European Migrant Crisis


In 2015, for the first time, the total number of refugees around the world stretched to over 65 million people. This amounts to nearly 25 people fleeing every single minute. Strikingly, over half of the total number of refugees in 2015 arrived predominately from 3 sole countries: Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. The reasons for migration are varied, ranging from climate change to internal restraints in the host countries. Internal warfare is a key variable witnessing a recent upsurge in migration, particularly in the Middle East. Due to geographical restraints, many migrants and refugees have sought asylum within the European Union (EU); a region that has since struggled to cope with what is described as the biggest influx of people since World War Two. To reach Europe, however, refugees and migrants embark on perilous journeys through South-East Europe and over the Mediterranean. During 2015, almost 2,000 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean, whilst in 2019 that number has already reached 555. The lack of cooperation and willingness to accept migrants amongst EU countries, moreover, has arguably contributed to this amount. Those that have arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean alone reached 1 million people in 2015, and despite being a lower number than in 2015, almost 150,000 people arrived during 2018. Whilst located all around Europe, countries such as Germany and Italy witnessed a spike in influx of migrants and refugees. The sheer arrival of so many migrants and refugees has incited a growing trend of violence and anxiety throughout Europe. Described as a climate of xenophobia, Germany and Italy – countries with both high numbers of refugees and migrants – has witnessed a recent surge in far-right nationalist politics. In the current situation, despite some refusing to identify the situation as a ‘crisis’, many far-right groups have emerged to protest the arrival of foreign asylum seekers whilst several countries have imposed tighter border controls effectively preventing their arrival.


Where they come from: North Africa – particularly Libya – and the Middle East.

Causes of migration: The effects of climate change, including drought, poverty and climate-induced violence has accelerated the number of people migrating to Europe. Internal warfare, particularly the Syrian civil war, and recently with the war in Libya.

Where they go and how many: Historically, Italy and Greece have served as the major entry points for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. However, the number of migrants entering Italy has severely decreased in 2019, largely due to far-right anti-immigration policies. In response, there has been a growing surge of migrants taking the land route to Spain. According to the International Organization for Migration, the total number of arrivals in 2019 from the Mediterranean so far are:

  • Greece: 33,117
  • Spain: 19,342
  • Serbia: 8,369
  • Italy: 5,624

Deaths/missing: According to data collected by the UNHRC and the IOM, over 18,000 have died crossing the Mediterranean since 2014:

  • 3,538 (2014)
  • 3,771 (2015)
  • 5,096 (2016)
  • 3,139 (2017)
  • 2,227 (2018)
  • 909 (2019)

Refugees/Migrants: Over 1.8 million migrants have entered Europe since 2014. A list of statistics from the International Organization for Migration and the UN’s Refugee Agency for each year are provided below:

  • 165,000 (2014)
  • 1,000,572 (2015)
  • 390,456 (2016)
  • 186,788 (2017)
  • 144,209 (2018)
  • 66,794 (2019)

Asylum applications: Statistics from the European Commission show that there have been over 4 million asylum applications in since 2014, with almost 600,000 applications in 2018.

Current Situation: Far-right groups continue to have significant influence on Europe’s political landscape as migration numbers continue to flow.

Key actors

have been tightening border security to limit the number of arrivals in their country. Some countries have imposed physical changes, such as Hungary of whom have erected barbed wire across its borders. Politically, other countries, such as Italy and Germany are witnessing popular anti-immigration groups and policies.

such as Libya serve as popular areas in which migrants embark from on the journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. In many of these countries in the Middle East, internal conflict contributes to massive migration flows. Libya has also struck a deal with the EU to prevent the human trafficking of individuals, though Libya has subsequently placed migrants in worse conditions in detention camps.

have criticised the anti-immigration stance by EU members states. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called for unity and to reverse the disproportionate responsibility placed on a small handful of states, namely Italy and Greece. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), moreover, has advocated for a greater focus on the young people migrating to Europe.

