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Asylum and migration in the EU: Facts and figures

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The arrival of more than one million asylum seekers and migrants to Europe in 2015 exposed serious flaws in the EU’s asylum system. To respond to the migrant crisis, Parliament has been working on proposals to create a fairer, more effective European asylum policy.

Below you will find all the relevant data about the migrant crisis 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.

Asylum decisions in the EU

In 2018, there were 634,700 applications for international protection in the EU plus Norway and Switzerland. This compares with 728,470 applications in 2017 and almost 1.3 million in 2016.


Also in 2018, EU countries granted protection to almost 333,400 asylum seekers, down by almost 40% on 2017. Almost one in three (29%) of these were from Syria while Afghanistan (16%) and Iraq (7%) rounded up the top three. Of the 96,100 Syrian citizens granted international protection in the EU, almost 70% received it in Germany.

Situation in the Mediterranean

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. In 2018, the total number of illegal border-crossings into the EU dropped to 150,114, its lowest level in five years and 92% below the peak of the migratory crisis in 2015.

One person can go through a border more than once, so the number of people coming to Europe is lower, nevertheless, member states have been under significant pressure.

In 2018, 471,155 people were denied entry at the EU’s external borders. As of 18 June, more than 24,000 people have risked their lives reaching Europe by sea so far in 2019, with more than 550 feared to have drowned. 116,647 people reached Europe by sea in 2018, compared to over one million in 2015. The Mediterranean crossing remained deadly however, with 2,277 dead or missing in 2018, compared to 3,139 a year earlier.


Migrants illegally present in the EU

In 2015, 2.2 million people were found to be illegally present in the EU. By 2018, the number had dropped to just over 600,000. “Being illegally present” can mean a person failed to register properly or left the member state responsible for processing their asylum claim. This is not, on its own, grounds for sending them away from the EU.

What Europeans are thinking

Migration has been an EU priority for years. Several measures have been taken to manage the crisis as well as to improve the asylum system. According to the results of a Eurobarometer poll released in May 2018, 72% of Europeans want the EU to do more when it comes to immigration.

The EU significantly increased its funding for migration, asylum and integration policies in the wake of the increased inflow of asylum seekers in 2015. In the forthcoming negotiations on the EU’s post-2020 budget, Parliament will call for additional funding for migration.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, an average of 37,000 people were forced to flee their homes every day in 2018. The countries hosting the largest number of refugees are Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda, Sudan and Germany. Only 16% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developed countries.

Around the world, the number of people fleeing persecution, conflict and violence has reached 70 million for the first time ever. That is equivalent to every man, woman and child in the UK and Ireland being forced from their homes. Children account for about half of the world’s refugee population.

EU Politics

European Agenda on Migration four years on

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Ahead of the October European Council, the Commission is today reporting on key progress under the European Agenda on Migration since 2015, with focus on steps taken by the EU since the last progress report in March 2019. The Commission also set out those areas where work must continue to address current and future migration challenges.

High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini said: “Over the past years we have built an EU external migration policy when there was none. We have developed new partnerships and strengthened the old ones, starting with the African Union and the United Nations. Together we are saving lives and protecting those in need by enabling legal migration channels, addressing the drivers of migration, and fighting against smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings. The past years have confirmed that no country can address this complexity alone. It is only by working together, by joining forces that we can tackle these global challenges in an effective, human and sustainable way.”

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “These past years have shown that only together as a Union we are capable of responding to extreme circumstances. Collectively, we have laid down the structural and operational foundations for a comprehensive European migration system that not only responds effectively and delivers results, but also promotes solidarity and responsibility. While there is still more work to do and the situation remains fragile, we are much better prepared than we were in 2015.” 

When the migration crisis broke out in 2015, the EU took swift and determined action to face exceptional challenges through common European solutions. Over the past 4 years, the basis for a strong collective EU migration policy and new tools and procedures for efficient coordination and cooperation are now in place. The EU is better equipped than ever before to provide operational and financial support to Member States under pressure, manage the external borders and work in partnership with countries outside the EU. However, more efforts are needed to complete this work and make the EU’s migration policy truly future-proof, effective and resilient.

Important progress made towards a strong and effective EU migration management policy

Over the past 5 years, the Commission has worked tirelessly to build a stronger EU policy on migration. By focusing on priority areas we have managed to move from crisis mode to creating structural solutions to ensure Europe is better prepared for any future migratory challenges – in the medium and long term.

