Newly available EU data on asylum and irregular border crossings in the first 10 months of 2020 shows the impact of the pandemic on migration to the EU. The EU as a whole registered a 33% year-on-year decrease in asylum applications and a 6-year low in irregular border crossings. However, the impact was not a uniform decrease: several local communities received unexpected large numbers of arrivals, and the overall number of arrivals has continued recovering after a large drop around April.
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Solidarity has taken on a whole new meaning in the unprecedented actions taken by the European Union to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. That same solidarity now needs to be translated into the field of migration management as well. We can only manage migration well if we do it together – whether migration is high or low. It is high time for an agreement on our proposals for a European migration and asylum policy.”
Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “The pandemic had a significant impact on migration and on migrants themselves who often played a vital role in the EU’s response to COVID-19, while also facing disproportionate risks. While we negotiate the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, Member States need to continue upgrading and reforming their migration management systems. With low arrivals meaning less work for asylum systems, now is a great time to agree on a fair, efficient and resilient way to take responsibility together.”
Updated data on population changes overall, including legal migration which represents a large majority of migration into the EU, will be available later this year. That data is likely to show a large decrease in migration overall due to current restrictions. Data on returns in 2020 will also be available later this year, where a decrease is also anticipated. The Commission aims to provide updates every quarter.
Large decrease in asylum applications
In the first 10 months of 2020, 390,000 asylum applications (including 349,000 first time applications) were lodged in the EU, 33% less than in the same period of 2019. Member States reduced their backlogs of pending asylum cases. At the end of October 2020, the number of pending cases was 786,000, 15% less than at the end of 2019. This still means that on the EU level, the backlog represents more than a year’s worth of new applications – with significant variations between Member States. The recognition rate, or the percentage of asylum applications that resulted in a positive decision at first instance (before any appeals), including decisions granting humanitarian status, stood at 43%.
Irregular border crossings lowest in 6 years, but with significant regional variations
A 10% decrease in the number of irregular border crossings to the EU (114,300 in the period January-November 2020) was observed compared to the same period in 2019, the lowest level in the last 6 years. While there was a significant decrease in irregular arrivals in countries of first entry along the Eastern Mediterranean (-74%, 19,300), the decrease was predominantly due to low arrivals from Turkey to Greece, where the situation is likely to change depending on different factors including political and economic developments in Turkey.
Despite overall reductions, irregular arrivals via the Central Mediterranean (to Italy and Malta) increased (+154%) compared to the same period in 2019. There were over 34,100 such arrivals in 2020, compared to almost 11,500 in 2019, with the majority of people arriving in Lampedusa. With the exception of the month of March, arrivals consistently exceeded 2019 levels.
Arrivals in Spain, and in particular the Canary Islands, significantly increased (+46%, 35,800) in 2020 compared to 2019. In Spain, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on irregular arrivals was temporary: since August 2020, the number of arrivals to Spain was consistently greater than in 2019.
In both cases, many new arrivals originate from countries suffering from the 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 prospects of employment and healthcare in countries of origin will remain an incentive for people to come to the EU.
Crossing the Mediterranean Sea remains dangerous. Despite decreased departures in 2020, 1,754 persons were reported dead or missing compared to 2,095 persons in 2019.
In September 2020, the Commission presented the New Pact on Migration and Asylum including a detailed evidence paper which relied on available statistics on migration to Europe to underpin the policy proposals. The Commission published statistics on migration to Europe which will be updated every quarter based on the latest available data from sources including: Eurostat, OECD, UNDESA, UNHCR, IOM and Frontex and EASO.
Data is collected on different schedules. Quarterly data is available on asylum, irregular migration and return, while annual updates are planned for overall population changes (April); visa, employment and worldwide refugee numbers (July); and legal migration as well as the application of ‘Dublin’ asylum rules (October).