has called for a reform of asylum system rules – the ‘Dublin Regulation’ – to prevent countries like Greece and Italy from bearing the brunt of the migration crisis. The EU has also strengthened Frontex – the EU border agency – in the aspiration to provide the force with 10,000 border guards by 2027.

have condemned EU policies and actions by members states that seek to limit migration. NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have specifically criticised the outsourcing of responsibility by EU members states to countries outside of the EU. Meanwhile, NGOs are predominately tasked with the difficult and dangerous tasks of monitoring and conducting rescue missions in the Mediterranean. A Spanish charity – Proactiva Open Arms – have also criticised Italy for neglecting and treating migrants harshly.

is the EU’s external border force responsible for the management of migration. Frontex supports members states on several tasks by strengthening border controls and monitoring the different routes migrants use to arrive at Europe’s borders.

have emerged in various countries to impede migrant passage through the Mediterranean. The nationalist League in Italy, for example, has prevented government-funded initiatives from integrating migrants. Germany, on the other hand, with its far-right group ‘Alternative for Germany’ has strongly advocated for anti-immigration policies. Some sources have also claimed that terrorists are using Europe’s recent crisis to smuggle operatives within the EU.

Timeline of the crisis

A ship containing more than 300 Syrian refugees with no crew arrives at an Italian port. Prior to this event, United Nations (UN) agencies stressed that Europe had been turning a blind eye to the increasing number of migrants and asylum seekers travelling across the Mediterranean Sea.

The UN also reports this month that almost 300 migrants in the space of a week have drowned after attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. This prompts a degree of threat amongst EU coastal states.

In spite of the number of migrants drowning last month, the Italian coastguard are able to rescue more than 3000 migrants from February to March.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) warns of an increasing surge of migrants from Libya, due to the country’s instability. Italy calls for an expansion of the EU’s border patrol.

On the 21st April, the UNHCR confirms that more than 800 migrants are feared dead in the worst tragedy to take place so far in the Mediterranean Sea.

On the following day (22nd April), in protest of the ongoing migrant crisis, Amnesty International supporters place themselves into body bags on Brighton’s beach, starting the trend: “DontLetThemDown”. This was an attempt to force EU governments to act on the ongoing crisis.

Due to increasing pressure, the European Council forms a special meeting on the 23rd April and agrees: to fight traffickers, strengthen the EU presence at sea, prevent illegal migration flows, and reinforce internal solidarity and responsibility.

The EU authorises a military response to the ongoing crisis by proposing to attack smuggler vessels off the coast of Libya prior to the movement of migrants. This action is condemned by many human rights groups who declare that the militarisation of the migrant crisis would risk damaging the lives of migrants even more.

Hungary proposes a 13-foot anti-migrant fence across its southern borders, indicating its – and various other EU member states’ – stance towards the threat of migration. This action is condemned by NGOs and the EU.

The European Commission meets to address the migrant crisis. The Commission proposes a relocation scheme which would spread the total number of migrants throughout European nations, thereby lessening the strain on countries like Italy which receive the most asylum seekers. This is welcomed more by countries like Italy, though less by countries such as Hungary.

Over this six month period, 567 migrants are known to have died and almost 6000 to have been intercepted en route to Europe over land or at sea.

EU Member States Hungary and Bulgaria build fences and barriers along their borders to prevent illegal migrants from entering their territories. Before the end of 2015, Macedonia, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, and Germany (though temporarily) will take similar steps to close or restrict access to their borders.

Aylan Kurdi, a three year old Syrian child of Kurdish descent, drowns crossing the Mediterranean. A photograph of the boy’s body washed up on the Turkish coast makes international headlines and becomes emblematic of the migrant’s plight.

In response to Aylan’s death, on the 12th September, tens of thousands of European migrant-supporters and activists take part in demonstrations across Europe, calling on EU nations to open their doors to international refugees. Simultaneous demonstrations against mass immigration take place in Warsaw, Prague, and Bratislava.

