwreck

After 700 migrants drowned following a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea on April 19,[195] EU leaders called for an emergency meeting of European interior ministers.[196][197] The prime minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, called the 19 April shipwreck the "biggest human tragedy in recent years". Aydan Özoğuz, the German minister for immigration, refugees, and integration, said that emergency rescue missions in the Mediterranean should recommence as more migrants were likely to arrive as the weather turned warmer. "It was an illusion to think that cutting off Mare Nostrum would prevent people from attempting this dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean", she said.[198]

A previously scheduled routine meeting of EU foreign ministers the day after the shipwreck was dominated by refugee policy and preventing migrant deaths.[199] The same day, the European Commission published a ten-point plan to address deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, which doubled the size and budget of Operation Triton and called for capturing or destroying smuggler boats.[200] On April 23, EU leaders held an emergency summit, where they agreed to triple the budget of Operation Triton to €120 million for the year.[201] Ireland and the United Kingdom both committed patrol boats and helicopters to the rescue effort.[201][202] Amnesty International criticised the EU's response as "a face-saving not a life-saving operation" and said that "failure to extend Triton's operational area will fatally undermine today's commitment".[203] The EU sought to increase the scope of EU Navfor Med include patrols inside Libyan waters in order to capture and dispose of vessels used by smugglers there.[204][205] Land operations on Libya to destroy vessels used by smugglers had been proposed, but such an operation would have needed UN or Libyan permission.

Refugee policy in political campaigns

As southeastern European countries began seeing large numbers of refugees and migrants began moving through them, political leaders began to capitalize on the uncertainty felt by locals. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, in particular began to campaign on fear of immigration, calling refugees "Muslim invaders",[206] conflating migrants with terrorism,[207] and claiming that they were part of a "left-wing conspiracy" to gain new voters.[208] In October Czech President Miloš Zeman used similar rhetoric to campaign on opposition to refugees.[209]

The refugee crisis was a major issue in Poland's 2015 parliamentary elections, with then-opposition leader Jarosław Kaczyński in particular stoking fear of immigrants and claiming the EU was planning to flood Poland with Muslims. Under incument prime minister Ewa Kopacz, Poland had agreed to accept 2,000 refugees as part of the European Union's plan to distribute a fraction of that year's arrivals, while at the same time opposing the settlement of "economic migrants".[210] After Kaczyński's Law and Justice party won the elections, Poland rescinded its willingness to cooperate with the European Commission.[211]

In western European countries, although support for refugees was generally high,[212] far-right leaders fiercely opposed allowing the newly arrived refugees to stay. Nigel Farage, leader of the British United Kingdom Independence Party, claimed that Islamists would exploit the situation and enter Europe in large numbers.[213][214] Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, called the influx of people an "Islamic invasion" and spoke of "masses of young men in their twenties with beards singing Allahu Akbar across Europe".[215] Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front, was criticized by German media[216][217] for implying that Germany was looking to undercut minimum wage laws and hire "slaves".[218]

Tightening of asylum laws

Many countries, even those like Germany that did not set formal limits to refugee intakes, took measures to reduce migration into Europe at the height of the crisis, such as limiting family reunifications. EU leaders also quietly encouraged Balkan governments to only allow nationals from the most war-torn countries (Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq) to pass into the EU.[219]

In 2016 Sweden began issuing three-year residence permits to recognized refugees. Refugees had previously received permanent residency automatically.[220]

In December 2015, Denmark passed a law permitting police to confiscate valuables like jewelry and cash from refugees. To date, the police have only enforced the cash-seizing provision.[221]

Limits to refugee intakes

Throughout the crisis, many countries experienced public debates on whether to limit the number of asylum applications they would accept. Proponents argued that such measures were necessary because no country had the capacity to absorb unlimited numbers of refugees, and that limiting refugee inflows would give countries space to deal with the influx properly.[222][223] Opponents, most notably German chancellor Angela Merkel, argued that limiting the numbers of refugees would undermine the principle of asylum, contravene national or international laws[224] and be physically unworkable.[219] Others noted that the numbers of people arriving was small relative to most EU countries' populations. Some drew parallels to previous refugee waves, such as during World War II when many countries set limits to refugee admissions from Europe, abandoning many victims of Nazism.[225][226][227]

Nevertheless, several countries began setting upper limits to the number of asylum applications it would process per year. In January 2016, Austria announced a limit of 37,500 in each of the next four years[228] later temporarily reduced to 80 per day.[229] In 2018, Germany set a "goal" of not exceeding a net intake of 220,000 annually.[230] Germany also suspended family reunifications for beneficiaries of "subsidiary protection" from 2016 to 2018.[231] Sweden did so for all refugees from 2016 to 2019.[220]

In 2015 and following years, many governments also began formally designating certain countries "safe" in order to make it easier to deny asylum applications from and deport people from them. "Safe country lists" usually included the Balkan countries (Kosovo, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia), Georgia, Morocco and Tunisia.[232] Some also controversially listed certain parts of war-torn countries like Iraq or Afghanistan.[233]

Control of EU's external borders

A report by EU inspectors in November 2015 found that Greece failed to identify and register arrivals properly.[234] In February 2016, the EU gave Greece a three-month deadline to fix its border controls, or other member states would be authorized to extend border controls to Greece for up to two years instead of the standard six months.[235] The same month, NATO announced that it would deploy ships in the Aegean Sea to deter smugglers taking migrants from Turkey to Greece. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the mission would not be about "stopping or pushing back refugee boats", but about intelligence gathering and sharing information with Turkey and Greece, which are both NATO members.[236]

Border closures

On 14 September 2015, Austria instituted border controls and deployed the Austrian Armed Forces to its border with Hungary.[237][238] On 28 October 2015, Austria built a 91 km long fence along its border with Slovenia.[239]

In November 2015, Sweden reintroduced border controls for arrivals, including the Öresund Bridge. This did not reduce the number of asylum seekers as they had the right to apply for asylum once they were on Swedish ground. In December 2015, Sweden passed a temporary law that allowed the government to oblige all transport companies to check that their passengers carried valid photographic identification before crossing the border. The new law came into effect on 21 December 2015 and was valid until 21 December 2018.[240] It led to a mandatory train change and passage through border control at Copenhagen Airport station for travellers between Copenhagen and Sweden; service frequency was reduced.[241]

Within hours of Swedish border control becoming effective, Denmark created a border control between Denmark and Germany.[242] The migration pattern also changed with the majority of those arriving by ferry from Germany to Trelleborg instead of by train to Hyllie station,[243] which bypassed the border control between Denmark and Germany.[242] In January 2016, Sweden introduced ID checks at the Danish border to identify refugees and undocumented immigrants; in reaction, Denmark reintroduced border controls on the Danish-German border.[244] The border controls were never fully lifted before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which saw renewed border closures throughout Europe.

