European migrant crisis

Asylum applications in the European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states between 1 January and 30 June 2015 according to Eurostat data
Operation Triton: Irish Naval Service personnel from the LÉ Eithne (P31) rescuing migrants, 15 June 2015
Syrian and Iraqi immigrants getting off a boat from Turkey on the Greek island of Lesbos. A small boat in water, with land on the horizon behind. Many people are on its outside in orange life jackets, some carrying inner tubes as well. A few are in the water swimming toward the camera. In the foreground a man in a red and black wetsuit has his hand out to them.
Protest "Volem acollir" ("We want to welcome") took place in Barcelona on 18 February 2017 and became the biggest pro-refugee demonstration in Europe
Protesters gather outside Cologne Cathedral after New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Germany, January 2016
Map of Crisis, [a] Operation Triton, Refugees at Skala Sykamias Lesvos, Protesters at "Volem acollir" ("We want to welcome"), Protesters after assaults in Germany

The European migrant crisis,[2][3][4][5][6] also known as the refugee crisis,[7][8][9][10] was a period characterised by high numbers of people arriving in the European Union (EU) overseas from across the Mediterranean Sea or overland through Southeast Europe.[citation needed][11][12] In March 2019, the European Commission declared the migrant crisis to be at an end.[13]

The migrant crisis was part of a pattern of increased immigration to Europe from other continents which began in the mid-20th century.[14] The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) observed that from January 2015 to March 2016, the top three nationalities among over one million refugees arriving from the Mediterranean Sea were Syrian (46.7%), Afghan (20.9%) and Iraqi (9.4%).[15]

Many refugees that arrived in Italy and Greece came from countries where armed conflict was ongoing (Syrian civil war (2011–present), War in Afghanistan (2001–present), Iraqi conflict (2003–present)) or which otherwise were considered to be "refugee-producing" and for whom international protection is needed. However, a smaller proportion was from elsewhere, and for many of these individuals, the term "migrant" would be correct. Immigrants (a person from a non-EU country establishing his or her usual residence in the territory of an EU country for a period that is, or is expected to be, at least twelve months) included asylum seekers and economic migrants.[16] Some research suggested that record population growth in Africa and the Middle East was one of the main reasons for the crisis,[17] and it was suggested that global warming could increase migratory pressures in the future.[18][19][20] In rare cases, immigration was used as a cover for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants disguised as refugees or migrants.[21][22]

Most of the migrants came from regions to the south and east of Europe, including the Greater Middle East and Africa.[23] Of the migrants arriving in Europe by sea in 2015, 58% were males over 18 years of age (77% of adults), 17% were females over 18 (22% of adults) and the remaining 25% were under 18.[24] By religious affiliation, the majority of entrants were Muslim, with a small component of non-Muslim minorities (including Yazidis, Assyrians and Mandeans).[citation needed] The number of deaths at sea rose to record levels in April 2015, when five boats carrying approximately 2,000 migrants to Europe sank in the Mediterranean Sea, with the combined death toll estimated at more than 1,200 people.[25] The shipwrecks took place during conflicts and refugee crises in several Greater Middle Eastern and African countries, which increased the total number of forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2014 to almost 60 million, the highest level since World War II.[26][27]

Causes of increased migration in 2014 and 2015


After October 2013, the numbers of refugees arriving in Europe began to rise when Italy started rescuing Africans from the Mediterranean Sea with a rescue program called "Mare Nostrum" (lit. "Our Sea").[28]


Factors cited as immediate triggers or causes of the sudden and massive increase in migrant numbers in the summer of 2015 along the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkan route (Turkey-Greece-North Macedonia-Serbia-Hungary) included:

The opening of the North Macedonia route enabled migrants from the Middle East to take short, inexpensive voyages from the coast of Turkey to the Greek Islands, instead of the longer, more perilous, and more expensive voyage from Libya to Italy. According to the Washington Post, in addition to reducing danger, the new route lowered the cost from around $5,000–6,000 to $2,000–3,000.[29]

On 18 June 2015 the Macedonian government announced that it was changing its policy on migrants entering the country illegally. Previously, migrants were forbidden from entering Macedonia (now North Macedonia), causing those who chose to do so to take dangerous and clandestine modes of transit, such as walking along railroad tracks at night. The amended policy gave migrants three-day, temporary asylum permits that enabled them to travel by train and road.[30][29]

In the summer of 2015, several thousand people passed through Macedonia and Serbia every day, and more than 100,000 had done so by July.[31] Hungary and Serbia started building their border fences as both states were overwhelmed organizationally and economically. In August 2015, a police crackdown on migrants crossing from Greece failed in Macedonia and caused the police to turn their attention to diverting migrants north into Serbia.[32] On 18 October 2015, Slovenia began restricting admission to 2,500 migrants per day, stranding migrants in Croatia as well as Serbia and Macedonia.[33][34] The humanitarian conditions were catastrophic; refugees were waiting for illegal helpers at illegal assembly points without any infrastructure.[35][36]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blamed Europe and the United States for the migrant crisis, and accused the West of inciting "terrorism" by supporting elements of the Syrian opposition which most refugees were fleeing from. Meanwhile, the Syrian government increased the amount of military conscription while facilitating passport acquisition for Syrian citizens, which led Middle East policy experts to speculate that he was implementing a policy to encourage opponents of his regime to "leave the country".[29]

NATO's four-star General in the United States Air Force commander in Europe said indiscriminate weapons used by al-Assad and the non-precision use of weapons by the Russian forces were the reason for refugees leaving their countries.[37] General Philip Breedlove accused Russia and the Assad regime of "deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve".[37]


Immigration of non-EU nationals (green), [38] asylum applicants (orange) [39] and illegal border-crossings (blue) [40] in the European Union, 2010–2014
Migrants arriving in Italy by sea, 1997–2015 [41]

Between 2007 and 2011, large numbers of migrants from the Middle East and Africa crossed between Turkey and Greece, leading Greece and the European Border Protection agency Frontex to strengthen border controls.[42] In 2012, immigrant influx into Greece by land decreased by 95 percent after building a fence on the Greek–Turkish frontier where the Maritsa River does not flow.[43] In 2015, Bulgaria followed by upgrading a border fence to prevent migrant entry from Turkey.[44][45]

Between 2010 and 2013, around 1.4 million non-EU nationals, asylum seekers and refugees immigrated to the EU each year, while around 750,000 of such non-EU migrants emigrated from the EU in that time period, resulting in around 650,000 net immigration each year, but decreased from 750,000 to 540,000 between 2010 and 2013.[38]

Before 2014, the number of asylum applications in the EU peaked in 1992 (672,000), 2001 (424,000) and 2013 (431,000). In 2014 it reached 626,000.[46] According to the UNHCR, the EU countries with the biggest numbers of recognised refugees at the end of 2014 were France (252,264), Germany (216,973), Sweden (142,207) and the United Kingdom (117,161). No European state was among the top ten refugee-hosting countries in the world.[26]

Prior to 2014, the number of illegal border crossings by sea and land detected by Frontex at the external borders of the EU peaked at a total of 141,051 in 2011.[47]

Eurostat reported EU member states received over 1.2 million first-time asylum applications in 2015, more than twice as the previous year. Four states (Germany, Hungary, Sweden and Austria) received around two-thirds of the EU's asylum applications in 2015, with Hungary, Sweden and Austria being the top recipients of asylum applications per capita.[48] More than 1 million migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, considerably dropping to 364,000 in 2016,[49] before decreasing further in 2017.[50]

2010 policy report

In 2010 the European Commission commissioned a study on the financial, political, and legal implications of migrant relocation in Europe.[51] The report concluded that there were several options for dealing with the issues relating to migration within Europe, and that most member states favoured an "ad hoc mechanism based on a pledging exercise among the Member States".[51]

Carriers' responsibility

Article 26 of the Schengen Convention[52] states that carriers which transport people who are refused into the Schengen area shall pay for both penalties and the return of the refused people.[53] Further clauses on this topic are found in EU directive 2001/51/EC.[54] This prevented migrants without a visa from being allowed on aircraft, boats, or trains entering the Schengen Area, and caused them to resort to migrant smugglers.[55] Humanitarian visas are generally not given to refugees who want to apply for asylum.[56]

The laws on migrant smuggling forbid helping migrants pass any national border if the migrants do not have permission to enter. This has caused many airlines to check for visas and refuse passage to migrants without visas, including through international flights inside the Schengen Area. After being refused air passage, many migrants attempted to travel overland to their destination country. According to a study carried out for the European Parliament, "penalties for carriers, who assume some of the control duties of the European police services, either block asylum-seekers far from Europe's borders or force them to pay more and take greater risks to travel illegally".[57][58]