On the 22nd September, the European Council announces a provisional decision to lessen the strain of migrants on Italy and Greece. They propose to relocate “120 000 persons in clear need of international protection.” The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia oppose the decision, but the decision passes.

On the 7th October, the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med.) launches Operation Sophia, intending to interrupt human traffickers and smugglers making use of Mediterranean waters.

On the 25th October, European leaders also meet in Brussels and agree to implement measures to continue the exchange of information, manage migration flows together, impede human trafficking or smuggling, and support refugees by providing shelter.

The Valletta Summit on Migration takes place in Malta comprising discussions between European and African leaders about the migrant crisis. The terrorist attacks on Paris further forces European officials and governments to re-evaluate their positions on international migrants.

On the 15th December, the European Commission proposes a powerful EU Border and Coast Guard force to prevent the number of migrants reaching Europe.

Shortly following the European Commission’s plan, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on the 30th December draws attention to the severity of the migrant crisis by reporting that more than 1 million refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by way of the Mediterranean in 2015. According to UN statistics, 3,771 individuals have died or been lost at sea over the course of that same period.

Germany faces a period of intense upheaval and makes international headlines after dozens of sexual assaults, thefts, and at least 5 rapes are recorded throughout Germany against migrants, with most of the attacks happening in Cologne.

On the 4th January, other countries in Europe that have received large amounts of asylum applications, such as Sweden of which received more than 150,000 asylum applications in 2015, impose border checks in the attempts to prevent the flow of migrants entering Europe.
A day after, on the 5th January, more than 35 people are found dead off Turkey’s coast, including children, thus echoing the pictures of Aylan Kurdi earlier in September 2015.

NATO agrees to send three ships into the Aegean Sea to help prevent the transit of migrants from Turkey to Greece. The agreement comes a month just after 35 people are found dead on Turkey’s coast.

Violent clashes erupt between migrants, “No Borders” protestors, and police in France when authorities make moves to demolish the “Calais Jungle” migrant camp. Similar clashes erupt in April and again in May, encouraging Austria to begin barricading that border area.

Several Balkan states including Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia, plan to implement stricter border controls as Hungary declares a state of emergency over the pressure of migrants continuing to arrive at its borders. Further protests occur in Calais, this time initiated by citizens of the region concerned over recent activities.

On 12th March, 3,000 protesters amass in Berlin to oppose Germany’s open-door policy on migration. 1,000 counter-protestors meet them. Despite several small confrontations, police keep the situation largely under control.

Following the events in France and Germany, evidence of a far-right resurgence presents itself on 13th March as members of the ‘Identitarian’ movement block roads leading from migrant camps to the centre of town in Calais; the nationalist party Alternative for Germany (AFG) also makes gains in the German state elections.

A deal between the EU and Turkey that effectively sends migrants back to Turkey comes into effect. The deal is hailed by European leaders as a way to reduce the amount of refugees coming to Europe.

On 15th April, in a sign of solidarity, and in aspiration for European cooperation, Pope Francis takes 12 Muslim refugees from Syria into the Vatican City.

On the 27th April, despite Pope Francis’ actions, Austria implements a controversial anti-immigrant law days after the country’s far-right ‘Freedom Party’ comes top in presidential elections. Under this law, Austria may declare the migrant crisis a state of emergency and reject asylum applications to the country.

Ex-M16 head, Sir Richard Dearlove, warns of an increase in populism around Europe following the enactment of various anti-immigrant policies surrounding the migrant crisis. This is evident especially in Austria and Hungary.

On the 25th May, in a collaborative effort between the EU’s naval operation EUNAVFOR Med, Frontex and NGO boats, more than 5,600 migrants are rescued in the Mediterranean in the space of 2 days.

UNHCR reports 65 million refugees around the world, marking the highest level ever recorded. The UN also reported a link between the sheer number of migrants and refugees reaching Europe as contributing to a climate of xenophobia.

Shortly after UNHCR’s statement, the Italian coastguard rescues more than 4,500 migrants in the Mediterranean.