Solidarity and support to Member States: The EU is now working more closely with Member States than ever before through the hotspot approach and EU Agencies with over 2,300 staff deployed on the ground – to better manage migration, strengthen the external borders, save lives, reduce the number of irregular arrivals and ensure effective returns. The coordination processes and operational structures developed and established on the ground are key achievements that will remain in place.

Stronger cooperation with partner countries is achieving results: The EU has stepped up the work with partners outside of Europe to tackle the root causes of irregular migration, protect refugees and migrants and support host communities. Unprecedented funding, worth €9.7 billion, has been mobilised to this effect, notably through the EU Trust Fund for Africa, the Syria Trust Fund or the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, under which 97% of €6 billion has already been allocated. EU support is also focusing on resilience, stability, economic and employment opportunities. Cooperation with partner countries on return has also improved, with return and readmission agreements and arrangements now in place with 23 partner countries.

Groundwork laid for future strong and fair asylum rules:The need for a reformed Common European Asylum System was one of the clearest lessons of the 2015 crisis. The Commission put all the necessary proposals on the table for a complete and sustainable EU framework for migration and asylum. Whilst progress was made on five out of seven proposals, the reform is still pending and a common approach to securing a fair, more efficient and sustainable asylum system is still needed.

Important progress on safe and legal pathways: Over the past 5 years, Member States have made the largest collective efforts ever on resettlement, with almost 63,000 persons resettled. Confirming their commitment and determination to ensure the continuity of EU resettlement efforts in the future, Member States have responded to the Commission’s call to continue resettling in 2020 by already pledging around 30,000 resettlement places.

More work and immediate steps required in key areas

Whilst the overall migratory situation across all routes has returned to pre-crisis levels with arrivals in September 2019 being around 90% lower than in September 2015, the situation remains volatile and geopolitical developments have created new challenges for the EU. Further work is needed to address immediate key challenges and to progress on on-going work, in particular:

Urgent action to improve the conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean: Whilst the Greek authorities have undertaken steps over the past months to alleviate the pressure on the islands, including notably a new reception strategy and new asylum measures, the increase in arrivals has put strain on an already fraught system. While the EU-Turkey Statement continues to deliver concrete results, renewed migratory pressure in Turkey and instability in the wider region continues to cause concern. In view of this, urgent action must be taken to improve reception conditions, increase transfers to mainland Greece from the islands and increase returns under the Statement. The Commission is also stepping up its support to Cyprus, which is currently facing an increase in arrivals.

More solidarity on search and rescue: Despite search and rescue efforts, lives continue to be lost at sea and the ad hoc relocation solutions coordinated by the Commission are clearly not long-term remedies. The Commission remains committed to working with and supporting Member States in agreeing temporary arrangements to facilitate disembarkation following search and rescue in the Mediterranean, and encourages more Member States to participate in solidarity efforts. Such arrangements could serve as inspiration for addressing flows in other parts of the Mediterranean. 

Accelerate evacuations from Libya: The situation in Libya remains a major concern. After violent conflict erupted in and around Tripoli in April 2019, intensified efforts through the trilateral AU-EU-UN taskforce must continue to help free migrants from detention, facilitate voluntary return (49,000 returns so far) and evacuate the most vulnerable persons (over 4,000 evacuated). Member States urgently need to increase and accelerate the pace of resettlements under the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Niger run with the UNHCR and support the newly established ETM in Rwanda.

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EU trade agreements: Delivering new opportunities in time of global economic uncertainties

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Despite the difficult global economic climate, European companies have continued to make good use of the opportunities created by the European Union’s trade network – the largest in the world. In 2018 this network covered 31% of Europe’s trade exchanges, a figure that is set to rise significantly (to almost 40%) as more trade agreements enter into force, according to the European Commission’s annual report on the implementation of trade agreements released today. Overall, trade accounts for 35% of the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2018 EU exports to and imports from trade agreement partners showed positive developments, with a continued growth of 2% and 4.6% respectively, with a strong performance of EU agri-food exports. The EU’s growing network of trade agreements is creating economic opportunities for workers across Europe, with over 36 million jobs being supported by exports to outside of the EU. The EU recorded a surplus of €84.6 billion in trade in goods with its trade agreement partners, compared to its overall trade deficit with the rest of the world of about €24.6 billion.