EU's management of the crisis

Political positions

Czech politician Tomio Okamura speaks at the anti-immigration rally in Prague, 17 October 2015
Matteo Salvini with League's delegation at the Quirinal Palace in April 2018

Slavoj Žižek identified a "double blackmail" in the debate on the migrant crisis: those who argued Europe's borders should be entirely opened to refugees, and those who argued that the borders should be completely closed.[59][page needed]

The European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said that the European Commission "does not care about the political cost 'of its handling of the migration crisis, because it's there for five years to do its job' with vision, responsibility and commitment, 'and what drives it' is not to be re-elected". Avramopoulos invited European national leaders to do the same and to stop worrying about reelection.[60][61]

On 31 August 2015, The New York Times reported Angela Merkel, German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union, used some of her strongest language on the migrant crisis and warned that freedom of travel and open borders among the 28 member states of the EU could be jeopardised if they did not agree on a shared response to this crisis.[62]

Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the Republicans and former French president, compared the EU migrant plan to "mending a burst pipe by spreading water round the house while leaving the leak untouched".[63] Sarkozy criticised Merkel's decision to allow tens of thousands of people to enter Germany, saying that it would attract even greater numbers of people to Europe, of which a significant part would "inevitably" end up in France due to the EU's free movement policies and the French welfare state. He also demanded that the Schengen agreement on borderless travel should be replaced with a new agreement providing border checks for non-EU citizens.[64]

Italian Prime Minister and Secretary of the Italian Democratic Party Matteo Renzi said the EU should forge a single European policy on asylum.[65] French Prime Minister Manuel Valls of the French Socialist Party stated, "There must be close cooperation between the European Commission and member states as well as candidate members."[66] Sergei Stanishev, President of the Party of European Socialists, stated:

At this moment, more people in the world are displaced by conflict than at any time since the Second World War. ... Many die on the approach to Europe – in the Mediterranean – yet others perish on European soil. ... As social democrats the principle of solidarity is the glue that keeps our family together. ... We need a permanent European mechanism for fairly distributing asylum-seekers in European member states. ... War, poverty and the stark rise in inequality are global, not local problems. As long as we do not address these causes globally, we cannot deny people the right to look for a more hopeful future in a safer environment.[67]

According to The Wall Street Journal, the appeal of Eurosceptic politicians had increased.[68]

Nigel Farage, leader of the British anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party and co-leader of the Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, blamed the EU "and Germany in particular" for giving "huge incentives for people to come to the European Union by whatever means" and said that this would make deaths more likely. He claimed that the EU's Schengen agreement on open borders had failed and that Islamists could exploit the situation and enter Europe in large numbers, saying that "one of the ISIL terrorist suspects who committed the first atrocity against holidaymakers in Tunisia [had] been seen getting off a boat onto Italian soil".[69][70] In 2013, Farage had called on the UK government to accept more Syrian refugees,[71] before clarifying that those refugees should be Christian due to the existence of nearer places of refuge for Muslims.[72] Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front and co-president of the former Europe of Nations and Freedom (EMF) group, accused Germany of looking to hire "slaves" by opening its doors to large numbers of asylum seekers at a debate in Germany whether there should be exceptions to the recently introduced minimum wage law for refugees.[73][74] Le Pen also accused Germany of imposing its immigration policy on the rest of the EU unilaterally.[75] Her comments were reported by the German[76] and Austrian press;[77] the online edition of Der Spiegel referred to them as "abstruse claims".[78] The centre-right daily newspaper Die Welt wrote that she "exploit[ed] the refugee crisis for anti-German propaganda".[79]

Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom and a member of the former EMF known for his criticism of Islam, called the influx of people an "Islamic invasion" during a debate in the Dutch parliament and spoke of "masses of young men in their twenties with beards singing Allahu Akbar across Europe".[80] He also dismissed the idea that people arriving in Western Europe via the Balkans are genuine refugees, and statedː "Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia are safe countries. If you flee them then you are doing it for benefits and a house."[81]

Initial proposals

After the migrant shipwreck on 19 April 2015, Italian Prime Minister Renzi held a telephone conversation with French President François Hollande and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.[82][83] They agreed to call for an emergency meeting of European interior ministers to address the problem of migrant deaths. Renzi condemned human trafficking as a "new slave trade"[84] while Prime Minister Muscat said the 19 April shipwreck was the "biggest human tragedy of the last few years". Hollande described smugglers as "terrorists" who put migrant lives at risk. Aydan Özoğuz, the German government's representative for migration, refugees, and integration, said that emergency rescue missions should be restored as more migrants were likely to arrive as the weather turned warmer. "It was an illusion to think that cutting off Mare Nostrum would prevent people from attempting this dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean", she said.[85][86][86][87] Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, called for collective EU action ahead at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday 20 April.[87][88]

In a press conference, Renzi confirmed that Italy had called an "extraordinary European council" meeting as soon as possible to discuss the tragedy;[89] various European leaders agreed with this idea.[90][91] Then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron tweeted on 20 April that he "supported" Renzi's "call for an emergency meeting of EU leaders to find a comprehensive solution" to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.[92] He later confirmed that he would attend an emergency summit of European leaders on Thursday.[93]

On 20 April 2015, the European Commission proposed a 10-point plan to tackle the crisis:[94]

  • They would reinforce the joint operations in the Mediterranean, namely Triton and Poseidon, by increasing the financial resources and the number of assets. The EU would extend the operations' areas, allowing the EU to intervene further within the mandate of Frontex;
  • They would exercise a systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers. The positive results obtained with the Atalanta operation would inspire the EU to carry out similar operations against smugglers in the Mediterranean;
  • Europol, Frontex, EASO and Eurojust would meet regularly and work closely to gather information on smugglers' modus operandi, trace their funds, and assist in investigations against them;
  • The EASO would deploy teams in Italy and Greece to jointly process asylum applications;
  • Member States would ensure all migrants were fingerprinted;
  • They would consider options for an emergency relocation mechanism;
  • They would conduct an EU wide voluntary pilot project on resettlement and offer a number of places to persons in need of protection;
  • They would establish a new return programme for the rapid return of irregular migrants coordinated by Frontex from frontline Member States;
  • The Commission and the European External Action Service would engage with countries surrounding Libya in a joint effort with initiatives in Niger being prioritised.
  • They would deploy Immigration Liaison Officers (ILO) in key third countries to gather intelligence on migratory flows and strengthen the role of the EU Delegations.

In 1999, the European Commission devised a plan to create a unified asylum system for those seeking refuge and asylum called the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The system sought to address three key problemsː asylum shopping, differing outcomes in different EU Member States for those seeking asylum, and differing social benefits in different EU Member States for those seeking asylum.[95] In 2016 the European Commission began reforming the CEAS.

In an attempt to address the three problems, the European Commission created five components that sought to satisfy the minimum standards for asylum:[95]

  • The Asylum Procedures Directive
  • The Receptions Conditions Directive
  • The Qualification Directive
  • The Dublin regulation
  • The Eurodac Regulation

The CEAS was completed in 2005 and sought to protect the rights of those seeking asylum. The system was implemented differently across EU states, which built an uneven system of twenty-eight asylum systems across individual states. Due to the divided asylum system and pre-existing problems in Dublin's system, the European Commission proposed a reform of the Common European Asylum System in 2016.[96]

On 6 April 2016, the European Commission began reforming the CEAS and creating measures for safe and managed paths for legal migration to Europe. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans stated that "[they needed] a sustainable system for the future, based on common rules, a fairer sharing of responsibility, and safe legal channels for those who need protection to get it in the EU".[97]

The European Commission identified five areas that needed improvement in order to successfully reform the CEAS:[97]

  • Establishing a sustainable and fair system to determine the Member State responsible for asylum seekers.
  • Achieving greater convergence and reducing asylum shopping.
  • Preventing secondary movements within the EU.
  • A new mandate for the EU's asylum agency that would allow the Asylum Support Office to participate in implementing policy and have an operational position.
  • Reinforcing the Eurodac system to support the implementation of a reformed Dublin System.

To create safer and more efficient legal migration routes, the European Commission sought to meet the following five goals:[97]

  • A structured resettlement system.
  • A reform of the EU Blue Card Directive to enhance the admission process and improve migrant rights.
  • Measures to attract and support innovative entrepreneurs to increase economic growth and create jobs.
  • A REFIT evaluation of the existing legal migration rules to simplify the current rules for living, working, or studying in the EU.
  • Pursuing close cooperation with third-world countries to create a more successful management of migrants.