A migrant boat using the Egyptian coast as a new departure point capsizes killing more than a dozen people. The event broadens the approach of rescue missions, which previously had focused on the Libyan coast.

More than 200 migrants are reported to have drowned in multiple shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.
Migrants clash with police as riots breakout in Bulgaria’s largest refugee centre.
UNHCR reports that 5,000 people have drowned trying to reach Europe in 2016, the highest number ever recorded.

On 3rd February, EU leaders in Malta agree on a deal to reinforce the Libyan coastline via a $215 million investment. Human rights groups criticise the deal as not targeting the root causes of migration.

It is reported that throughout the year of 2016, almost 10 attacks were made on migrants every day. Such statistics reflect the ongoing surge of far-right nationalism and hate crime in Europe.

The UN criticises Hungary’s plans to detain migrants in camps, likening France’s Calais camp, on its border. This follows a growing surge of anti-immigration policies throughout Europe, such as the erection of fences across country borders.Turkish president Erdogan threatens to cancel EU-Turkey agreement on migration following fallout with EU member states.

13th June, the EU imposes legal actions against various states, such as Hungary, for not taking in their share of migrants. The imposition of sanctions was an attempt by the EU to enforce a message of solidarity in the face of the migrant crisis.

Whilst not taking in a larger share of migrants, the UK government on the 21st June pledged £75 million to assist migrants stranded in the Mediterranean and in camps around Europe.

Italy hits back at EU member states for not sharing the burden of taking in migrants. The country threatens to cancel its maritime patrols if EU states do not comply.

Amnesty International publishes a report condemning EU inaction as migrant deaths soar. John Dalhuisen, of Amnesty International, declares that 2017 could become the deadliest year for international migration yet, with 2,000 deaths already since January 2017.

Late in the month, the European Council extends Operation Sophia’s mandate until 31 December 2018.

On the 2nd August, Italy launches a new naval mission to combat human trafficking on the route from Libya to its own shores.

On the 28th August, representatives from the African Union (AU) and the EU meet in Paris to propose a deal that would see a £56m investment in African countries to prevent migration to Europe.

The migrant crisis features as a prominent issue in the elections in Germany, Austria and other countries in Europe. This trend envisages the use of immigration to form and legitimise far-right parties.

The EU’s deal with Libya is criticised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Right’s Chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein as more than 20,000 migrants are detained in hangars. This reiterates concerns by various human rights groups that current deals do not target the root causes of migration.

On 11th December, Amnesty International referred to the EU as being complicit in the torture of migrants as thousands of migrants in Libya are detained in poor conditions.

On 2nd February, more than 90 migrants drown off the coast of Libya, offering further criticism to the EU’s deal with Libya to prevent immigration.

Italian authorities impounded a migrant rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea after they refused to give up migrants to Libyan government forces in fear that they would be abused.

The EU, under guidance from the UN, issued sanctions on the 14th June against human traffickers and smugglers operating in Libya. This is part of the EU’s larger aim to impose harsher measures against migrant smugglers to try and reduce illegal migration. The EU also discusses developing regional disembarkation platforms for people saved at sea.

EU member states agree on the 29th June to send €3 billion to Turkey to support Syrian refugees

EU leaders call upon the European Council to develop a set of measures to strengthen inter country cooperation in the fight against migrant smugglers.

The EU further criticises Austria’s right-wing government for not signing the recent UN Global Migration Pact.

On the 12th November, Bulgaria pulls out of UN global migration pact.

On the 21st November, Poland joins Bulgaria and pulls out of UN global migration pact claiming – in support of the conerns of Austria and Hungary – that the pact would only intensify problems with illegal immigration.

On the 16th December, Belgium’s far-right party Vlaams Belang protests the UN global migration pact, which turns violent and 90 people are arrested.

Frontex claims that the number of illegal migrants entering Europe had dropped to its lowest in 5 years, partially due to anti-immigration laws in countries closing their borders. It was highlighted that more migrants started to use the western Mediterranean route into Spain, witnessing a trend of people migrating from western-African countries such as Mali and Guinea.