Slovenia established temporary controls on the otherwise unsupervised border with Hungary to the northeast on 17 September 2015, following Germany and Austria's similar actions.[245]

In 2016 the Norwegian government planned a barrier located at the Storskog border crossing.[246] It is made of steel and stands 660 feet (200 m) long and 11 feet (3.4 m) to 12 feet (3.7 m) high.[246] Norwegian officials aimed to complete the barrier before winter temperatures hardened the ground.[246]

Cyprus built a barbed wire fence on the buffer zone between Cyprus and Northern Cyprus.[247]

On 9 March 2016, Croatia again imposed border restrictions on the border with Serbia in an attempt to reinstate the Schengen rules.[248] The same day, the Hungarian government declared a state of emergency for the entire country and deployed 1500 soldiers to its borders.[249][250] Some observers considered the supposed risk of increased immigration a pretext for centralising executive power, since migrant numbers had already receded significantly by this point.[251] In August 2017 the state of emergency was extended to March 2018.[252]

In July 2016, the European parliament and Commission approved a proposal to permanently increase the funding and scope of Frontex, which until then only coordinated the coast guards and border patrols of individual EU countries, and turn it into a true EU-wide border agency and coast guard. Such a step had long been controversial because of sovereignty concerns, as it allows Frontex intervention in border countries even if they did not request it.[253]

The entry routes through the Western Balkan experienced the highest intensity of border restrictions in the 2015 EU migrant crisis, according to The New York Times[254] and other sources, and are as follows:

FromToBarrierSituation
 Turkey GreeceGreece Greece built a razor-wire fence in 2012 along its short land border with Turkey.[254] In September 2015, Turkish provincial authorities gave approximately 1,700 migrants three days to leave the border zone.[255]
 Turkey BulgariaBulgaria As a result of Greece's diversion of migrants to Bulgaria from Turkey, Bulgaria built its own fence to block migrants crossing from Turkey.[254]
 Greece North MacedoniaMacedonian In November 2015, North Macedonia began erecting a fence along its southern border with Greece to channel the flow of migrants through an official checkpoint as opposed to limiting migrant influx.[256] Beginning in November 2015, Greek police permitted only Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans to cross into North Macedonia.[257] In February, Macedonian soldiers began erecting a second fence meters away from the previous one.[258]
 Serbia HungaryHungarian Hungary built a 175-km (109-mi) razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia in 2015.[254]
 Croatia HungaryHungary Hungary built a 40-km (25-mi) razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia in 2015.[254] On 16 October 2015, Hungary announced that it would close off its border to migrants entering from Croatia.[117]
 Croatia SloveniaSlovenia Slovenia blocked transit from Croatia in September 2015[254] and pepper sprayed migrants trying to cross.[259] Although Slovenia reopened the border on 18 October 2015, it restricted crossing to 2,500 migrants per day.[119]
 Hungary Austria Austria planned to put border controls into effect along its border with Hungary in September 2015, and officials said the controls could stay in effect under European Union rules for up to six months.[254]
 Slovenia AustriaAustrian
 Russia Norway On 25 January 2016, Russia closed its northern border checkpoint with Norway for asylum seekers being return to Russia.[260] While the announcement was noted as closure of the border, it only considered returning asylum seekers and is only a partial closure of the border.
 Russia Finland On 4 December 2015, Finland temporarily closed one of its land border crossings by lowering the border gate and blocking the road with a car. The closure was only applied to asylum seekers and lasted a couple of hours.[261] On 27 December 2015, Finland closed its Russian border to cyclists and allegedly only enforced the rule at the Raja-Jooseppi [fi] and Salla checkpoints, as earlier more and more asylum seekers had crossed the border on bikes.[262]
 Austria Germany Germany placed temporary travel restrictions from Austria by rail in 2015[254] but imposed the least onerous restrictions for migrants entering by the Western Balkans route in 2015, in the context that Chancellor Angela Merkel had insisted that Germany will not limit the number of refugees it accepts.[254]

Carriers' responsibility

Article 26 of the Schengen Convention[263] states that carriers which transport people who are refused into the Schengen area shall pay for both penalties and the return of the refused people.[264] Further clauses on this topic are found in EU directive 2001/51/EC.[265] This prevented migrants without a visa from being allowed on aircraft, boats, or trains entering the Schengen Area, and caused them to resort to migrant smugglers.[266] Humanitarian visas are generally not given to refugees who want to apply for asylum.[267]

The laws on migrant smuggling forbid helping migrants pass any national border if the migrants do not have permission to enter. This has caused many airlines to check for visas and refuse passage to migrants without visas, including through international flights inside the Schengen Area. After being refused air passage, many migrants attempted to travel overland to their destination country. According to a study carried out for the European Parliament, "penalties for carriers, who assume some of the control duties of the European police services, either block asylum-seekers far from Europe's borders or force them to pay more and take greater risks to travel illegally".[268][269] It has been argued that the official policy (at least in some countries like Sweden) of free right to apply for asylum, is counteracted by this "carriers' responsibility," forcing refugees to use an illegal and dangerous route by using criminal smugglers, to exercise a right that many say should not be denied.[270]

Migration policies

Migration Partnership Framework
3rd Prague Process Ministerial Conference

The Tampere Program started in 1999 outlines the EU's policy on migration and presents a certain openness towards freedom, security, and justice.[271] It focuses on two issuesː the development of a common asylum system and the enhancement of external border controls.[271] The externalization of borders with Turkey is essentially the transfer of border controls and management to foreign countries, which are in close proximity to EU countries.[272] The EU's decision to externalize its borders puts significant pressure on non-EU countries to cooperate with EU political forces.[273]

The Migration Partnership Framework introduced in 2016 implements greater resettlement of migrants and alternative legal routes for migration.[271] Its goals align with the EU's efforts throughout the refugee crisis to deflect responsibility and legal obligations away from EU member states and onto transit and origin countries.[271][273] By directing migrant flows to third countries,[clarification needed] policies place responsibilities on third-world countries[clarification needed].[273] States with insufficient resources are legally mandated to ensure the protection of migrants' rights, including the right to asylum.[273] Destination states under border externalization strategies are responsible for rights violated outside their own territory.[273] Fundamental rights of migrants can be impacted while externalizing borders;[273] for example, child migrants are recognized to have special status under international law, though they are vulnerable to trafficking and other crimes while in transit.

