Official: migration to EU in 2023 reaches historic 2015 peak

4 min read

A campaign topic for European elections, a party slogan, a phenomenon that can easily lead to resignation of governments and affects the lives of millions of Europeans – what is it?

As a result of the European elections in, there has been a rightward shift in Europe’s political landscape, though not as great as had previously been expected but there has been a significant gain for the far right in several countries, including France, Germany and Austria, with ’NO MIGRATION!’ as one of their main political messages.

Most of the governments of EU Member States follow a ’heads in the sand’ strategy, and as a result share very little factual information with citizens about migration and refugees entering their countries, not to mention the social impact of migration and its manifestation in national crime statistics. For this reason, it is wise to monitor the reports of certain EU agencies.

In June 2024, the European Union Asylum Agency (EUAA) published its Asylum Report 2024 – Annual report on the situation of asylum in the European Union, which offers a lot of relevant data and interesting information for those interested in the subject, including the fact that in terms of migration, 2023 ranks as a year comparable to 2015, which was previously considered a record year.

The foreword to the report sets out a tough statement, saying that, ’For the first time since the inception of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), Europe was called to assist such a high number of people seeking protection. In 2023, asylum applications rose to levels reminiscent of the 2015-2016 refugee crisis.

In 2023, European countries continued to host a record number of persons in need of protection, as asylum applications climbed for the second year in a row. Over 1.1 million applications lodged in EU+ countries in 2023 is reminiscent of the numbers in 2015 and 2016, the years of the migration crisis in Europe. At the same time, EU+ countries issued over 1.1 million decisions granting temporary protection to displaced persons from Ukraine, with the conflict continuing and the country still experiencing the devastating results of the Russian invasion. A notable difference between the years 2015-2016 and 2022-2023 is that during the migration crisis the increased number of applications came from a few select countries, while currently applicants originate from a larger number of countries.

Another major point of difference is that in contrast to the period 2015-2016, the past year has not been presented as a ‘crisis’ in public discourse, while catering to more people in need of international and temporary protection, the report highlights. According to the EUAA, this indicates that, despite limitations to varying degrees in the functioning of national asylum and reception systems, European countries have made progress in increasing their preparedness and are better equipped to manage a high inflow of people seeking protection. From a humanitarian perspective, this is truly an achievement, but in terms of the EU’s core interests, it is more like a betrayal.

Concerning the access to procedures, in 2023, EU+ countries received over 1.1 million applications for international protection, which was the most since the refugee crisis in 2015-2016. Germany topped the list in terms of the number of applications received (334,000, +45% from 2022) and accounted for about 30% of the total. The next three top receiving countries jointly accounted for 40% of applications, with record numbers in each: France (167,000 applications, +7% increase), Spain (162,000, +38%) and Italy (136,000, +63%). In addition to these states, several other countries experienced significant pressure as for asylum applications, including Cyprus, Austria, Greece, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Switzerland.

Syrians, Afghans and Turks continued to apply the most for international protection, accounting for over one-third of all applications lodged in EU+ countries. Nationals of Syria, lodged 181,000 applications, which was a 38% increase compared to 2022 and the highest level since 2016. Interestingly, record high numbers of applications were lodged by other citizenships as well, including Venezuelans and Colombians, who ranked fourth and fifth. Following the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in October 2023, Palestinians also applied for asylum in record numbers.

The chapter of the report entitled ’Major developments in asylum in the European Union in 2023’ pays particular attention to Ukraine, noting that reaffirming the European long-term commitment to peace, security and prosperity in the region, in December 2023, the European Council decided to open accession negotiations with Ukraine, following a recommendation by the European Commission.

The document does not address the question of how the accession of war-torn Ukraine to the EU will contribute to the security and prosperity of the region, although surely many would like to know the answer. However, it explains in detail that the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 created protection needs for millions of people who sought refuge in neighbouring European countries. The EU and its Member States provided immediate support, allocated significant resources and put in place the necessary structures and procedures to provide access to protection. As a consequence, over 4.3 million people forcibly displaced from Ukraine are currently beneficiaries of temporary protection in EU+ countries.

The authors of the document point out that the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine kept pressure on the EU’s external eastern borders, while countries in the Mediterranean region struggled with the continued arrival of migrants by sea. Countries experiencing movements along the Balkan route ramped up their efforts to control the borders. Pressure was also felt in central European countries, which received increasing numbers of applications.

It is emphasised in the paper that pressure persisted at the external borders of the EU, with the highest number of irregular border crossings since 2016. According to data collected by Frontex, 385,000 irregular border crossings were detected at the EU’s external borders, representing an increase of 18% compared to 2022. Somewhat ashamed it is noted in the report that some countries maintained a state of emergency, applying rules which allowed for derogations from the regular procedure. They also started investing in the use of technology to maintain border security.

To complement the two 2022 action plans related to the Central Mediterranean and Western Balkan routes, the European Commission presented two additional action plans in 2023 to address the Western Mediterranean, Atlantic and Eastern Mediterranean routes. Acknowledging that an estimated 90% of people who cross the EU’s external borders irregularly do so with the assistance of migrant smugglers, in November 2023 the European Commission presented new legislative proposals to prevent and fight migrant smuggling.

In other words, the EU is aware that the influx of migrants to the bloc is due to the effective actions of human trafficking networks and it intends to fight this with legal measures. It is safe to say that a more naive concept for combating illegal migration and human smugglers has never been seen. Given the figures detailed above, there is no question who is in a position to win this fight.

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