Migration has once again become one of the most important issues in Europe.
Italy’s decision in June not to accept the rescue vessel Aquarius with more than 600 migrants on board attracted widespread criticism, and the issue of border controls for migrants threatened to break up the German coalition government.
So, how many people are arriving now, where are they from and what is happening to those who have arrived in the EU in previous years?
Number of arrivals has been greatly reduced
The highest number of arrivals – 1,015,078 – was recorded in 2015. More than 800,000 of them were trafficked by sea from Turkey to Greece, and the majority of them continued to travel through Europe to reach Germany and Sweden.
Since 2015, the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece has fallen dramatically, after the EU and Turkey signed an agreement to send back to Turkey migrants who do not apply for asylum or whose claim was rejected.
While the number of arrivals has dropped in Greece, the number of people arriving in Italy showed little change until 2018 when it also dropped considerably. In 2016 and 2017, 180,000 and 119,000 arrived in Italy respectively, smuggled by traffickers from North Africa and rescued at sea. In 2017, Italy received 67% of the EU’s migrant arrivals.
However, since January this year, the number of arrivals in Italy has greatly reduced, with 20,120 arriving by mid-September 2018.
In the same period, Spain received the highest number of migrants and refugees – almost 35,000 – the majority of them by sea and more than 5,300 by land to Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish enclaves in North Africa.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that routes used by human traffickers are constantly changing and are dependent on a number of factors, but the drop in numbers reaching Italy is attributed mainly to its close co-operation with the Libyan coastguard.
A total of 20,760 have arrived in Greece so far this year, bringing the total number of arrivals in the EU in 2018 to just over 76,000
Syria is still the most common country of origin of those arriving in Greece. Arrivals from Iraq and Afghanistan are also among the top countries of origin.
In Italy and Spain, arrivals from mostly African countries top the list. In Italy, the most common country of origin is Tunisia, followed by Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Spain received most of its migrants from Guinea, followed by Morocco and Mali, as well as the Ivory Coast, Syria and a number of other Sub-Saharan African countries.
Crossing the Mediterranean
The highest estimated number of dead and missing migrants in the Mediterranean – 5,096 – was recorded in 2016, despite a significant drop in migrant crossings compared with the previous year. Since then the number of deaths has fallen.
The Mediterranean crossing is becoming deadlier every year, if the number of estimated deaths is viewed as a proportion of the number of people who actually manage to reach the EU.
In 2015, there was one death in every 269 arrivals recorded. In 2016, this went up to one death in 72 arrivals and in 2017 to one in 57 arrivals.
But based on figures to mid-September 2018, the deadliest year so far has been this year, with one death for every 49 people who arrived in the EU.
That’s because in 2014 and 2015 the majority of refugees and migrants arriving in the EU entered Greece from Turkey, using a much shorter sea route, while since 2016, that has been replaced by a much longer and more dangerous route – to Italy from Libya.
Syrians top asylum seekers list
The top countries by origin of asylum seekers in the EU since 2014 are Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, all countries with recent or ongoing conflicts.
Between 2014 and 2017, a total of more than 919,000 Syrians applied for asylum in the EU.
Asylum seekers from Eritrea, Bangladesh, Somalia, Iran and a number of Sub-Saharan countries are among the top 10 countries of origin of those who have been applying for asylum in the EU since 2014.
Germany took the highest number of asylum seekers
Sharing the burden of asylum applications equally between the EU countries is once again the top issue on the EU agenda. The June EU summit, where the leaders agreed that member states should distribute asylum seekers among themselves, has not solved the issue because the redistribution will be only on a voluntary basis.
The number of first-time asylum applications reached a record level in 2016 and has fallen since.
Germany tops list for granting asylum
Each asylum application is assessed on an individual basis. The process can take many years, and those who apply for asylum are given basic housing, food, education and healthcare.
At the end of the process, asylum is granted to those who can prove they fled war and persecution, while those who do not meet the criteria are refused asylum.
The top country for successful asylum applications is Germany, followed by France, Italy, Austria and Sweden.
Failed asylum seekers
The governments of the EU countries have warned that those who do not have a legitimate asylum claim will be returned to their country of origin.
The European Commission estimated that there were more than two million people staying in the EU illegally in 2015. Hundreds of thousands of those who do not qualify for asylum have been returned since then, but there are still hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants living in the EU.
The European Commission says it does not want its migration policy to be judged on how many returns there have been and that its aim is that everyone who qualifies for asylum gets it, with people who are not eligible not coming in the first place.
Correction 30 July: The chart on successful asylum applications has been amended to include the total number of first-instance decisions.
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