Development aid

The Valletta Summit on Migration between European and African leaders was held in Valletta, Malta, on 11 and 12 November 2015 to discuss the migrant crisis. The summit resulted in the EU creating an Emergency Trust Fund to promote development in Africa, in return for African countries to help out in the crisis.[274]

Germany announced new development aid for and security partnerships with Niger, which serves as a transit countries for many migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, and Ethiopia, which hosts 750,000 refugees from other countries.[275]

Angela Merkel

Analyst Will Hutton for the British newspaper The Guardian praised Merkel's decisions on migration policies on 30 August 2015: "Angela Merkel's humane stance on migration is a lesson to us all… The German leader has stood up to be counted. Europe should rally to her side… She wants to keep Germany and Europe open, to welcome legitimate asylum seekers in common humanity, while doing her very best to stop abuse and keep the movement to manageable proportions. Which demands a European-wide response (…)".[276]

Turkey Agreement: Locating migrants to safe country

The EU proposed a plan to the Turkish government in which Turkey would take back every refugee who entered Greece (and thereby the EU) illegally; in return, the EU would accept one person into the EU who is registered as a Syrian refugee in Turkey for every Syrian sent back from Greece.[277] In November, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reportedly threatened to send the millions of refugees in Turkey to EU member states if it was left to shoulder the burden alone.[278] On 12 November 2015, at the end of the Valletta Summit in Malta, EU officials announced an agreement to offer Turkey €3 billion over two years to manage more than 2 million refugees from Syria who had sought refuge there in return for curbing migration through Turkey into the EU.[279] The €3 billion fund for Turkey was approved by the EU in February 2016.[280]

In January 2016, the Netherlands proposed a plan that the EU take in 250,000 refugees a year from Turkey in return for Turkey closure of the Aegean sea route to Greece, which Turkey rejected.[281] On 7 March 2016, the EU met with Turkey for another summit in Brussels to negotiate further solutions of the crisis. The original plan was to declare the Western Balkan route closed, but it was met with criticism from Merkel.[282] Turkey countered the offer by demanding a further €3 billion in order to help them supply aid to the 2.7 million refugees in Turkey. In addition, the Turkish government asked for their citizens to be allowed to travel freely into the Schengen area starting at the end of June 2016, as well as expedited talks of a possible accession of Turkey to the European Union.[283][284] The plan to send migrants back to Turkey was criticized on 8 March 2016 by the United Nations, which warned that it could be illegal to send the migrants back to Turkey in exchange for financial and political rewards.[285]

On 20 March 2016, an agreement between the European Union and Turkey was enacted to discourage migrants from making the dangerous sea journey from Turkey to Greece. Under its terms, migrants arriving in Greece would be sent back to Turkey if they did not apply for asylum or their claim was rejected, whilst the EU would send around 2,300 experts, including security and migration officials and translators, to Greece in order to help implement the deal.[286]

It was also agreed upon that any irregular migrants who crossed into Greece from Turkey after 20 March 2016 would be sent back to Turkey based on an individual case-by-case evaluation. Any Syrian returned to Turkey would be replaced by a Syrian resettled from Turkey to the EU; they would preferably be the individuals who did not try to enter the EU illegally in the past. Allowed migrants would not exceed a maximum of 72,000 people.[277] Turkish nationals would have access to the Schengen passport-free zone by June 2016 but would exclude non-Schengen countries such as the UK. The talks about Turkey's accession to the EU as a member began in July 2016 and $3.3 billion in aid was to be delivered to Turkey.[286][287] The talks were suspended in November 2016 after the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt.[288] A similar threat was raised as the European Parliament voted to suspend EU membership talks with Turkey in November 2016: "if you go any further," Erdoğan declared, "these border gates will be opened. Neither me nor my people will be affected by these dry threats."[289][290]

Migrants from Greece to Turkey were to be given medical checks, registered, fingerprinted, and bused to "reception and removal" centres.[291][292] before being deported to their home countries.[291] UNHCR director Vincent Cochetel claimed in August 2016 that parts of the deal were already suspended because of the post-coup absence of Turkish police at the Greek detention centres to oversee deportations.[293][294]

The UNHCR said it was not a party to the EU-Turkey deal and would not be involved in returns or detention.[295] Like the UNHCR, four aid agencies (Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children) said they would not help to implement the EU-Turkey deal because blanket expulsion of refugees contravened international law.[296]

Amnesty International said that the agreement between EU and Turkey was "madness", and that 18 March 2016 was "a dark day for Refugee Convention, Europe and humanity". Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey and EU had the same challenges, the same future, and the same destiny. Donald Tusk said that the migrants in Greece would not be sent back to dangerous areas.[297]

On 17 March 2017, Turkish interior minister Süleyman Soylu threatened to send 15,000 refugees to the European Union every month, while Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also threatened to cancel the deal.[298][299]

Refugees protesting at the Pazarkule border gate, the Greek-Turkish border

On 9 October 2019, the Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria began. Within the first week and a half 130,000 people were displaced. On 10 October it was reported that President Erdoğan had threatened to send "millions" of Syrian refugees to Europe in response to criticism of his military offensive into Kurdish-controlled northern Syria.[300] On 27 February 2020, a senior Turkish official said Turkish police, coast guard and border security officials had received orders to no longer stop refugees' land and sea crossings to Europe.[301]

Changes in Schengen & Dublin

According to the Schengen Agreement, EU members may temporarily reinstate internal border controls for a maximum of two months for "public policy or national security" reasons.[302]

Enforcing the Dublin Regulation became increasingly difficult in the late summer of 2015, with some countries allowing asylum seekers to transit through their territories, renouncing the right to return them, or reinstating border controls within the Schengen Area to prevent them from entering. In July 2017, the European Court of Justice upheld the Dublin Regulation, despite the high influx in 2015, affirmed the right of EU member states to deport migrants to their first EU country of entry.[303]

Countries responded in different ways:

  • In mid-September, Germany established temporary border controls along its border with Austria to allow for more orderly processing of incoming refugees.[304] The Czech Republic reacted by increasing its police presence along its border with Austria in anticipation of the mass of migrants in Austria trying to reach Germany through the Czech Republic.[305]
  • On 7 September, Austria began phasing out special measures that had allowed tens of thousands of migrants to cross its territory and reinstated the Dublin Regulation.[306]