Commenting on the report, Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said “Trade agreements create opportunities for European businesses to grow and hire more people. Today’s report shows that overall trade is up, and more of our global trade is covered by preferential deals than ever before. Our food and drink exports in particular are flourishing thanks to lower tariffs and legal protection abroad for artisanal EU products like Champagne and Feta. The report also provides evidence of how our focus on trade and sustainable development is bearing fruit. Furthermore, we have taken a number of unprecedented steps to enforce the commitments made by our trade partners in the last year, including notably on workers’ rights. There is still work to be done, of course. But by opening up this data to the wider public we hope to launch a wider discussion about how to make sure trade agreements benefit as many citizens as possible.”

Looking at specific sectors across agreements, the 2018 report shows:

  • EU agri-food exports to trade partners continued to grow with an overall increase of 2.2% compared to the previous year. Exports of agri-food products to South Korea also gained 4.8 %. Also noteworthy are agri-food exports to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which grew by 11% compared to 2017;
  • EU industrial goods exports also increased overall by 2%, with stronger growth among others for chemicals (2.5 %), mineral products (6 %) and base metals (4.4 %).

Looking for instance at one of the recent trade agreements, the report shows that in the first full calendar year (2018) of the EU-Canada trade agreement implementation:

  • bilateral trade in goods grew by 10.3% and the EU’s trade surplus with Canada increased by 60%;
  • EU goods exports to Canada rose by 15% (or €36 billion in extra export revenue), especially for sectors where import duties were previously high such as pharmaceuticals (up 29%), machinery (up 16%) or organic chemicals (up 77 %); 
  • EU Agri-food exports to Canada (accounting for 9% of total EU exports) rose by 7%.

Moreover, following intensive discussions in the joint committees created under the different trade agreements, several partner countries lifted barriers to trade, thus allowing more EU companies to benefit fully from the opportunities these agreements offer. Danish and Dutch farmers, for example, will be able to export beef to South Korea, while Poland and Spain will be able to export poultry meat to South Africa.    

The report investigates also the impact of the provisions included in the dedicated ‘Trade and Sustainable Development’ (TSD) chapters, which are part of all modern EU trade agreements. These chapters aim at engaging with trade partners to implement international rules on labour and the environment, as incorporated in multilateral environmental agreements or International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. Recent achievements ahead of the entry into force of the respective agreements include the ratification by Mexico and Vietnam of ILO Convention 98 on the rights to organise and collective bargaining. Additionally, the agreements with Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, Mercosur and Mexico include reinforced commitments to effectively implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

In 2018 and 2019, the EU also took several enforcement actions under its trade agreements, including in relation to labour standards. Among other examples, the EU requested a panel following South Korea’s failure to ratify ILO Conventions on workers’ rights, notably freedom of association and collective bargaining.

However, the report also highlights the need to increase efforts – together with Member States and stakeholders – to raise awareness of the opportunities trade agreements offer, as well as stepping up enforcement action so the agreements deliver the intended results. 

The report will now be subject to discussion with the European Parliament and Member States’ representatives in the Council.

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EU Politics

How to increase green investment in the EU

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A shift to a less-polluting economy requires significant investment. The EU wants to attract more private money as public funds are insufficient.

EU investments

The EU needs about €180 billion a year of additional investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy to cut carbon emissions 40% by 2030. Even more is needed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Some investment in climate and environment projects comes from the EU budget. For example, about 20% of the 2019 budget of €165.8 billion is related to tackling climate change. The European Parliament wants to increase this share of the budget to 30%.

How does the EU attract private green investment?

Public money is not enough for the amount of green investment that is needed, which is why the EU is working to attract private investment. Billions have already been mobilised through the European Fund for Strategic Investments and European Investment Bank (EIB) loans, and the share of money earmarked for climate projects is set to increase.

The EIB’s role in financing climate-friendly projects has increased. In her speech in Parliament in July,  Ursula von der Leyen, the future president of the European Commission, said she would propose increasing it further by turning parts of the EIB into Europe’s climate bank. How to get the EIB more involved in green projects was discussed by MEPs on Wednesday 9 October.

The Parliament and the Council are also discussing new rules on sustainable investment that would act as a guide to investors, businesses and policy makers on what economic activities and investments should be considered as green.

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