On the 9th January, Malta formalises an agreement with EU member states to allocate 49 migrants of whom had been stranded on boats in the sea amid row on who would take them.

The leader of the Italian far-right group Five Star Movement blames France’s colonisation of Africa for the influx of migration to Europe. The French foreign ministry summoned the Italian envoy after accusing France of creating poverty in Africa and thus fuelling the migration crisis.

On the 29th January, as Paris struggles to handle the migration crisis, French police start the process of clearing migrant camps in the city which contain over 2,300 migrants.

Despite low arrivals of illegal immigration into Europe, Frontex argues that stronger border controls are needed. Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri stated that illegal immigration did not warrant a burning crisis.

On the 6th March, EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopolos states that the European Migration Crisis is ‘over’, despite migration being still the main political talking point around Europe, including Brexit. The European Commission’s first vice-president, Frans Timmermans, has stated that, although migration levels are down from those witnessed in 2015, structural problems still persist.

In response to the EU Commission’s statement, the EU states that Operation Sophia’s mandate will be extended for 6 months but its maritime operations will cease. The initiative – created in 2015 to save more than 10,000 lives in the Mediterranean – will only utilise air patrols instead.

Further in response to the EU Commission’s comments, various charities have accused the EU of neglecting refugees at sea. A representative from Doctors Without Borders argued that people dying at sea served as the EU’s form of deterrence for migration.

In the first week on April, new rules were agreed that provided Frontex with better capacity to provide faster support to member states. An increase of the EU’s external borders powers contradicts the earlier statement by the EU Commission that the migrant crisis was over.On the 12th April, France agrees to take 20 migrants from an NGO rescue ship stranded on its 9th day at sea. Political instability around Europe continues as countries refuse to allow NGO ships to dock and disembark at their ports.
Libya’s prime minister warns that Europe could witness a new surge of migrants and refugees following ongoing conflict in the country.
German chancellor Angela Merkel defends her open border policy which has seen more than 1 million refugees enter Germany since 2014.
More than 70 migrants are feared dead trying to reach the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia. Marking the deadliest shipwreck of 2019 so far, the cause of migration is said to be from the ongoing conflict in Libya, thus potentially sparking a new wave of migration.
25 migrants from Iraq and Iran are rescued on their way to England. The incident highlights a resurge of migrants attempting to travel into Europe.
In the attempts to curb on migration routes into Europe across the Balkans, Frontex deploys its first anti-immigration mission in a non-European Union country.
A new report from the IOM showed that almost 20,000 migrants and refugees have traversed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2019 so far. The growing number of deaths – over 500 – illustrates the ongoing severity of the crisis.
The UK’s border force intercepts a record number of 75 migrants off the coast of Kent. Various MPs have quoted the ongoing rise of migrant numbers as signifying the severity of the migrant crisis in Europe.

In a case filed towards the International Criminal Court (ICC), lawyers have attacked the EU’s deterrence-based anti-immigration policy beyond all reasonable doubt as leading to the deaths of over 12,000 migrants. Lawyers bringing the case forward to the ICC have argued that the EU’s anti-immigration stance has transformed the Mediterranean Sea into the world’s deadliest migration route.

Following the EU’s anti-immigration stance, aid charities, such as Doctors Without Borders, have urged EU member states to evacuate migrants living in unpleasant detention centres in Libya and to stop investing in the Libyan coastguard. Some migrants in Libyan detention centres are subject to torture and frequently have their human rights violated.

Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the UN’s refugee agency correlated the lack of NGO rescue boats with an increase in migrant deaths at sea, describing the probability of deaths as the highest ever recorded.
More than 200 migrants are intercepted off the coast of Libya by the Libyan coastguard. The intercepted migrants are given humanitarian aid and sent to refugee camps in Tripoli.

A rescue boat carrying migrants is held hostage by Italian authorities after the boat is refused entry to Italian ports. Sparking claims of criminalising humanitarian rescue, the rescue boat’s charity argues that European institutions have failed to safeguard people at sea.