Management of immigration

Expenditure on refugees (caseload) 2015–2016 (2016 summary)[307]
CountryRefugees
(Case)
Costs
in € Mil.
Share
(GDP)
ø Costs
in € per
citizen/year
Sweden179,0172,4030.54%245.27
Austria136,2081,5660.46%181.91
Germany1,301,06813,3090.44%163.48
Switzerland65,1641,1560.19%139.45
Norway33,6136450.18%124.19
Luxembourg4,263690.13%120.82
Finland37,7394470.21%81.53
Denmark27,9703930.15%69.31
Malta3,398240.28%56.36
Belgium52,7005430.13%48.08
Netherlands58,5176800.10%40.15
Italy197,7392,3590.14%38.80
Cyprus4,550360.21%30.79
Hungary114,3652930.27%29.80
Iceland850100.06%29.02
Greece57,5213130.18%28.91
France149,3321,4900.07%22.30
UK81,7511,0810.04%16.59
Bulgaria36,194950.22%13.23
EU+EFTA2,614,30627,2960.17%52.14

The table above summarizes the 1.7 million asylum applicants in 2015 cost €18 billion in maintenance costs in 2016, with the total 2015 and 2016 asylum caseload costing €27.3 billion (27.296 in € Mil.) in 2016. Sweden is observed to bear the heaviest cost.[307]

National governments' position in the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Council majority vote to relocate 120,000 refugees:
  Yes
  Abstention
  No
  Non-EU state

On 15 December 2015 the EU proposed taking over the border and coastal security operations at major migrant entry pressure points via its Frontex operation.[308]

Crime by immigrants

In the time during and immediately after the refugee crisis, crimes committed by immigrants were often widely publicised and seized upon by opponents of immigration.

During 2015, foreign fighters who had joined the Islamic state travelled with the migration flow back to Europe. In the January 2016-April 2017 period, four asylum seekers were involved in terrorist incidents, but none who had been granted refugee status. Most of the terrorist attacks in Europe in the period were carried out by citizens of European countries.[309] In 2015, Swedish authorities reported 500 cases of suspected terrorism links or war criminals to the Swedish Security Service.[310] Twenty individuals were denied asylum in Sweden in 2015 due to suspected involvement in war crimes.[310]

On November 13, 2015, a group of men consisting of both EU citizens and non-citizens detonated suicide bombs at a football stadium, fired on crowded cafes and took hostage a concert hall of 1500 people. 130 people died in the attacks.[311] Although very few of the perpetrators came to Europe as asylum seekers,[312] the event sparked a public debate on asylum policy and the need for counterterrorism measures.[313] German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel defended Germany's and the EU's refugee policy and pointed out that most migrants are fleeing terrorism.[314]

In January 2016, 18 of 31 men suspected of violent assaults on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve were identified as asylum seekers, prompting calls by German officials to deport convicted criminals who may be seeking asylum;[315] these sexual attacks brought about a new wave of anti-immigrant protests across Europe.[316] Merkel said "wir schaffen das" during the violence and crime by German immigrants, including the 2016 Munich shooting, the 2016 Ansbach bombing, and the Würzburg train attack.[317]

In 2016, the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa reported that officials from Europol conducted an investigation into the trafficking of fake documents for ISIL. They identified fake Syrian passports in the refugee camps in Greece that were for supposed members of ISIL to avoid Greek security and make their way to other parts of Europe. The chief of Europol also said that a new task force of 200 counter-terrorism officers would be deployed to the Greek islands alongside Greek border guards in order to help Greece stop a "strategic" level campaign by ISIL to infiltrate terrorists into Europe.[318]

In October 2016 Danish immigration minister Inger Støjberg reported 50 cases of suspected radicalised asylum seekers at asylum centres. The reports ranged from adult Islamic State sympathisers celebrating terror attacks to violent children who dress up as IS fighters decapitating teddy bears. Støjberg expressed her frustration at asylum seekers ostensibly fleeing war yet simultaneously supporting violence. Asylum centres that detected radicalisation routinely reported their findings to police. The 50 incidents were reported between 17 November 2015 and 14 September 2016.[319][320]

In February 2017, British newspaper The Guardian reported that ISIL was paying the smugglers fees of up to $2,000 USD to recruit people from refugee camps in Jordan and in a desperate attempt to radicalize children for the group. The reports by counter-extremism think tank Quilliam indicated that an estimated 88,300 unaccompanied children—who are reported as missing—were at risk of radicalization by ISIL.[321]

In 2016, there were reports that multiple sexual harassment incidents occurred at the We Are Sthlm festival over the course of several years.[322]

Crime against immigrants

In October, a plot by neo-Nazis to attack a refugee center with explosives, knives, a baseball bat, and a gun was foiled by German police. Nazi magazines and memorabilia from the Third Reich, flags emblazoned with banned swastikas were found. According to the prosecutor the goal was "to establish fear and terror among asylum-seekers". The accused claimed to be either the members of Die Rechte, or anti-Islam group Pegida (Nügida).[323]

In November 2016, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor issued a report in regards to the humanitarian situation of migrants into Greece. It hosted 16,209 migrants on its island and 33,650 migrants on the mainland, most of whom were women and children. Because of the lack of water, medical care and security protection witnessed by the Euro- Med monitor team- especially with the arrival of winter, they were at risk of serious health deterioration. 1,500 refugees were moved into other places since their camps were deluged with snow, but relocation of the refugees always came too late after they lived without electricity and heating devices for too long. It showed that there was a lack of access to legal services and protection for the refugees and migrants in the camps; there was no trust between the residents and the protection offices. In addition, migrants were subject to regular xenophobic attacks, fascist violence, forced strip searches at the hands of residents and police, and detention. Women living in the Athens settlements and the Vasilika, Softex and Diavata camps felt worried about their children as they may be subjected to sexual abuse, trafficking and drug use. As a result, some of the refugees and migrants committed suicide, burned property and protested. The report clarified the difficulties the refugees face when entering into Greece; more than 16,000 people were trapped while awaiting deportation on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, which is twice the capacity of the five islands.[324]

In November 2016, German security officials cracked down on a militant salafist organisation calling itself Die Wahre Religion, which had been targeting newly arrived refugees.[325]

Years later, reports of Croatian police sexually abusing and torturing refugees passing through the country, widely reported by victims but denied by the government, were documented by video.[326] European Commission officials were also later implicated in covering up the abuse.[327]

Support systems by local communities and NGOs

There are a number of support systems that aid the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in their host country. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, working with partners, is providing a broad range of support and assistance in Europe for refugees and asylum-seekers. These efforts include humanitarian and cash assistance, provision of accommodation and support to improve reception conditions, prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence, protection monitoring and interventions, engaging with refugee communities to enhance their participation and including their voice in their voice in the response, identification and support to persons with specific needs, including separated and unaccompanied children, and referral to appropriate services.[328] The Voice of Young Refugees in Europe[329] provide a support and educational network for young refugees. Many refugees arrive in Europe with a great diversity of skills, experience and specialisations that could make tangible contributions to the EU workforce. In the UK, the Refugee Council organisation provides support and advice to refugees and asylum seekers. The Building Bridges Partnership in the UK was set up to support refugee health professionals re-qualify in the UK. Other organisations include Transitions, a social enterprise that provides advice and helps refugees find placements depending on their qualifications and skills.

