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July 2016, Volume 22, Number 3

Europe: Migration Crisis

EU-member states received 1.3 million asylum applicants in 2015, almost double the 626,000 of 2014. Greece began returning asylum seekers who arrived from Turkey after March 20, 2016, and migration from Turkey to nearby Greek islands almost stopped.

The upsurge began in June 2015, when Balkan states such as Macedonia and Serbia allowed asylum seekers headed from Greece to Germany to pass through to Hungary and Austria. Hungary reacted to the influx by making it difficult for migrants to move on in August 2015, and closed its border with Serbia in September 2016.

Germany's BAMF on August 25, 2015 said it was no longer following the Dublin regulations requiring asylum seekers to apply in the first safe country they reach. German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed the welcome for Syrians on August 31, 2015 saying, "wir schaffen das," or we can do it to integrate Syrian asylum seekers. Three-year old Syrian Aylan Kurdi drowned September 2, 2015, and Germany and Austria opened their doors to Syrian asylum seekers.

Germany's opening to migrants was met initially with an outpouring of public support and a rush of migrants to Germany. Syrians took selfies with Merkel on her visit to a German reception center September 10, 2015.

In Fall 2016, there was a shift from protecting migrants toward protecting Europeans from migrants, especially after eight Islamist terrorists killed 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015. Two of the terrorists had entered the EU using the Turkey-Greece route taken by most migrants.

By 2016, eight EU member states in the border-free Schengen region checked arrivals at borders. The EU in May 2016 allowed internal border checks to continue until November 2016, saying that member states had legitimate concerns about the EU's external borders.

Turkey. The EU, led by Germany, almost stopped the flow of migrants from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands by offering Turkey E6 billion to care for migrants in Turkey, to give Turks visa-free access to the Schengen area, and to speed up negotiations for Turkey's accession to the EU.

Under the EU-Turkey agreement, migrants arriving on Greek islands after March 20, 2016 are returned to Turkey and go to the back of the line for resettlement in Europe. For each returned migrant, EU-member states take one Syrian who did not try to get to Greece for resettlement.

The one-returned, one-accepted agreement slowed migrant flows from Turkey to Greece. There were fewer than 50 migrants a day arriving on Greek islands in May 2016, down from a peak of 6,800 a day in October 2015.

Most migrants going from Turkey to nearby Greek islands paid smugglers for assistance. Europol reported that migrant smugglers had revenue of E6 billion ($7 billion) in 2015, charging 90 percent of the migrants who reached Europe in 2015 from $3,200 to $6,500 each. There are some 250 hotspots where migrants and smugglers interact, including 170 hotspots in the EU.

Pope Francis in April 2016 visited Lesbos, a Greek island that received many Syrian migrants, and took 12 back to Rome with him. Pope Francis has taken a keen interest in migrants. His first papal trip in 2013 was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, and in February 2016 Francis prayed beneath a large cross erected in Ciudad Juarez just across from the US border.

The EU-Turkey agreement may unravel. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan├┐threatened to "open the floodgates" and allow migrants to travel freely to Greek islands if the EU does not give Turks visa-free travel to EU member states by summer 2016. Turkey has not yet fulfilled the 72 criteria required by the EU for visa-free access to the 26 Schengen states.

The other issue is resettling refugees and asylum seekers throughout the EU. The EU proposed to fine EU-member states that refuse to accept asylum seekers from first-line EU states E250,000 for each migrant they refuse. Under this plan, countries whose asylum applications rise 150 percent or more would have additional newcomers distributed to other EU member states.

The EU, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in March 2017, wants to liberalize its Blue Card program for skilled non-EU foreigners. Only 14,000 Blue Cards were issued in 2014, mostly in Germany, to foreigners with job offers paying at least 1.5 times the average wage. The European Commission in June 2016 proposed reducing the minimum salary to the average wage.

Africa. Tighter checks in Turkey pushed migrant smuggling to the Libya-Italy corridor, where smugglers put migrants on boats, give them satellite phones, and tell them to call for rescue ships as soon as they leave Libyan waters. Over 64,000 migrants reached Italy from North Africa during the first six months of 2016; more than 3,000 died in the attempt.

An estimated 250,000 African migrants were in Libya in June 2016 waiting for calmer summer waters before setting out for Lampedusa, an Italian island of 6,000 that is 70 miles from Tunisia and 180 miles from Tripoli. Traveling from Senegal to Niger costs about $400, but more to travel through the Sahara to Libya, and even more for a smuggler's boat to Italy.

Some rural Africans travel from their farms to capital cities before deciding, after finding only intermittent day labor, to try for Europe, where many have relatives who have been successful economically.

The upsurge in migration across the Mediterranean may revive the concept of linkages, of linking aid, trade concessions and other benefits for migrant-sending countries with their willingness to accept the return of migrants whose applications for asylum are rejected. The EU wants to return economic migrants quickly to send a signal to would-be migrants, using EU-issued travel documents and sending migrants to safe African countries if the migrants lack documents and their country does not have readmission agreements with the EU.

The European Commission in June 2016 proposed a E3.1 billion partnership fund similar the E6 billion EU-Turkey fund to provide benefits to African countries that cooperate on migration. Italy wants the EU to issue bonds to help front-line states such as Greece and Italy to cope with the influx of migrants.

EU member states granted citizenship to 889,000 immigrants in 2014, down from 981,000 in 2013. A quarter of these naturalizations were in Spain, followed by 15 percent each in Italy and the UK. Over 10 percent of those granted citizenship in EU member states were Moroccans, followed by five percent of Albanians.

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