On 13 July 2016, the European Commission introduced the proposals to finalise the CEAS' reform. The reform sought to create a just policy for asylum seekers while providing a new system that was simple and shortened. Ultimately, the reform proposal attempted to create a system that could handle normal and impacted times of migratory pressure.[98]

The European Commission's outline for reform proposed the following:[98]

  • Replace the Asylum Procedures Directive with a Regulation, which sought to create a fair and efficient common EU procedure:
    • Simplify, clarify, and shorten asylum procedures.
    • Ensure common guarantees for asylum seekers.
    • Ensure stricter rules to combat abuse.
    • Harmonize rules on safe countries.
  • Replace the existing Qualification Directive with a new Regulation, which sought to unify protection standards and rights:
    • Create greater convergence of recognition rates and forms or protection.
    • Implement firmer rules to sanction secondary movements.
    • Provide protection only for as long as needed.
    • Strengthen integration incentives.
  • Reform the Reception Conditions Directive, which would allow for common reception standards for asylum seekers:
    • Administer standards and indicators on reception conditions developed by the European Asylum Support Office and update contingency plans.
    • Ensure asylum seekers remain available and discourage them from fleeing.
    • Clarify that reception conditions will only be provided in the Member State responsible.
    • Grant earlier access to the labour market.
    • Implement common reinforced guarantees.

Securing borders

Migrants crossing illegally into Hungary underneath the unfinished Hungary–Serbia border fence, 25 August 2015
In June 2015, Royal Navy ship HMS Enterprise replaced HMS Bulwark in the mission to rescue migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy [99]

The 2013 Lampedusa migrant shipwreck involved "more than 360" deaths and led the Italian government to establish Operation Mare Nostrum, a large-scale naval operation that involved search and rescue, with migrants being brought aboard a naval amphibious assault ship.[100] The Italian government ended the operation in 2014 amid an upsurge in the number of sea arrivals in Italy from Libya, citing the costs were too large for one EU state alone to manage; Frontex assumed the main responsibility for search and rescue operations under the name Operation Triton.[101] The Italian government had requested additional funds from the EU to continue the operation but member states did not offer the requested support.[102] The UK government cited fears that the operation was acting as "an unintended 'pull factor', encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths".[103] The operation consisted of two surveillance aircraft and three ships, with seven teams of staff who gathered intelligence and conducted screening/identification processing. Its monthly budget was estimated at €2.9 million.[101] In the first half of 2015, Greece overtook Italy in the number of arrivals and became the starting point of a flow of refugees and migrants moving through Balkan countries to Northern European countries, mainly Germany and Sweden in the summer of 2015 .

The Guardian and Reuters noted that doubling the size of Operation Triton would still leave the mission with fewer resources than Operation Mare Nostrum which had a budget thrice as large, four times the number of aircraft,[104] and a wider mandate to conduct search and rescue operations across the Mediterranean Sea.[105]

On 23 April 2015, a five-hour emergency summit was held and EU heads of state agreed to triple the budget of Operation Triton to €120 million for 2015–2016.[106] EU leaders claimed that this would allow for the same operational capabilities as Operation Mare Nostrum had had in 2013–2014. As part of the agreement the United Kingdom agreed to send the HMS Bulwark, two naval patrol boats, and three helicopters to join the Operation.[106] On 5 May 2015 Irish Minister of Defence Simon Coveney announced that the LÉ Eithne would participate in the response to the crisis.[107] Amnesty International immediately criticised the EU's response as "a face-saving not a life-saving operation" and said that "failure to extend Triton's operational area will fatally undermine today's commitment".[108]

On 18 May 2015, the European Union launched a new operation based in Rome, named EU Navfor Med, under the command of the Italian Admiral Enrico Credendino,[109] to undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels used by migrant smugglers.[110] The first phase of the operation launched on 22 June 2015 and involved naval surveillance detecting smugglers' boats and monitoring smuggling patterns from Libya towards Italy and Malta. The second phase, called "Operation Sophia", started in October and was aimed at disrupting the smugglers' journeys by boarding, searching, seizing, and diverting migrant vessels in international waters. The operation used six EU warships.[111][112] As of April 2016, the operation rescued more than 13,000 migrants at sea and arrested 68 alleged smugglers.[113]

The EU sought to increase the scope of EU Navfor Med so that a third phase of the operation would include patrols inside Libyan waters in order to capture and dispose of vessels used by smugglers.[114][115][116] Land operations on Libya to destroy vessels used by smugglers had been proposed, but commentators note that such an operation would need a UN or Libyan permit.

Eleni Rozali reported in 2016 that the Greek islands (Kos, Leros, Chios, for example) served as main entry points into Europe for Syrian refugees.[117]

The entry routes through the Western Balkan experienced the highest intensity of border restrictions in the 2015 EU migrant crisis, according to The New York Times[32] and other sources, and are as follows:

From To Barrier Situation
 Turkey  Greece Greece Greece built a razor-wire fence in 2012 along its short land border with Turkey.[32] In September 2015, Turkish provincial authorities gave approximately 1,700 migrants three days to leave the border zone.[118]
 Turkey  Bulgaria Bulgaria As a result of Greece's diversion of migrants to Bulgaria from Turkey, Bulgaria built its own fence to block migrants crossing from Turkey.[32]
 Greece  North Macedonia Macedonian In November 2015, North Macedonia began erecting a fence along its southern border with Greece to channel the flow of migrants through an official checkpoint as opposed to limiting migrant influx.[119] Beginning in November 2015, Greek police permitted only Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans to cross into North Macedonia.[120] In February, Macedonian soldiers began erecting a second fence meters away from the previous one.[121]
 Serbia  Hungary Hungaria Hungary built a 175-km (109-mi) razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia in 2015.[32]
 Croatia  Hungary Hungary Hungary built a 40-km (25-mi) razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia in 2015.[32] On 16 October 2015, Hungary announced that it would close off its border to migrants entering from Croatia.[122]
 Croatia  Slovenia Slovenia Slovenia blocked transit from Croatia in September 2015[32] and pepper sprayed migrants trying to cross.[123] Although Slovenia reopened the border on 18 October 2015, it restricted crossing to 2,500 migrants per day.[34]
 Hungary  Austria Austria planned to put border controls into effect along its border with Hungary in September 2015, and officials said the controls could stay in effect under European Union rules for up to six months.[32]
 Slovenia  Austria Austrian
 Russia  Norway On 25 January 2016, Russia closed its northern border checkpoint with Norway for asylum seekers being return to Russia.[124] While the announcement was noted as closure of the border, it only considered returning asylum seekers and is only a partial closure of the border.
 Russia  Finland On 4 December 2015, Finland temporarily closed one of its land border crossings by lowering the border gate and blocking the road with a car. The closure was only applied to asylum seekers and lasted a couple of hours.[125] On 27 December 2015, Finland closed its Russian border to cyclists and allegedly only enforced the rule at the Raja-Jooseppi [fi] and Salla checkpoints, as earlier more and more asylum seekers had crossed the border on bikes.[126]
 Austria  Germany Germany placed temporary travel restrictions from Austria by rail in 2015[32] but imposed the least onerous restrictions for migrants entering by the Western Balkans route in 2015, in the context that Chancellor Angela Merkel had insisted that Germany will not limit the number of refugees it accepts.[32]

Migration policies

3rd Prague Process Ministerial Conference

The Tampere Program started in 1999 outlines the EU's policy on migration and presents a certain openness towards freedom, security, and justice.[127] It focuses on two issuesː the development of a common asylum system and the enhancement of external border controls.[127] The externalization of borders with Turkey is essentially the transfer of border controls and management to foreign countries, which are in close proximity to EU countries.[128] The EU's decision to externalize its borders puts significant pressure on non-EU countries to cooperate with EU political forces.[129]

The Migration Partnership Framework introduced in 2016 implements greater resettlement of migrants and alternative legal routes for migration.[127] Its goals align with the EU's efforts throughout the refugee crisis to deflect responsibility and legal obligations away from EU member states and onto transit and origin countries.[127][129] By directing migrant flows to third countries,[clarification needed] policies place responsibilities on third-world countries[clarification needed].[129] States with insufficient resources are legally mandated to ensure the protection of migrants' rights, including the right to asylum.[129] Destination states under border externalization strategies are responsible for rights violated outside their own territory.[129] Fundamental rights of migrants can be impacted while externalizing borders;[129] for example, child migrants are recognized to have special status under international law, though they are vulnerable to trafficking and other crimes while in transit.