There were also various humanitarian and non-governmental organisations, mostly from Slovenia, Croatia and Austria, aiding the migrants on the border.[330]

Demographics

Countries of origin of asylum applicants (1 January – 30 June 2015), Distribution of refugees and asylum seekers at 2015[331] Nationalities of the Mediterranean sea arrivals in 2015,[27] Map of migrants' routes, Syrian refugees as of August 2015[332]

Over 75% of asylum seekers arriving in Europe in 2015 were fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.[333] Other significant countries of origin were Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan and Eritrea.[12]

Around half of asylum applications were made by young adults between 18 and 34 years of age; 96,000 reguees were unaccompanied minors. Around three-quarters of applications were by men.[334] The gender imbalance among refugees reaching Europe has multiple related causes, most significantly the dangerous and expensive nature of the journey. Men with families often travel to Europe with the intent of applying for family reunification once their asylum request is granted.[335] In addition, in many countries, such as Syria, men are at greater risk of being forcibly conscripted or killed.[336]

Developing countries hosted the largest share of refugees (86 percent by the end of 2014, the highest figure in more than two decades); the least developed countries alone provided asylum to 25 percent of refugees worldwide.[26] Even though most Syrian refugees were hosted by neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the number of asylum applications lodged by Syrian refugees in Europe steadily increased between 2011 and 2015, totaling 813,599 in 37 European countries (including both EU members and non-members) as of November 2015; 57 percent of them applied for asylum in Germany or Serbia.[337]

Economic migrants

Migrants from the Western Balkans (Kosovo, Albania, Serbia) and parts of West Africa (The Gambia, Nigeria) were more likely to be economic migrants, who were fleeing poverty and job scarcity.[338][339] The majority of asylum applicants from Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro are Roma people who felt discriminated against in their countries of origin.[340]

Some argue that migrants have been seeking to settle preferentially in national destinations that offer more generous social welfare benefits and host more established Middle Eastern and African immigrant communities. Others argue that migrants are attracted to more tolerant societies with stronger economies, and that the chief motivation for leaving Turkey is that they are not permitted to leave camps or work.[341] A large number of refugees in Turkey have been faced with difficult living circumstances;[342] thus, many refugees arriving in southern Europe continue their journey in attempts to reach northern European countries such as Germany, which are observed as having more prominent outcomes of security.[343] In contrast to Germany, France's popularity eroded in 2015 among migrants seeking asylum after being historically considered a popular final destination for the EU migrants.[344][345]

The influx from states like Nigeria and Pakistan is a mix of economic migrants and refugees fleeing from violence and war such as the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria and the War in North-West Pakistan.[59][346][347]

Public opinion


Perspectives of refugees and asylum seekers

British Somali poet Warsan Shire's poem 'Home' has become a popular depiction of the refugee experience amongst refugees and asylum seekers, particularly the line “You have to understand...no one puts their children in a boat, unless the water is safer than the land.”[348][349]

Death of Alan Kurdi

Images of the body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy named Alan Kurdi (after he drowned on 2 September 2015) are widely believed to have shifted public opinion on the 'European migrant crisis' as well as the opinions of world leaders.[350][351] Kurdi and his family were Syrian refugees, and 3-year-old Alan died alongside his brother and mother – only his father survived the journey, telling CNN "[e]verything I was dreaming of is gone. I want to bury my children and sit beside them until I die."[351] Kurdi's body was photographed by Turkish journalist Nilüfer Demir.

Pro and anti-immigration protests

(pro) 12 September 2015 Vienna; (anti) 2015 Poland; (anti) 12 September 2015 Czech Republic; (pro) 6 December 2018 Finland; (pro) 12 September 2015 Czech Republic;

Pegida, a pan-European far-right political movement founded in 2014 on opposition to immigration from Muslim countries, experienced a resurgence during the refugee crisis, especially in eastern Germany. The movement claimed that "Western civilisation could soon come to an end through Islam conquering Europe".[352] In the United Kingdom, members of the far-right anti-immigration group Britain First organised protest marches.[353] An analysis by Hope not Hate, an anti-racist advocacy group, identified 24 different British groups attempting to whip up mistrust of Muslims and provoke a "cultural civil war", including the UK chapter of Pegida and the political party Liberty GB.[354]

White-nationalist conspiracy theories predicting a Muslim takeover of Europe gained wider prominence during and after the refugee crisis.[355] A theory known as Eurabia, which claims that globalist entities led by French and Arab powers are plotting to "islamise" and "arabise" Europe, was propagated widely in far-right circles.[356] Many groups also circulated a similar conspiracy theory called the "Great Replacement".[357]

Other notable anti-immigration protests in the aftermath of 2015, some of which escalated to riots, included:

Notable pro-refugee or pro-immigration protests in response to the refugee crisis included:

  • September 12, 2015: "day of action" in several European cities in support of refugees and migrants, several 10,000 participants.[363] On the same day, anti-immigration rallies took place in some eastern European countries.[363]

Surveys on immigration

A study by Pew Research Center suggested widespread anxiety over the refugee crisis and immigration in general, particularly about effects on the labour market, crime, and difficulty integrating the newcomers. The study also revealed insecurities about weakening national identities when taking in people from other cultures.[365]

Muslim immigration

The debate on the Muslim immigrants moved into the center of European discourse. Muslim immigration presented as a cultural threat to the future of Europe, using the argument "Muslim immigration is an incompatible ontological category predicated on culture [they don't share our values!]."[366] Public discourse [across Western Europe] concentrated on Muslims and Islam with a wide spectrum claim that Islam is incompatible with the values of Europe.[367] EU states such as Slovakia have openly rejected to accept the refugees either because they do not want the Brussels to impose immigration policies and/or because they simply do not want Muslims or non-Europeans in their communities.[368] A study released by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found out that almost 40% of Muslims (focused on first- and second-generation immigrants) surveyed reported discrimination in their daily life.[369]

A study published in 2016 by Royal Institute of International Affairs surveyed 10,000 people in ten European states found that 55% agreed with the statement that ‘all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped’, with the strongest support for this sentiment coming from Austria, Poland, Hungary, France and Belgium[370]

