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Asylum and migration in the EU: Facts and figures

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on migration flows in the EU. Movement restrictions put in place in light of the coronavirus pandemic have led to a reduction in migration, both legal and illegal, as countries have closed borders, restricted routes for legal migration and scaled back programmes to take in refugees.

However, the flaws in the EU's asylum system exposed by the arrival of more than one million asylum seekers and migrants in 2015 remain. Parliament has been working on proposals to create a fairer, more effective European asylum policy.

Below you will find all the relevant data about migration in Europe, who migrants are, what the EU is doing to get to grips with the situation, and what financial implications there have been.

Definitions: What is a refugee? What is an asylum seeker?

Asylum seekers are people who make a formal request for asylum in another country because they fear their life is at risk in their home country.

Refugees are people with a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, politics or membership of a particular social group who have been accepted and recognised as such in their host country. In the EU, the qualification directive sets guidelines for assigning international protection to those who need it.

Currently people from outside the EU must apply for protection in the first EU country they enter. Filing a claim means that they become asylum applicants (or asylum seekers). They receive refugee status or a different form of international protection only once a positive decision has been made by national authorities.

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Find out more about the causes of migration.

Asylum decisions in the EU

In the first 10 months of 2020, there were 390,000 asylum applications in the EU, 33% less than the same period of 2019. In 2018, there were 634,700 applications, significantly lower than the more than one million applications registered in 2015 and 2016.

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Particularly large declines were seen in Germany, France and Italy in the first seven months of 2020. There were fewer first-time applications from Syria (135,000 fewer than the average for 2018 and 2019, down 52%), Iraq (down 55%) and Nigeria (down 58%).

However, numbers were up in Spain and Romania, partly due to an increase in applications from South American countries, including Colombia (up 102% on the average of the previous two years) and Peru (76% higher).

A six-year low in irregular border crossings

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency collects data on illegal crossings of the EU's external borders registered by national authorities.

In 2015 and 2016, more than 2.3 million illegal crossings were detected. The total number of illegal crossings in January-November 2020 dropped to 114,300, the lowest level in the last six years and a decrease of 10% compared to the same period in 2019. Despite a 55% drop, Afghanistan remains one of the main countries of origin of people detected making an irregular border crossing, along with Syria, Tunisia and Algeria.

The Mediterranean crossing remained deadly, with 1,754 people reported dead or missing in 2020 compared to 2,095 people in 2019. Irregular arrivals via the Central Mediterranean Route (to Italy and Malta) increased by 154% in January-November 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

There were more than 34,100 such arrivals in 2020, compared to nearly 11,500 in 2019, with the majority of people arriving in Lampedusa. Arrivals in Spain, and in particular the Canary Islands, increased by 46% (35,800) in 2020 compared to 2019.

Many new arrivals originate from countries suffering from an economic downturn rather than conflict. A decline in global remittances is also likely to contribute to this trend. Until the pandemic is contained and economic recovery is underway, poor employment and healthcare prospects will remain an incentive for people to come to the EU.

What Europeans are thinking

Migration has been an EU priority for years. Several measures have been taken to manage migration flows as well as to improve the asylum system.

Even though the Eurobarometer survey from June 2019 shows that migration was the fifth biggest issue that influenced Europeans’ voting decisions for that year’s EU elections, a Parlemeter 2020 survey registered a drop in importance. It is considered as the main area of disagreement between the EU and national governments by nearly half (47%) of respondents.

The EU significantly increased its funding for migration, asylum and integration policies in the wake of the increased inflow of asylum seekers in 2015. € 22.7 billion goes to migration and border management in the EU’s budget for 2021-2027, compared with €10bn for migration and asylum in 2014-2020.

Learn more about how the EU manages migration.

Refugees in the world

Around the world, the number of people fleeing persecution, conflict and violence has reached 80 million. That is equivalent to almost every man, woman and child in Germany being forced from their homes. Children account for about 40% of the world’s refugee population.

The countries hosting the largest number of refugees are Turkey, Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda and Germany. Only 14% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developed countries.

Check out the infographic for the 2019 Eurostat figures on asylum applications in the EU as well as UNHCR figures on the number of refugees in EU countries.

Briefings 

France

UK threatens to send migrant boats back to France

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Inflatable boats used by migrants to cross the channel are seen in the harbour in Dover, Britain, September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
A migrant, rescued from the English Channel, walks holding a child in Dover, Britain, September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Britain has approved plans to turn away boats illegally carrying migrants to its shores, deepening a rift with France over how to deal with a surge of people risking their lives by trying to cross the Channel in small dinghies, write Andrew Macaskill and Richard Lough.

Hundreds of small boats have attempted the journey from France to England this year, across one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Border officials will be trained to force boats away from British waters but will deploy the new tactic only when they deem it safe, a British government official who asked not to be named said on Thursday.