The Valletta Summit on Migration between European and African leaders was held in Valletta, Malta, on 11 and 12 November 2015 to discuss the migrant crisis. The summit resulted in the EU creating an Emergency Trust Fund to promote development in Africa, in return for African countries to help out in the crisis.[130]

At a time of diplomatic tensions with the Hungarian government, Merkel publicly pledged that Germany would offer temporary residency to refugees. Combined with television footage of cheering Germans welcoming refugees and migrants arriving in Munich,[131] large numbers of migrants were persuaded to move from Turkey up the Western Balkan route.[29]

On 25 August 2015 The Guardian reported "Germany's federal agency for migration and refugees made it public, that 'The #Dublin procedure for Syrian citizens is at this point in time effectively no longer being adhered to'". During a press conference, Germany's interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, confirmed that the suspension of the Dublin agreement was "not as such a legally binding act", but more of a "guideline for management practice".[132] Around 24 August 2015, Merkel decided to stop following the rule under the Dublin Regulation such that migrants "can apply for asylum only in the first EU member state they enter";[133] the Regulation actually holds that the migrant should apply for asylum in the first EU country where they were formally registered).[citation needed] Germany ordered its officers to process asylum applications from Syrians if they had come through other EU countries.[133] On 4 September 2015, Merkel decided that Germany would admit the thousands of refugees who were stranded in Hungary[134] and sent to the Austrian border under excessively hot conditions by Hungarian prime minister Orban.[135][136] With that decision, she reportedly aimed to prevent disturbances at the German borders.[136] Tens of thousands of refugees traveled from Hungary via Vienna into Germany in the days following 4 September 2015.[134][135]

Analyst Will Hutton for the British newspaper The Guardian praised Merkel's decisions on migration policies on 30 August 2015: "Angela Merkel's humane stance on migration is a lesson to us all… The German leader has stood up to be counted. Europe should rally to her side… She wants to keep Germany and Europe open, to welcome legitimate asylum seekers in common humanity, while doing her very best to stop abuse and keep the movement to manageable proportions. Which demands a European-wide response (…)".[137]

Mediterranean sea arrivals to Greece and Italy from January 2015 to September 2016, according to UNHCR data [138]

The EU proposed a plan to the Turkish government in which Turkey would take back every refugee who entered Greece (and thereby the EU) illegally; in return, the EU would accept one person into the EU who is registered as a Syrian refugee in Turkey for every Syrian sent back from Greece.[139] 12 EU countries have national lists of safe countries of origin. The European Commission proposed one, common EU list designated as "safe" across all EU candidate countries (Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey), plus potential EU candidates Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.[140] The list would allow for faster returns to those countries, even though asylum applications from nationals of those countries would continue to be assessed on an individual, case-by-case basis.[140] International Law generated during the Geneva Convention states that a country is considered "safe" when there is a democratic system in a country and there is generally no persecution, no torture, no threat of violence, and no armed conflict.[141]

In November, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reportedly threatened to send the millions of refugees in Turkey to EU member states if it was left to shoulder the burden alone.[142] On 12 November 2015, at the end of the Valletta Summit in Malta, EU officials announced an agreement to offer Turkey €3 billion over two years to manage more than 2 million refugees from Syria who had sought refuge there in return for curbing migration through Turkey into the EU.[143] The €3 billion fund for Turkey was approved by the EU in February 2016.[144]

In January 2016, the Netherlands proposed a plan that the EU take in 250,000 refugees a year from Turkey in return for Turkey closure of the Aegean sea route to Greece, which Turkey rejected.[145] On 7 March 2016, the EU met with Turkey for another summit in Brussels to negotiate further solutions of the crisis. The original plan was to declare the Western Balkan route closed, but it was met with criticism from Merkel.[146] Turkey countered the offer by demanding a further €3 billion in order to help them supply aid to the 2.7 million refugees in Turkey. In addition, the Turkish government asked for their citizens to be allowed to travel freely into the Schengen area starting at the end of June 2016, as well as expedited talks of a possible accession of Turkey to the European Union.[147][148] The plan to send migrants back to Turkey was criticized on 8 March 2016 by the United Nations, which warned that it could be illegal to send the migrants back to Turkey in exchange for financial and political rewards.[149]

On 20 March 2016, an agreement between the European Union and Turkey was enacted to discourage migrants from making the dangerous sea journey from Turkey to Greece. Under its terms, migrants arriving in Greece would be sent back to Turkey if they did not apply for asylum or their claim was rejected, whilst the EU would send around 2,300 experts, including security and migration officials and translators, to Greece in order to help implement the deal.[150]

It was also agreed upon that any irregular migrants who crossed into Greece from Turkey after 20 March 2016 would be sent back to Turkey based on an individual case-by-case evaluation. Any Syrian returned to Turkey would be replaced by a Syrian resettled from Turkey to the EU; they would preferably be the individuals who did not try to enter the EU illegally in the past. Allowed migrants would not exceed a maximum of 72,000 people.[139] Turkish nationals would have access to the Schengen passport-free zone by June 2016 but would exclude non-Schengen countries such as the UK. The talks about Turkey's accession to the EU as a member began in July 2016 and $3.3 billion in aid was to be delivered to Turkey.[150][151] The talks were suspended in November 2016 after the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt.[152] A similar threat was raised as the European Parliament voted to suspend EU membership talks with Turkey in November 2016: "if you go any further," Erdoğan declared, "these border gates will be opened. Neither me nor my people will be affected by these dry threats."[153][154]

Migrants from Greece to Turkey were to be given medical checks, registered, fingerprinted, and bused to "reception and removal" centres.[155][156] before being deported to their home countries.[155] UNHCR director Vincent Cochetel claimed in August 2016 that parts of the deal were already suspended because of the post-coup absence of Turkish police at the Greek detention centres to oversee deportations.[157][158]

The UNHCR said it was not a party to the EU-Turkey deal and would not be involved in returns or detention.[159] Like the UNHCR, four aid agencies (Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children) said they would not help to implement the EU-Turkey deal because blanket expulsion of refugees contravened international law.[160]

Amnesty International said that the agreement between EU and Turkey was "madness", and that 18 March 2016 was "a dark day for Refugee Convention, Europe and humanity". Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey and EU had the same challenges, the same future, and the same destiny. Donald Tusk said that the migrants in Greece would not be sent back to dangerous areas.[161]

On 17 March 2017, Turkish interior minister Süleyman Soylu threatened to send 15,000 refugees to the European Union every month, while Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also threatened to cancel the deal.[162][163]

Refugees protesting at the Pazarkule border gate, the Greek-Turkish border

On 9 October 2019, the Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria began. Within the first week and a half 130,000 people were displaced. On 10 October it was reported that President Erdoğan had threatened to send "millions" of Syrian refugees to Europe in response to criticism of his military offensive into Kurdish-controlled northern Syria.[164] On 27 February 2020, a senior Turkish official said Turkish police, coast guard and border security officials had received orders to no longer stop refugees' land and sea crossings to Europe.[165]

  The Schengen Area
  European Union members legally obliged to join Schengen at a future date
  Countries with open borders

In the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985, 26 European countries (22 of the 28 European Union member states, plus four European Free Trade Association states) joined together to form an area where border checks were restricted to and enforced on the external Schengen borders and countries with external borders. Countries may reinstate internal border controls for a maximum of two months for "public policy or national security" reasons.[166]

The Dublin Regulation determines the EU member state responsible to examine an asylum application and prevent asylum applicants in the EU from "asylum shopping"—where applicants send their applications for asylum to numerous EU member states to get the best "deal" instead of just having "safety countries"—[167] or "asylum orbiting"—where no member state takes responsibility for an asylum seeker. By default (when no family reasons or humanitarian grounds are present), the first member state that an asylum seeker entered and in which they have been fingerprinted is responsible. If the asylum seeker moves to another member state afterwards, they can be transferred back to the member state they first entered. This rule led many to criticise the Dublin Regulation for placing too much responsibility for asylum seekers on member states on the EU's external borders (like Italy, Greece, Croatia and Hungary), instead of devising a burden-sharing system among EU states.[168][169][170]

In June 2016, the Commission to the European Parliament and Council addressed "inherent weaknesses" in the Common European Asylum System and proposed reforms for the Dublin Regulation.[171] Under the initial Dublin Regulation, responsibility was concentrated on border states that received a large influx of asylum seekers. A briefing by the European Parliament explained that the Dublin Agreement was only designed to assign responsibility and not to effectively share responsibility.[172] The reforms would attempt to create a burden-sharing system through several mechanisms. The proposal would introduce a "centralised automated system" to record the number of asylum applications across the EU, with "national interfaces" within each of the Member States.[173] It would also present a "reference key" based on a Member State's GDP and population size to determine its absorption capacity.[173] When the absorption capacity in a Member State exceeded 150 percent of its reference share, a "fairness mechanism" would distribute the excess number of asylum seekers across less congested Member States.[173] If a Member State chooses not to accept the asylum seekers, it would contribute €250,000 per application instead as a "solidarity contribution".[173] The reforms have been discussed in European Parliament since its proposal in 2016, and was included in a meeting on "The Third Reform of the Common European Asylum System – Up for the Challenge" in 2017.[174]