TNS Gallup for Berlingske found out that two out of three (64%) Danes want to restrict immigration from Muslim countries.[373]

The public perception of the migrant crisis from the Hungarian point of view characterized as anti-immigration since 2015. Muslim immigrants are perceived as a symbolic threat to the dominant—mostly Christian—Western culture and [specifically in the Hungarian context] asylum seekers with a Christian background are more welcomed than those with a Muslim background.[374]

Brexit

The 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum took place on 23 June 2016. The UK voted to leave the European Union by 51.89% to 48.11% for Remain. According to opinion polls, the motivation for leaving the EU was a belief that doing so would be "more likely to bring about a better immigration system, improved border controls, a fairer welfare system, better quality of life, and the ability to control our own laws."[375] In the same poll, 33% of the public stated that leaving the EU "offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders".[375]

The migration crisis was one of the defining issues in the Leave campaign. Whilst Vote Leave argued that the UK should leave the EU for predominantly economic reasons, the arguments of Leave.EU were based upon controlling immigration. This gave a sharper focus to the slogan “taking back control” solidifying opposition to the EU and European human rights law, as both were perceived as a barrier to immigration control. The crisis created the image of a Union unable to handle the situation, and "Leave" campaigners noted Turkey's application to join the EU thus raising the prospect of Turkish citizens gaining freedom of movement.[376]

Theresa May, then Home Secretary, declared that Britain should withdraw from the European convention on human rights (ECHR) irrespective of the EU referendum result. Addressing an audience at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, she staked out her position. Although she was against Brexit as a method of regulating immigration, she was supportive of the UK being able to control its own policy regarding refugees:

"The ECHR can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals—and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights . . . it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court."

Home Secretary, Theresa May[377]

Statistics

2020

In late September 2020, Cyprus authorities were reported to have abandoned 200 migrant workers at sea without fuel and food. The migrants alleged that their asylum claims were ignored and were instead beaten in some cases by the Greek Cypriot marine police officers. The United Nations peacekeepers reported that during their rescue in Lebanon, at least 13 people had either died or been lost at sea.[378]

Asylum applications

EU28 Asylum applicants by origin
Origin 201420152016
Syria
122,120
362,775
339,245
Afghanistan
41,370
178,230
186,605
Iraq
21,290
121,535
130,100
Pakistan
22,130
46,400
49,915
Nigeria
19,970
29,915
47,775
Iran
10,865
25,360
41,395
Eritrea
36,930
33,095
34,470
Albania
16,815
65,935
32,465
Russia
19,810
18,385
27,605
Unknown
0
0
20,730
Somalia
16,475
19,575
20,060
Bangladesh
0
17,695
17,245
Gambia
0
12,205
16,030
Guinea
6,390
5,480
14,045
Serbia
30,840
19,090
13,185
Ukraine
14,055
20,830
12,490
Algeria
6,700
7,620
11,925
Morocco
0
5,430
11,805
Kosovo
37,900
55,885
11,680
Cote d'Ivoire
0
5,575
11,380
Sudan
6,230
10,910
11,370
Turkey
5,155
0
11,055
Stateless
0
18,940
10,720
Rest of the world
0
104,170
177,615

Source: ASYLUM APPLICATIONS IN THE EU28[379]
Source: Aurostat statistics explained[380]
Source: Eurostat, série migr_asyappctza

2014

According to Eurostat, EU member states received 626,065 asylum applications in 2014, the highest number since the 672,000 applications received in 1992. The main countries of origin of asylum seekers, accounting for almost half of the total, were Syria (20 percent), Afghanistan (7 percent), Kosovo (6 percent), Eritrea (6 percent) and Albania.[381]

In 2014, the rate of recognition of asylum applicants was 45 percent at the first instance and 18 percent on appeal. The main beneficiaries of protection status, accounting for more than half of the total, were Syrians (68,300, 37 percent), Eritreans (14,600, 8 percent) and Afghans (14,100, 8 percent).[382]

Four countries – Germany, Sweden, Italy and France – received around two-thirds of the EU's asylum applications and granted almost two-thirds of the applicants protection status in 2014. Sweden, Hungary and Austria were among the top recipients of EU asylum applications per capita, when adjusted for their own populations, with 8.4 asylum seekers per 1,000 inhabitants in Sweden, 4.3 in Hungary, and 3.2 in Austria.[383][384][385]

2015

In 2015, EU member states received 1,255,640 first-time asylum applications, more than double that of the previous year. The highest number of first-time applicants was registered in Germany (with 441,800 applicants, or 35 percent of all applicants in EU states), followed by Hungary (174,400, 14 percent), Sweden (156,100, 12 percent), Austria (85,500, 7 percent), Italy (83,200, 7 percent) and France (70,600, 6 percent). Compared with the population, the highest number was registered in Hungary (with 17.7 asylum seekers per 1,000 inhabitants), Sweden (16), Austria (10), Finland (5.9), and Germany (5.4). The three main countries of citizenship of asylum applicants, accounting for more than half of the total, were Syria (362,800 or 29 percent), Afghanistan (178,200, 14 percent), and Iraq (121,500, 10 percent), followed by Kosovo (5 percent), Albania (5 percent), Pakistan (4 percent), Eritrea (3 percent), Nigeria (2 percent), and Iran (2 percent).[14]

Number of first time asylum applications received by the top ten recipients in the EU-28, January–December 2015. The top ten recipients account for more than 90 percent of the asylum applications received in the EU-28.[386]

333,350 asylum applicants were granted protection in the EU in 2015 after their asylum applications were accepted. The main beneficiaries of protection status were citizens of Syria (50 percent of persons granted protection in the EU), Eritrea (8 percent), Iraq (7 percent), Afghanistan (5 percent), Iran (2 percent), Somalia (2 percent) and Pakistan (2 percent). The EU countries who granted protection to the highest number of asylum seekers were Germany (who granted protection to 148,200 people), Sweden (34,500), Italy (29,600) and France (26,000). The rate of recognitionthe share of positive decisions in the total number of decisionswas 52 percent for first-instance decisions in the EU and 14 percent for decisions on appeal. The citizenships with the highest recognition rates at first instance were Syria (97.2 percent), Eritrea (89.8 percent), Iraq (85.7 percent), Afghanistan (67 percent), Iran (64.7 percent), Somalia (63.1 percent) and Sudan (56 percent).[387]