The International Federation of the Red Cross demonstrates the inhuman conditions present in one of Bosnia’s refugee camps; labelled the ‘jungle camp’. Migrants are subjected to diseases and food shortages, both of which are increasing due to the constant rate of migrants arriving at the camp.
In what the UN is describing as a war crime, a Libyan detention camp holding migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe was shelled by forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, according to the Libyan government. Reports also claim that fleeing migrants were fired on, prompting calls for Libya to shut down its migrant detention centres.
The Alan Kurdi rescue ship – named after the 3-year-old Syrian Kurdish refugee found dead on a Turkish coast – rescues over 44 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea. Malta originally agreed to take in the migrants though later agreed a deal with the EU to relocate various migrants to other nations.
Italy closes one of the largest migrant centres in Europe which previously hosted more than 4,000 migrants. This follows the latest populist trend in Italy to reduce the number of migrants and refugees in the country.
Influenced by the airstrikes that hit a migrant detention centres in Tripoli, the IOM and UNHCR have called on Libya to end the process of detaining refugees and migrants rescued at sea. The UN agencies have argued that migrants should not be taken to Libya as a ‘safe port’, whereby EU NGO boats rescuing migrants at sea should not be penalised for saving lives. In additional, European powers are urged to provide more evacuation and resettlement places to support incoming migrants
Spain’s government approves 30m Euros in assistance to Morocco to help curb on migration. In total, Morocco has received 140m from EU funds to prevent migration.
The European Commission brings a legal case against Hungary’s anti-immigration legislation. The “Stop Soros” legislation is described as criminalising activities in support of asylum applications. Hungarian representatives have responded by arguing that the country is fully prepared to defend the legislation.
Representatives from Turkey have accused EU member states of abandoning the EU-Turkey migrant deal signed in 2016, which promised visa-free travel for Turkish nationals in return for migration control. The EU, however, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, has failed to deliver on such promises. Turkey currently hosts over 3 million migrants attempting to cross into Europe.
Two boats carrying 300 migrants capsized off the Libyan coast killing over 150 people. Although over half that amount had been successfully rescued, the incident has been described as the worst migrant tragedy to occur in 2019. UN representatives have furthered calls for EU member states to reinstall Mediterranean rescue missions.
Over 130 migrants are left stranded in Italy port after Italian authorities refused to let them disembark. Italian minister Matteo Salvini has stressed that the migrants would not be allowed to disembark until other European countries agreed to take them in. This incident follows French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent deal with EU member states to resettle migrants throughout Europe.
France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal have agreed to take in more than 130 migrants stranded in Italy port. The migrants trapped were refused to disembark by Italian authorities until other countries in the EU agreed to take them in.

Von der Leyen, newly appointed head of the European Commission, has called for a new view on migration and suggested the enactment of a new EU migration deal. Von der Leyen urged for new procedures that are both effective and humane, noticing that migration is inherent in a globalised world.

More than 120 migrants have been stranded at sea for 8 days aboard the Spanish humanitarian vessel Open Arms. Italy has threatened a fine of £46,000 if the ship attempts to dock in Italian waters, whilst no European government has accepted responsibility of taking in the migrants. EU member states, such as Spain, have argued that there is no obligation to receive migrants.
The UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) declares at least 40 migrants dead after boat capsizes off the coast of Libya. The UN also announces that following the deaths, almost 900 have lost their lives in 2019 attempting to cross the Mediterreanean. Vincent Cochetel of the UNHCR states that, “we must not simply accept these tragedies as inevitable”.
After more than 600 refugees arrived in Lesbos on 30th August 2019, Greek authorities have announced the start of an evacuation operation for the more than 1000 migrants currently residing in Lesbos. Greece has been struggling with the increase in migration, with the camp in Lesbos being hardly hit with overpopulation, violence and subsequent human rights violations.

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Call on EU leaders to take action and save lives through an Amnesty Internal campaign here:

Donate to the European Migrant Crisis Fund through SOS Children’s Villages Canada here:

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