As most asylum seekers try to reach Germany or Sweden through other EU member states, many of which form the borderless Schengen area where internal border controls are abolished, enforcing the Dublin Regulation became increasingly difficult in the late summer of 2015, with some countries allowing asylum seekers to transit through their territories, renouncing the right to return them, or reinstating border controls within the Schengen Area to prevent them from entering. In July 2017, the European Court of Justice upheld the Dublin Regulation, despite the high influx of 2015, and gave EU member states the right to deport migrants to the first country of entry to the EU.[175]

Countries responded in different ways:

  • Hungary became overburdened by asylum applications and on 23 June 2015 it stopped receiving returned applicants who had crossed the borders to other EU countries and been detained there.[176] Later in the year, migrants in southern Hungary started a hunger strike in protest against the closure of the green border with Serbia.[177][178] Hungarian police used tear gas and a water cannon on the protesters after they threw stones and concrete at the riot police.[179]
  • On 24 August 2015, in accordance with article 17 of the Dublin III Regulations, Germany suspended the general procedure in regards to Syrian refugees and to process their asylum applications directly itself.[180] The change in Germany asylum policy incited large numbers of migrants to move towards Germany, especially after Merkel stated that "there is no legal limit to refugee numbers".[181][182] Meanwhile, Austria allowed unimpeded travel of migrants from Hungary to Germany through its own territory. Germany then established temporary border controls along its border with Austria to "limit the current inflows" and "return to orderly procedures when people enter the country" according to de Maizière.[183] The Czech Republic reacted by increasing its police presence along its border with Austria in anticipation of the mass of migrants in Austria trying to reach Germany through the Czech Republic. Czech police conducted random searches of vehicles and trains within Czech territory and patrolled the green border in cars and helicopters. Some Czech police officers were stationed within Austria in order to give advance warning if large numbers of migrants moved towards the Austrian–Czech borders.[184] On 9 and 10 September, Denmark closed rail lines with Germany after hundreds of migrants refused to be registered in the country as asylum seekers and insisted on continuing their travel to Sweden.[185]
  • On 2 September 2015, the Czech Republic defied the Dublin Regulation and offered Syrian refugees the option to have their application processed in the Czech Republic or to continue their journey elsewhere. Immigrants of other nationalities would normally face detention and return under the Dublin Regulation if they tried to reach Germany through the Czech Republic.[186] On 7 September, Austria began phasing out special measures that had allowed tens of thousands of migrants to cross its territory and reinstated the Dublin Regulation.[187]
  • On 14 September, Austria established border controls along its border with Hungary and deployed police officers and the army there.[188] Hungary also deployed army personnel along its border with Serbia[189] and announced that in those who illegally enter Hungary would be arrested and face imprisonment[190] before closing it.[191] After Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann's made remarks likening Hungary's treatment of refugees to Nazi policies,[192] Hungary started transporting refugees by bus directly to the border with Austria, where they were offloaded and tried to cross to Austria on foot.[193]

Management of immigration

Expenditure on refugees (caseload) 2015–2016 (2016 summary) [194]
Country Refugees
in € Mil.
ø Costs
in € per
Sweden 179,017 2,403 0.54% 245.27
Austria 136,208 1,566 0.46% 181.91
Germany 1,301,068 13,309 0.44% 163.48
Switzerland 65,164 1,156 0.19% 139.45
Norway 33,613 645 0.18% 124.19
Luxembourg 4,263 69 0.13% 120.82
Finland 37,739 447 0.21% 81.53
Denmark 27,970 393 0.15% 69.31
Malta 3,398 24 0.28% 56.36
Belgium 52,700 543 0.13% 48.08
Netherlands 58,517 680 0.10% 40.15
Italy 197,739 2,359 0.14% 38.80
Cyprus 4,550 36 0.21% 30.79
Hungary 114,365 293 0.27% 29.80
Iceland 850 10 0.06% 29.02
Greece 57,521 313 0.18% 28.91
France 149,332 1,490 0.07% 22.30
UK 81,751 1,081 0.04% 16.59
Bulgaria 36,194 95 0.22% 13.23
EU+EFTA 2,614,306 27,296 0.17% 52.14

The table above summarizes the 1.7 million asylum applicants in 2015 costed €18 billion in maintenance costs in 2016, with the total 2015 and 2016 asylum caseload costing €27.3 billion (27.296 in € Mil.) in 2016. Sweden is observed to bear the heaviest cost.[194]

The escalation in April 2015 of shipwrecks of migrant boats in the Mediterranean led EU leaders to reconsider their policies on border control and migrant processing.[87] On 20 April the European Commission proposed a 10-point plan that included the European Asylum Support Office deploying teams in Italy and Greece to asylum applications together.[195] Merkel proposed a new system of quotas to distribute non-EU asylum seekers across the EU member states.[196]

In September 2015, as thousands of migrants started to move from Budapest to Vienna, Germany, Italy, and France demanded asylum-seekers be shared more evenly between EU states. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed to distribute 160,000 asylum seekers among EU states under a new migrant quota system. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn called for the establishment of a European Refugee Agency, which would have the power to investigate whether every EU member state is applying the same standards for granting asylum to migrants. Orbán criticised the European Commission, warning that "tens of millions" of migrants could come to Europe, whom Asselborn declared to be "ashamed" of.[197][198] German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that EU members reluctant to accept compulsory migrant quotas may have to be outvoted: "if there is no other way, then we should seriously consider to use the instrument of a qualified majority".[199]

National governments' position in the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Council majority vote to relocate 120,000 refugees:
  Non-EU state

Leaders of the Visegrád Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) declared in a September meeting in Prague that they will not accept any compulsory long-term quota on redistribution of immigrants.[200] Czech Government's Secretary for European Affairs Tomáš Prouza commented that "if two or three thousand people who do not want to be here are forced into the Czech Republic, it is fair to assume that they will leave anyway. The quotas are unfair to the refugees, we can't just move them here and there like a cattle." According to the Czech interior minister Milan Chovanec, from 2 September 2015, Czech Republic was offering asylum to every Syrian caught by the police notwithstanding the Dublin Regulation: out of about 1,300 apprehended until 9 September, only 60 decided to apply for asylum in the Czech Republic, with the rest of them continuing to Germany or elsewhere.[201]

Czech President Miloš Zeman said that Ukrainian refugees fleeing the War in Donbass should be also included in migrant quotas.[202] In November 2015, the Czech Republic started a program of medical evacuations of 400 selected Syrian refugees from Jordan. Under the program, severely sick children were selected for treatment in the best Czech medical facilities, with their families getting asylum, airlift, and a paid flat in the Czech Republic after stating their clear intent to stay in the country. However, from the first three families that had been transported to Prague, one immediately fled to Germany. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said that this signals that quota system will not work either.[203]

On 7 September 2015, France announced that it would accept 24,000 asylum-seekers over two years; Britain announced that it would take in up to 20,000 refugees, primarily vulnerable children and orphans from camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey; and Germany pledged US$6.7 billion to deal with the migrant crisis.[204][205] However, both Austria and Germany also warned that they would not be able to keep up with the current pace of the influx and that it would need to slow down first.[206]

On 22 September 2015, European Union interior ministers meeting in the Justice and Home Affairs Council approved a plan to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers over two years from the frontline states Italy, Greece and Hungary to all other EU countries (except Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom which have opted out). The relocation plan applies to asylum seekers "in clear need of international protection" (those with a recognition rate higher than 75 percent, i.e., Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis) – 15,600 from Italy, 50,400 from Greece and 54,000 from Hungary – who will be distributed among EU states on the basis of quotas taking into account the size of the economy and population of each state, as well as the average number of asylum applications. The decision was made by majority vote, with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia voting against and Finland abstaining. Since Hungary voted against the relocation plan, its 54,000 asylum seekers would not be relocated.[207][208][209][210] Czech Interior Minister tweeted after the vote: "Common sense lost today."[211] Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico threatened legal action over EU's mandatory migrant quotas at European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.[212] On 9 October, the first 20 Eritrean asylum seekers were relocated by plane from Italy to Sweden,[213] and were fingerprinted in Italy.[214]

On 25 October 2015, the leaders of Greece and other states along Western Balkan routes to wealthier nations of Europe, including Germany, agreed to set up holding camps for 100,000 asylum seekers, a move which Merkel supported.[215]

On 12 November it was reported that Frontex had been maintaining combined asylum seeker and deportation hotspots in Lesbos, Greece, since October.[216]

On 15 December 2015 the EU proposed taking over the border and coastal security operations at major migrant entry pressure points via its Frontex operation.[217]

By September 2016 the quota system proposed by EU was abandoned after staunch resistance by Visegrád Group countries.[218][219]

By 9 June 2017, 22,504 people were resettled through the quota system, with over 2000 of them being resettled in May alone.[220] All relevant countries participated in the relocation scheme except Austria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary,[221] against whom the European commission had consequentially launched sanctions against the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.[222]

During 2015–16 New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Germany, a poster showing the title "Offering a Reward" in both German and Arabic in Cologne.