From January to March 2015, the number of new asylum applicants in the EU was 184,800, an 86 percent increase when compared with the same quarter in the previous year. More than half applied for asylum in Germany (40 percent) or Hungary (18 percent). The main nationalities of the applicants were Kosovo (48,875 or 26 percent), Syria (29,100 or 16 percent), and Afghanistan (12,910 or 7 percent).[388] In the second quarter of 2015, 213,200 people applied for asylum in the EU, a 15 percent increase compared with the previous quarter. 38 percent applied for asylum in Germany, followed by Hungary (15 percent) and Austria (8 percent). The main countries of citizenship of asylum seekers, accounting for more than half of the total, were Syria (21 percent), Afghanistan (13 percent), Albania (8 percent), Iraq (6 percent), and Kosovo (5 percent).[389] From July to September 2015, EU countries received 413,800 first-time asylum applications, almost double the number registered from April to June 2015. Germany and Hungary were the top recipients, with 26 percent each of total applicants. One-third of asylum seekers were Syrians (33 percent), followed by Afghans (14 percent), and Iraqis (11 percent).[390] In the fourth quarter of 2015, there were 426,000 first-time applicants, mainly Syrians (145,130), Afghans (79,255), and Iraqis (53,585). The top recipients were Germany (38 percent), Sweden (21 percent), and Austria (7 percent).[391]

In August 2015, the German government announced that it expected to receive 800,000 asylum applications by the end of the year.[392] Data released by Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) in January 2016 showed that Germany received 476,649 asylum applications in 2015, mainly from Syrians (162,510), Albanians (54,762), Kosovars (37,095), Afghans (31,902), Iraqis (31,379), Serbians (26,945), Macedonians (14,131), Eritreans (10,990), and Pakistanis (8,472). In 2015, Germany made 282,762 decisions on asylum applications; the overall asylum recognition rate was 49.8 percent (140,915 applicants were granted protection). The most successful applicants were Syrians (101,419 positive decisions; 96% recognition rate), Eritreans (9,300 positive decisions; 92.1% recognition rate) and Iraqis (14,880 positive decisions; 88.6% recognition rate).[393][394]

Border crossings

Migrants along the Western Balkan route crossing from Serbia into Hungary, 24 August 2015

Frontex tracks and publishes data on numbers of crossings along the main six routes twice a year. The following table shows the data for the period up to and including the year 2016:

Main migration routes into the European Union Border crossings (land and sea)
2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Western African route 31,600 12,500 9,200 2,250 200 340 170 250 275 874 671
Western Mediterranean route N/A N/A 6,500 6,650 5,000 8,450 6,400 6,800 7,840 7,164 10,231
Central Mediterranean route N/A N/A 39,800 11,000 4,500 64,300 15,900 40,000 170,760 153,946 181,459
Apulia and Calabria route N/A N/A N/A 807 2,788 5,259 4,772 5,000
Circular Albania–Greece route N/A N/A 42,000 40,000 35,300 5,300 5,500 8,700 8,840 8,932 5,121
Western Balkan route N/A N/A N/A 3,090 2,370 4,650 6,390 19,950 43,360 764,038 130,261
Eastern Mediterranean route N/A N/A 52,300 40,000 55,700 57,000 37,200 24,800 50,830 885,386 182,277
Eastern Borders route N/A N/A 1,335 1,050 1,050 1,050 1,600 1,300 1,270 1,920 1,349
Totals N/A N/A N/A 104,847 106,908 146,349 77,932 106,800 283,175 1,822,260 500,248
Source: Frontex

International reactions


The United Nations predicted that 1,000,000 migrants would reach Europe by 2016[395] and on 25 September 2015 warned that worsening conditions in Iraq would produce more migrants.[396]

In September 2015, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg identified "a need for immediate measures, border, migrant, the discussion about quotas, so on – this is [sic] civilian issues, addressed by the European Union."[397] Czech Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said in reaction, "According to the NATO chief, the problem of refugees is a problem of the EU and the border protection and the fight against people smugglers is in the power of particular EU member states."[398]

The Russian Federation released an official statement on 2 September 2015 reporting that the United Nations Security Council was working on a draft resolution to address the European migrant crisis, likely by permitting the inspection of suspected migrant ships.[399]

The International Organization for Migration claimed that deaths at sea increased ninefold after the end of Operation Mare Nostrum.[400] Amnesty International condemned European governments for "negligence towards the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean" which they say led to an increase in deaths at sea.

In April 2015, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticised the funding of search and rescue operations. Amnesty International said that the EU was "turning its back on its responsibilities and clearly threatening thousands of lives".[401][402]

Australian PM Tony Abbott said the tragedies were "worsened by Europe's refusal to learn from its own mistakes and from the efforts of others who have handled similar problems. Destroying the criminal people-smugglers was the centre of gravity of our border control policies, and judicious boat turnbacks was the key."[403]

In July 2013, Pope Francis visited the island of Lampedusa on his first official visit outside of Rome. He prayed for both living and dead migrants and denounced their traffickers.[404] He expressed his concern about the loss of life and urged EU leaders to "act decisively and quickly to stop these tragedies from recurring".[405]

Lebanon's Education Minister Elias Bou Saab told British Prime Minister David Cameron that "as many as 2% of the refugees could be jihadis [sic] belonging to ISIS".[406]

Former U.S. President Barack Obama praised Germany for taking a leading role in accepting refugees.[407] During his April 2016 visit to Germany, Obama praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel for being on "the right side of history" with her open-border immigration policy.[408]

In a report released in January 2016, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounced the EU response to the refugee crisis in 2015 and said that policies of deterrence and a chaotic response to the humanitarian needs of those who fled actively worsened the conditions of refugees and migrants and created a "policy-made humanitarian crisis". According to MSF, obstacles placed by EU governments included "not providing any alternative to a deadly sea crossing, erecting razor wire fences, continuously changing administrative and registration procedures, committing acts of violence at sea and at land borders and providing completely inadequate reception conditions in Italy and Greece".[409]

In March 2016, NATO General Philip Breedlove stated, "Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve. .. These indiscriminate weapons used by both Bashar al-Assad, and the non-precision use of weapons by the Russian forces – I can't find any other reason for them other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else's problem."[410] He also claimed that criminals, extremists and fighters were hiding in the flow of migrants.[411]

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said: "It's quite simply stupid to open Europe's doors wide and invite in everyone who wants to come to your country. European migration policy is a total failure, all that is absolutely frightening."[412]

In June 2016, exiled Cuban journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner suggested that France could establish a refugee state in French Guiana.[413]