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Michael Ellis, Britain's acting attorney-general, will draw up a legal basis for border officials to deploy the new strategy, the official said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin that stopping people making their way from France on small boats was her "number one priority".

Darmanin said Britain must honour both maritime law and commitments made to France, which include financial payments to help fund French maritime border patrols.

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"France will not accept any practice that goes against maritime law, nor financial blackmail," the French minister tweeted.

In a letter leaked to British media, Darmanin said forcing boats back towards the French coast would be dangerous and that "safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy".

Britain's Home Office, or interior ministry, said: "We do not routinely comment on maritime operational activity."

Charities said the plans could be illegal.

Channel Rescue, a citizen patrol group that looks for migrants arriving along the English coast, said international maritime law stipulated that ships have a clear duty to assist those in distress.

Clare Mosely, founder of the Care4Calais charity, which helps migrants, said the plan would put the lives of migrants at risk. "They're not going to want to be sent back. They absolutely could try and jump overboard," she said.

The number of migrants crossing the Channel in small dinghies has risen this year after the British and French governments clamped down on other forms of illegal entry such as hiding in the back of trucks crossing from ports in France.

The numbers trying to reach Britain in small boats - about 12,000 so far in 2021 - are tiny compared with migrant flows into countries such as Lebanon and Turkey, which host millions of refugees.

But the issue has become a rallying cry for politicians from Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party. Immigration was a central issue in the referendum decision in 2016 to leave the European Union.

France and Britain agreed in July to deploy more police and invest in detection technology to stop Channel crossings. French police have confiscated more dinghies but they say they cannot completely prevent departures. Read more.

British junior health minister Helen Whately said the government's focus was still on discouraging migrants from attempting the journey, rather than turning them back.

Britain's opposition Labour Party criticised the new approach as putting lives at risk and it said the priority should be to tackle people-smuggling gangs.

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Afghanistan

Afghanistan: United Arab Emirates send aid 24 hours a day and welcome 8,000 refugees

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The UAE has welcomed more than 8,000 Afghan refugees as the first contingent. In addition to the airlift for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, the UAE was one of the first countries to receive Afghan refugees, as their number reached more than 8,000 people as the first batch, which will be followed by other contingents. The refugees who arrived in the Emirates expressed their joy at the warm welcome and appreciate the appropriate conditions for them.

The Emirates' fourth humanitarian plane arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to provide humanitarian and health assistance to the Afghan people considering deteriorating conditions following the Taliban movement coming to power. The plane carries a variety of medical and food aid to improve the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.

This falls within the framework of the airlift, which was headed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan - Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi - Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces - to support the Afghan people. The UAE airlift continues 24 hours a day to intensify its assistance for the benefit of thousands of Afghan families, especially women, children and the elderly.

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According to the Emirates Al-Youm website, this aid is part of the UAE's established humanitarian approach to extend a hand to communities and groups in need of assistance, especially during crises. The UAE was one of the first countries in the world to send urgent humanitarian aid to Kabul after recent developments in Afghanistan and the Taliban movement came to power.

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Belarus

EU neighbours jointly rebuke Belarus for illegal migrant surge

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Polish border patrol officers guard a group of migrants who attempted to cross the border between Belarus and Poland near the village of Usnarz Gorny, Poland August 18, 2021. Grzegorz Dabrowski/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS

The leaders of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia came together on Saturday (21 August) to condemn Belarus for allowing migrants to illegally cross its borders into the European Union, write Joanna Plucinska and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk.

"All European Union member states have a duty to protect borders and to stop illegal entries," read a Polish government statement published after a videoconference of the countries' prime ministers.

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In recent weeks, Lithuania has reported a surge in illegal border crossings from Belarus and accused Minsk of flying in migrants from abroad and dispatching them into the EU.

Earlier this month, Poland accused Belarus of sending a growing number of migrants over the border in retaliation for Warsaw's decision to give refuge to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics.

Belarus officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Polish authorities have faced criticism from human rights groups for not accepting migrants, and for denying those at the border adequate medical care.

A read-out of the videoconference, circulated by the Polish Prime Minister's Chancellery, stated that all illegal migrants had been cared for appropriately.

"It's important to underline that those who did in fact cross the border are being cared for in special sites for this purpose," the statement read.

More than 30 migrants have been camping out in the forest along Poland's border with Belarus near the village of Usnarz Gorne for almost two weeks, Polish media reports say.

Poland's border guard was seen unrolling barbed wire along the border, footage from private broadcaster TVN showed.

Poland's Border Guard said in a tweet published Friday (20 August) that it had already asked Belarusian authorities three times to intervene and that Belarus said it was doing so.

Meanwhile, Poland in recent days flew in over 260 individuals fleeing Afghanistan, Polish prime minister chief of staff Michal Dworczyk told PAP news agency on Saturday.

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