Historically, migrants have often been portrayed as a "security threat", and there has been focus on the narrative that terrorists maintain networks amongst transnational, refugee, and migrant populations. This fear was exaggerated into a modern-day Islamist terrorism Trojan Horse in which terrorists hide among refugees and penetrate host countries.[223] In the wake of November 2015 Paris attacks, Poland's European affairs minister-designate Konrad Szymański stated that he saw no possibility of enacting the EU refugee relocation scheme,[224] saying, "We'll accept [refugees only] if we have security guarantees."[225]

The attacks prompted European officials—particularly German officials—to re-evaluate their stance on EU policy toward migrants.[226][227] Many German officials believed a higher level of scrutiny was needed, and criticised Merkel's stance, but the German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel defended her position and pointed out that a lot of migrants were fleeing terrorism.[227]

In January 2016, 18 of 31 men suspected of violent assaults on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve were identified as asylum seekers, prompting calls by German officials to deport convicted criminals who may be seeking asylum;[228] these sexual attacks brought about a new wave of anti-immigrant protests across Europe.[229] Merkel said "wir schaffen das" during the violence and crime by German immigrants, including the 2016 Munich shooting, the 2016 Ansbach bombing, and the Würzburg train attack.[230]

In 2016, the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa reported that officials from Europol conducted an investigation into the trafficking of fake documents for ISIL. They identified fake Syrian passports in the refugee camps in Greece that were for supposed members of ISIL to avoid Greek security and make their way to other parts of Europe. The chief of Europol also said that a new task force of 200 counter-terrorism officers would be deployed to the Greek islands alongside Greek border guards in order to help Greece stop a "strategic" level campaign by ISIL to infiltrate terrorists into Europe.[231]

In October 2016 Danish immigration minister Inger Støjberg reported 50 cases of suspected radicalised asylum seekers at asylum centres. The reports ranged from adult Islamic State sympathisers celebrating terror attacks to violent children who dress up as IS fighters decapitating teddy bears. Støjberg expressed her frustration at asylum seekers ostensibly fleeing war yet simultaneously supporting violence. Asylum centres that detected radicalisation routinely reported their findings to police. The 50 incidents were reported between 17 November 2015 and 14 September 2016.[232][233]

In February 2017, British newspaper The Guardian reported that ISIL was paying the smugglers fees of up to $2,000 USD to recruit people from refugee camps in Jordan and in a desperate attempt to radicalize children for the group. The reports by counter-extremism think tank Quilliam indicated that an estimated 88,300 unaccompanied children—who are reported as missing—were at risk of radicalization by ISIL.[234]

In December 2015, Hungary challenged the EU's plans to share asylum seekers across EU states at the European Court of Justice.[235] The border closed 15 September 2015, with razor wire fence along its southern borders, particularly Croatia, and travel by train was blocked.[236] The government believed that "illegal migrants" are job-seekers, threats to security, and likely to "threaten our culture".[237] There have been cases of immigrants and ethnic minorities being attacked. In addition, Hungary has conducted wholesale deportations of refugees, who are generally considered to be allied with ISIL.[238] Refugees are outlawed and almost all are ejected.[238]

There can be instances of exploitation at the hands of enforcement officials, citizens of the host country, instances of human rights violations, child labor, mental and physical trauma/torture, violence-related trauma, and sexual exploitation, especially of children, have been documented.[239]

In October, a plot by neo-Nazis to attack a refugee center with explosives, knives, a baseball bat, and a gun was foiled by German police. Nazi magazines and memorabilia from the Third Reich, flags emblazoned with banned swastikas were found. According to the prosecutor the goal was "to establish fear and terror among asylum-seekers". The accused claimed to be either the members of Die Rechte, or anti-Islam group Pegida (Nügida).[240]

In November 2016, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor issued a report in regards to the humanitarian situation of migrants into Greece. It hosted 16,209 migrants on its island and 33,650 migrants on the mainland, most of whom were women and children. Because of the lack of water, medical care and security protection witnessed by the Euro- Med monitor team- especially with the arrival of winter, they were at risk of serious health deterioration. 1,500 refugees were moved into other places since their camps were deluged with snow, but relocation of the refugees always came too late after they lived without electricity and heating devices for too long. It showed that there was a lack of access to legal services and protection for the refugees and migrants in the camps; there was no trust between the residents and the protection offices. In addition, migrants were subject to regular xenophobic attacks, fascist violence, forced strip searches at the hands of residents and police, and detention. Women living in the Athens settlements and the Vasilika, Softex and Diavata camps felt worried about their children as they may be subjected to sexual abuse, trafficking and drug use. As a result, some of the refugees and migrants committed suicide, burned property and protested. The report clarified the difficulties the refugees face when entering into Greece; more than 16,000 people were trapped while awaiting deportation on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, which is twice the capacity of the five islands.[241]

In August 2017 dozens of Afghan asylum seekers demonstrated in a square in Stockholm against their pending deportations. They were attacked by a group of 15–16 men who threw fireworks at them. Three protesters were injured and one was taken to hospital. No one was arrested.[242]

Profile of migrants

Countries of origin of asylum applicants in the EU and EFTA states between 1 January and 30 June 2015
This map shows the distribution of refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2015 in the regions of Middle East, Africa and Europe while also showing the top 8 (data in millions) worldwide countries of origin of refugees (note that Turkey is out of scale, hosting 2.7 millions refugees while Palestinian refugees are not included; UNHCR data)
Nationalities of the Mediterranean sea arrivals to Greece and Italy in 2015, according to UNHCR data
Map of migrants' routes to North Africa and Europe from West Africa
Syrian refugees hosted in some Middle East countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt); only a small fraction of all Syrian refugees have been resettled anywhere in the world (data as of August 2015)
Countries of origin of asylum applicants (1 January – 30 June 2015), Distribution of refugees and asylum seekers at 2015 [243] Nationalities of the Mediterranean sea arrivals in 2015, [138] Map of migrants' routes, Syrian refugees as of August 2015 [244]

According to the UNHCR, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide reached 59,500,000 by the end of 2014,[245] with a 40 percent increase since 2011. Of these 59.5 million, 19.5 million were refugees (14.4 million under UNHCR's mandate, plus 5.1 million Palestinian refugees under UNRWA's mandate) and 1.8 million were asylum-seekers. The rest were persons displaced within their own countries (internally displaced persons). The refugees under UNHCR's mandate increased by approximately 2.7 million (23%) compared to the end of 2013, the highest level since 1995. Among them, Syrian refugees became the largest refugee group in 2014 (3.9 million, 1.55 million more than the previous year), overtaking Afghan refugees (2.6 million), who had been the largest refugee group for three decades. Six of the ten largest countries refugees originated from were African: Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea.[26][246]

In 2016, the UNHCR reported the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide reached 65,600,000 at the end of 2016, the highest level since World War II. Of these 65,600,000, 22.5 million were refugees (17.2 million under UNHCR's mandate, plus 5.3 million Palestinian refugees under UNRWA's mandate), 2.8 million of which were asylum seekers. The rest were internally displaced persons. The 17.2 million refugees under UNHCR's mandate increased by 2.9 million compared to the end of 2014, and is the highest number of refugees since 1992.