On 18 June 2016, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon also called for international support and praised Greece for showing "remarkable solidarity and compassion" towards refugees.[414][415] The lack of action of UNESCO in this area was the subject of controversy. Some scholars, like António Silva,[416] blamed UNESCO for not denouncing racism against war refugees in Europe with the same vigor as the vandalism against ancient monuments perpetrated by fundamentalists in the Middle East. They also accuse the organization of contributing to the emerging process of fetishization of the cultural heritage, forgetting that it should be used primarily as an instrument in the fight against racism, as openly declared the authors of the constitutive charter of the institution in 1945.[citation needed]

On 23 March 2020, UN Special Rapporteur Felipe González warned Greece to end the violation of the rights of asylum seekers at the Turkey-Greece border. González also demanded that Greece improve measures to protect asylum seekers. Asylum seekers who succeeded in crossing the border were allegedly detained and searched, with all material possessions confiscated before being sent back to Turkey. The report noted that manhandling of the migrants resulted in deaths and serious injuries in the past.[417][418]

On 23 September 2020, The European Commission presented its “New Pact on Migration and Asylum” – a series of legislative proposals on the EU’s approach to migration and asylum. The Commission’s proposals include possible screening at external borders and an alternative solidarity mechanism that offers States not willing to relocate asylum-seekers the option of contributing in other ways, such as managing the return of people denied asylum or funding reception centres in frontline states. The proposal also outlines a more coordinated approach to search-and-rescue at sea that would involve relocating those rescued to other States and ruling out the criminalization of NGO rescue vessels.[419]

Libya

According to Reuters, most Libyan migrants departed in vessels operated by people smugglers.[137]

Aftermath


Effects on politics

The refugee crisis polarized European society. In Western Europe, large majorities supported accepting refugees fleeing violence and war, while Eastern Europeans were generally more ambivalent. At the same time, however, large majorities also disapproved of the EU's handling of the refugee wave.[212]

Germany's acceptance of over 1 million asylum seekers was controversial both within Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union party and among the general public.[420] Pegida, an anti-immigration protest movement flourished briefly in late 2014, followed by a new wave of anti-immigration protests in the late summer of 2015. Many members of parliament for the CDU voiced dissatisfaction with Merkel. Horst Seehofer, then premier of Bavaria, became a prominent critic within the CDU of Merkel's refugee policy[421] and alleged that as many as 30 percent of Germany's asylum seekers claiming to be from Syria are in fact from other countries.[422] Meanwhile, Yasmin Fahimi, secretary-general of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), the junior partner of the ruling coalition, praised Merkel's policy allowing migrants in Hungary to enter Germany as "a strong signal of humanity to show that Europe's values are valid also in difficult times".[423] In the 2017 German federal election, the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained 12% of the vote, which was attributed in part to anxieties around immigration.[424]

Integration of refugees

While figures specifically for refugees are often not available, they tend to be disproportionately unemployed compared to the local population, especially in the years immediately following their resettlement. As a whole, it takes refugees an average of 20 years to fully "catch up" to locals. However, considerable differences exist with respect to both host countries and countries of origin. In the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, for instance, the gap is much larger than in Germany and the UK.[425]

Rejected asylum seekers

People whose asylum applications are generally required to return to their home countries. Some do so voluntarily; others are deported. However, deportation is often difficult in practice; a common reason is lacking travel documents or the person's country of origin refusing to accept returnees.[426] The annual rate of return has generally averaged around one-third.[427] In some countries that took in large numbers of asylum seekers, this has resulted in tens of thousands of people not having legal residency rights, raising worries of institutionalised poverty and the creation of parallel societies.[428] The years following the 2015 refugee crisis saw some European countries enact legislation to speed up deportations.[429] The EU began threatening to withhold development aid from or impose visa restrictions on countries refusing to take in their own citizens.

For a variety of reasons, some also ended up being permitted to stay. Some countries, such as Germany and Sweden allow rejected asylum seekers to apply for certain other visas (e.g., to pursue vocational training if they have secured an apprenticeship).[430]

Post-traumatic stress

Refugees, who have often fled violence their home countries and experienced further violence during their journey, often have high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[431] In 2016 in Sweden, 30% of Syrian refugees were estimated to suffer from PTSD, depression, and anxiety.[432] In 2020, a study of physically healthy young refugees in Germany identified 40% as having risk factors for PTSD.[433] Long asylum claim processing times, during which refugees cannot work or travel and contemplate being sent back to their home country, often compound poor mental health.[434] Although asylum applications are in principle supposed to be processed within six months on average, many countries that took in significantly more refugees than in previous years took considerably longer - in many cases over year and sometimes up to two.[435]

In Germany, refugees do not have access to non-acute medical care, including therapy mental health treatments, until they have lived in the country for at least 15 months. Language barriers also often make therapy particularly difficult.[436]

Press coverage


In a report ordered by UNHCR and authored by the Cardiff School of Journalism, an analysis was done on media reports in five European countries: Spain, Italy, United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. From 2014 to the early months of 2015, UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations launched a series of large media advocacy exercises. Significant discrepancies were noted in the response to the campaign in other media for the same period. Differences included:

  • The kind of sources journalists used for their articles, such as domestic or foreign politicians, citizens or NGOs.
  • The language used: Germany and Sweden overwhelmingly used terms refugee or asylum seeker while Italy and UK preferred the term migrant. In Spain, the dominant term was immigrant.
  • The reasons given for the increase in refugee flows.
  • Suggested solutions.
  • The predominant themes: threats to welfare systems and cultural threats were most prevalent in Italy, Spain, and Britain while humanitarian themes were more frequent in Italian coverage.
  • Overall the Swedish press was most positive towards the arrivals, while UK press was both the most negative and the most polarised.[437]

Press coverage of German migration policies

Analyst Naina Bajekal for the United States' magazine Time in September 2015 suggested that the German decision to allow Syrian refugees to apply for asylum in Germany even if they had reached Germany through other EU member states in August 2015, led to increased numbers of refugees from Syria and other regions – Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Ukraine, Congo, South Sudan etc. – endeavouring to reach (Western) Europe.[438]

In March 2016, the UK's Daily Telegraph said that Merkel's 2015 decisions concerning migration represented an "open door policy", which it claimed was "encouraging migration into Europe that her own country is unwilling to absorb" and as damaging the EU, "perhaps terminally".[439]

See also


Notes


  1. Data for the rest of the year 2015 can be found in the Eurostat Asylum quarterly report.[1]
  2. The Dublin regulation in force at the time stated that only the country in which a given person first made an asylum application is responsible for that person's asylum process; the asylum seeker was generally not allowed to file a second asylum claim in another country. The Dublin regulation contained a "sovereignty clause" allowing countries to voluntarily accept asylum applications from people who had already made claims elsewhere, which Germany temporarily activated for Syrians on August 21, 2015.[84]

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Further reading