As of 2017, 55 percent of refugees worldwide came from three nations: South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria. Of all displaced peoples, 17 percent of them are hosted in Europe. As of April 2018, 15,481 refugees successfully arrived in Europe via sea within the first few months of the year alone. There was an estimated 500 that have died. In 2015, there was a total of 1.02 million arrivals by sea. Since then, there is still an influx, albeit steadily decreasing.[247]

UNHCR data reported 58 percent of the refugees and migrants arriving in Europe by sea in 2015 were men, 17 percent were women and 25 percent were children.[24][248] Of the asylum applications received in Sweden in 2015, 70 percent were by men (including minors),[249] as men search for a safe place to live and work before attempting to reunite later with their families.[250] In war-torn countries, men are also at greater risk of being forced to fight or killed.[251] Among people arriving in Europe there were also large numbers of women and unaccompanied children.[250] Europe received a record number of asylum applications from unaccompanied child refugees in 2015 as they became separated from their families in war, or their family could not afford to send more than one member abroad. Younger refugees also have better chances of receiving asylum.[252]

UNHCR noted the top ten nationalities of Mediterranean Sea arrivals in 2015 were Syria (49 percent), Afghanistan (21 percent), Iraq (8 percent), Eritrea (4 percent), Pakistan (2 percent), Nigeria (2 percent), Somalia (2 percent), Sudan (1 percent), the Gambia (1 percent) and Mali (1 percent).[24][248] Asylum seekers of seven nationalities had an asylum recognition rate of over 50 percent in EU states in the first quarter of 2015, which meant that they obtained protection over half the time they applied: Syrians (94 percent recognition rate), Eritreans (90 percent), Iraqis (88 percent), Afghans (66 percent), Iranians (65 percent), Somalis (60 percent) and Sudanese (53 percent). Migrants of these nationalities accounted for 90 percent of the arrivals in Greece and 47 percent of the arrivals in Italy between January and August 2015.[253][254]

Developing countries hosted the largest share of refugees (86 percent by the end of 2014, the highest figure in more than two decades); the least developed countries alone provided asylum to 25 percent of refugees worldwide.[26] Even though most Syrian refugees were hosted by neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the number of asylum applications lodged by Syrian refugees in Europe steadily increased between 2011 and 2015, totaling 813,599 in 37 European countries (including both EU members and non-members) as of November 2015; 57 percent of them applied for asylum in Germany or Serbia.[255]

Origins, routes, motivations

Island groups of the Aegean Sea
Greek, Turkish and Bulgarian borders and the course of the Evros River (also known as Maritsa River)

As of May 2017, Frontex (the European border and coast guard agency) identified the following eight main routes on sea and on land used by irregular migrants to enter the EU:[256]

  • Western African route (Sea passage from West African countries into the Canary Islands (i.e., territory of Spain))
  • Western Mediterranean route (Sea passage from North Africa to southern coast of Spain which also includes the land route through the borders of Ceuta and Melilla)
  • Central Mediterranean route (Sea passage from North Africa (particularly Egypt[257] and Libya) towards Italy and Malta across the Mediterranean Sea). Most migrants taking this route board vessels operated by people smugglers. NGOs such as Save the Children, MSF, and the German organisation Sea Eye operate search-and-rescue ships in this area to bring migrants to Europe.[258]
  • Apulia and Calabria route (Sea passage from Turkey and Egypt who enter Greece before crossing the Ionian Sea towards southern Italy; since October 2014 this has been classified by Frontex as a subset of the Central Mediterranean route)
  • Albania–Greece circular route (Large number of illegal land border crossings where economic migrants from Albania cross into Greece for seasonal jobs before returning home.)
  • Western Balkan route (Land and sea route from the Greek-Turkish border to Hungary via North Macedonia and Serbia, Romania or Croatia.[259] Mostly used by Greater Middle Eastern immigrants (from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq) but also by large numbers of migrants from Western Balkan countries, primarily Kosovo).
  • Eastern Mediterranean route (Passage used primarily by Greater Middle Eastern migrants crossing from Turkey into the EU via Greece, Bulgaria or Cyprus. Large portions of these migrants continue along the Western Balkan route towards Hungary or Romania.)
  • Eastern Borders route (The 6,000 km long land border between EU's eastern member countries and Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova.)

Another route was added:

  • The Arctic route (from Russia via to Sør-Varanger in Norway) emerged by September 2015[260] and became one of the fastest-growing routes to enter Western Europe by November 2015.[261] This route was temporarily closed in 2016 after Russia and Norway decided to limit movement through Salla and Lotta for migrants, and allowed only Russian, Norwegian and Belarusian citizens to access it.[262]

Migrants from the Western Balkans (Kosovo, Albania, Serbia) and parts of West Africa (The Gambia, Nigeria) were more likely to be economic migrants, who were fleeing poverty and job scarcity, many of whom hoped for a better lifestyle and job offers without valid claims to refugee status.[263][264] The majority of asylum applicants from Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro are Roma people who felt discriminated against in their countries of origin.[265]

Some argue that migrants have been seeking to settle preferentially in national destinations that offer more generous social welfare benefits and host more established Middle Eastern and African immigrant communities. Others argue that migrants are attracted to more tolerant societies with stronger economies, and that the chief motivation for leaving Turkey is that they are not permitted to leave camps or work.[266] A large number of refugees in Turkey have been faced with difficult living circumstances;[267] thus, many refugees arriving in southern Europe continue their journey in attempts to reach northern European countries such as Germany, which are observed as having more prominent outcomes of security.[268] In contrast to Germany, France's popularity eroded in 2015 among migrants seeking asylum after being historically considered a popular final destination for the EU migrants.[269][270]

The influx from states like Nigeria and Pakistan is a mix of economic migrants and refugees fleeing from violence and war such as the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria and the War in North-West Pakistan.[271][272][273]

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, most of the people who arrived in Europe in 2015 were refugees fleeing war and persecution[274] in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea: 84 percent of Mediterranean Sea arrivals in 2015 came from the world's top ten refugee-producing countries.[275] Wars fueling the migrant crisis are the Syrian Civil War, the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, the War in Somalia and the War in Darfur. Refugees from Eritrea, one of the most repressive states in the world, fled from indefinite military conscription and forced labour.[271][276] Some ethnicities or religions are more represented among the migrants than others; for instance, Kurds make up 80 to 90 percent of all Turkish refugees in Germany.[277]

Refugees coming from the Middle East attempted to seek asylum in Europe rather than in countries surrounding their own neighboring regions.[278] In 2015, over 80 percent of the refugees who arrived in Europe by sea came from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.[279] Routes in which these refugees face while attempting to arrive in Europe are usually extremely dangerous.[280] The jeopardy to endure such routes supported the arguments behind certain refugees' preferential motivations of seeking asylum within European nations.[281]

Major groups

Asylum seekers in percent / year [282]
Sort 2015 2016 2017
Syrian 29% 28% 16%
Undeclared 26% 28% 40%
Afghanistan 14% 15% 07%
Iraq 10% 11% 07%
Albanian 05% 02% 03%
Bangladesh 03%
Ivory Coast 02%
Eritrea 03% 03% 04%
Guinea 03%
Iran 02% 03% 03%
Kosovo 05%
Nigeria 02% 04% 06%
Pakistan 04% 04% 05%
Russia 02%
Turkey 02%

The greatest number of refugees fleeing to Europe originate from Syria.[citation needed] Refugees of the Syrian Civil War are citizens and permanent residents of Syria, who have fled their country over the course of the Syrian Civil War (begin:2011). Since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 more than six million (2016) were internally displaced, and around five million (2016) had crossed into other countries,[283] with most seeking asylum or placed in Syrian refugee camps established in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and EU. Detected illegal border crossings to the EU by Syrians was 78,887 in 2014, 594,059 in 2015, 88,551 in 2016, and 19,452 in 2017.

Syrians established diaspora in Denmark, Finland, Austria, Germany, Greece, Norway, Sweden and United Kingdom. Their migration stems from severe socio-political oppression under Bashar al-Assad. Civil war ensued with clashes between pro and anti-government groups. In 2011, a group of pro-democracy Syrians protested in the city of Daraa. Al-Assad responded with force and consequently, more protests were triggered nationwide against the Assad regime. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands of people were protesting against President Assad. An early violent crackdown was enacted in an attempt to mitigate the uprisings, only to be met with more unrest. By May 2011, thousands of people had fled the country and the first refugee camps opened in Turkey. In March 2012, the UNHCR decided to appoint a Regional Refugee Coordinator for Syrian Refugees—recognising the growing concerns surrounding the crisis. Just a year later, in March 2013, the number of Syrian refugees reached 1,000,000. By December 2017, the UNHCR counted 1,000,000 asylum applications for Syrian refugees in the European Union. As of March 2018, UNHCR has counted nearly 5.6 million registered Syrian refugees worldwide.[284]

Population of Syrian origin in Denmark by sex, yearly fourth quarter 2008-2017 ( Statistics Denmark)
Syria-born persons in Sweden by sex, 2000-2016 ( Statistics Sweden)

Anti-government forces were supported by external governments (including the US, UK and France[285]) in an effort to topple the Syrian government via classified programs such as Timber Sycamore (begin: 2012 or 2013 end: 2017) that effectively delivered thousands of tons of weaponry to rebel groups.[286][287][288][289][290][291][292][293]

Afghan refugees constitute the second-largest refugee population in the world.[294] According to the UNHCR, there are almost 2.5 million registered refugees from Afghanistan. Most of these refugees fled the region due to war and persecution. The majority have resettled in Pakistan and Iran, though it became increasingly common to migrate further west to the European Union. Afghanistan faced over 40 years of conflict dating back to the Soviet invasion in 1979. Since then, the nation faced fluctuating levels of civil war amidst unending unrest. The increase in refugee numbers has been primarily attributed to the Taliban presence within Afghanistan. Their retreat in 2001 led to nearly 6 million Afghan refugees returning to their homeland. However, after civil unrest and fighting alongside the Taliban's return, nearly 2.5 million refugees fled Afghanistan.[295] Most Afghan refugees, however, seek refuge in the neighboring nation of Pakistan. Increasing numbers, though, have committed to migrating to Turkey and the European Union.

Preferences for emigration of Kosovars after Germany [296]

Migration from Kosovo occurred in phases beginning from the second half of the 20th century. The Kosovo War (February 1998-June 1999) created a wave. On 19 May 2011, Kosovo established the Ministry of Diaspora. Kosovo also established the Kosovo Diaspora Agency (KDA) to support migrants. Migrants from Kosovo newly arriving in the EU, detected but not over an official border-crossing point, was around 21,000 in 2014 and 10,000 in 2015.[297] At the same period detected illegal border crossings to the EU from Kosovo was 22,069 in 2014 and 23,793 in 2015.[298]

In 2015 there was sudden surge, which Kosovo became helpless to stem.[299] More than 30,000 caught in Hungary between September 2014 to February 2015, which was only 6,000 for the year 2013.[299] This was 7% of the country's population. Kosovo’s president urge residents to stay while his top ally said “gates must be shut” to economic immigrants to Europe.[299]

Public opinion


"Syrian Refugees Welcome" rally in Vienna, 31 August 2015
Anti-immigration rally in Poland in 2015
Anti-immigration rally called "For our culture and safe country" in Prague, Czech Republic, 12 September 2015
A pro-migration demonstration in Helsinki, Finland, showing a sign saying Natsit & ISIS = samaa paskaa, Finnish for "Nazis & ISIS = the same shit".
Pro-migration rally in Prague, Czech Republic, 12 September 2015
(pro) 12 September 2015 Vienna; (anti) 2015 Poland; (anti) 12 September 2015 Czech Republic; (pro) 6 December 2018 Finland; (pro) 12 September 2015 Czech Republic;

Pegida, a far right political movement, was founded in Dresden in October 2014. Pegida's stated goal was to curb immigration and organization accused authorities of failure to enforce immigration laws. On 9 January 2016 about 1,700 people joined a 'PEGIDA' demonstration.[300] Following the demonstrations representatives of Pegida, including Pegida Austria, Pegida Bulgaria, and Pegida Netherlands published their Fortress Europe on 23 January 2016. The English-language document stated that it is duty to stand up against "political Islam, extreme Islamic regimes and their European collaborators."[301] During this period a far-right position Eurabia went mainstream, which was a far-right Islamophobic conspiracy theory, involving globalist entities allegedly led by French and Arab powers, to Islamise and Arabise Europe, thereby weakening its existing culture and undermining a previous alignment with the U.S. and Israel.[302]

In 2015, members of the far-right, anti-immigration group Britain First organised protest marches.[303] According to 2015 analysis, Islamophobic groups in Britain were capitalizing on public concerns following the Paris attacks, ongoing refugee crisis and 24 different far-right groups were also attempted to provoke a cultural civil war.[304] Other groups included Pegida UK and Liberty GB. Liberty GB was an anti-immigration political party. Liberty GB's chairman was Paul Weston who writes about impending civil war against Muslims and "white genocide" in Britain.[303] These groups used the Great Replacement in their messaging which Bernard-Henri Lévy dismissed the notion as a "junk idea".[305] Great Replacement [you-will-not-replace-us!] had gained a lot of traction in Europe.[305]

On 25 December 2015, a Muslim prayer hall was raided by protesters [mob] in Ajaccio, which French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said it was "an unacceptable desecration". The protesters [mob] assumed a recent crime in the town was performed by [part of] a large North African, often Muslim, immigrant population of the town.[306] The 2015 Corsican protests continued couple more days, as hundreds defied protest ban.[307] Another riot in the same year, the 2015 Geldermalsen riot, was ignited after the town council's decision to establish an asylum centre for 1,500 asylum seekers in the Dutch town of Geldermalsen.[308] After a festival celebrating the city's founding, the 2018 Chemnitz protests took place in the early morning of 26 August following a fight broke out. The incident reignited the tensions ["Foreigners get out!"] surrounding immigration to Germany. Mass protests against immigration were followed by counter-demonstrations.[309] German government condemned right-wing rioters after protests surprised police.[309] The Alternative for Germany (blamed for being behind the protests, but officially denied responsibility) campaigned on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam platform, won more than 25% of the vote in the state of Saxony—where Chemnitz is located. Alternative for Germany declared "Families can't even feel safe in going to the state festival any more... We call upon our voters to do something about this."[309]

Response to right-wing positions were Birlikte, which was the name and motto of a series of semi-annual rallies and corresponding cultural festivals against right-wing extremist violence in Germany. First one took place on 9 June 2014 in Cologne, second on 14 June 2015, and the third one 5 June 2016. Birlikte events comprised a mixture of speeches and multi-cultural music performances.[310][311]

On 12 September 2015, tens of thousands of people have taken part in a "day of action" in several European cities in support of refugees and migrants.[312] At the same day, rallies against migrants took place in some eastern European countries.[312]

On 18 February 2017, tens of thousands of demonstrators [carried signs reading "Enough excuses, welcome them now"] marched after Ada Cola's [mayor] call for more immigrants at the protest "Volem acollir".[313]

Surveys on immigration

The Pew study links the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the right-wing parties across the continent and the heated debate over the UK’s decision to exit the European Union to the surge of refugees into Europe. There were sharp and deep ideological divides among the public over their views of minorities and diversity represented by these immigrants. Negative attitudes toward immigrants were tied to a belief that these groups do not wish to participate in their society.[314]

A study published by Pew Research Center on 11 July 2016 concluded that "Europeans fear [that a] wave of refugees means more terrorism, fewer jobs". Half of the population in Italy and Sweden blame crime on immigrants.[314]

A study published by Pew Research Center in 2016 concluded that Half of the respondents felt that immigrants would take away jobs and social benefits; Hungarians, Poles, Greeks, Italians and French identify losing jobs and social benefits as their first concern.[314]

In a 2016 poll, refugees, unemployment, and refugees taking away jobs was the list of issues that ordinary Finns were most concerned about.[315] The original study in Finland found that immigration was a marginal concern in the early 2010s, however the economy was a concern since the neighboring Soviet Union, significant export market, collapsed in the 1990s. The original study found that around 30% believe that uncontrolled immigration was a problem. This ratio was 40% under the age of 25, people who often were looking for jobs themselves. Women consider it a problem larger percentage than men.[316]

The debate on the Muslim immigrants moved into the center of European discourse. Muslim immigration presented as a cultural threat to the future of Europe, using the argument "Muslim immigration is an incompatible ontological category predicated on culture [they don't share our values!]."[317] Public discourse [across Western Europe] concentrated on Muslims and Islam with a wide spectrum claim that Islam is incompatible with the values of Europe.[318] EU states such as Slovakia have openly rejected to accept the refugees either because they do not want the Brussels to impose immigration policies and/or because they simply do not want Muslims or non-Europeans in their communities.[319] A study released by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found out that almost 40% of Muslims (focused on first- and second-generation immigrants) surveyed reported discrimination in their daily life.[320]

A study published in 2016 by Royal Institute of International Affairs surveyed 10,000 people in ten European states found that 55% agreed with the statement that ‘all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped’, with particularly strong support for this sentiment in Austria, Poland, Hungary, France and Belgium[321] A study published by Pew Research Center in 2016 concluded that attitudes towards migrants were deeply connected to individual values and people who have a more negative view of Muslims are also much more concerned about the threat [refugees leaving Iraq and Syria are a major threat to their country].[322]

TNS Gallup for Berlingske found out that two out of three (64%) Danes want to restrict immigration from Muslim countries.[325]

The public perception of the migrant crisis from the Hungarian point of view characterized as anti-immigration since 2015. Muslim immigrants are perceived as a symbolic threat to the dominant—mostly Christian—Western culture and [specifically in the Hungarian context] asylum seekers with a Christian background are more welcomed than those with a Muslim background.[326]


The 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum took place on 23 June 2016. Result was the UK voted to "Leave" the European Union by 51.89% to 48.11% for Remain. At the opinion polls, public responded leaving the EU was "more likely to bring about a better immigration system, improved border controls, a fairer welfare system, better quality of life, and the ability to control our own laws."[327] Also at the opinion polls, public responded leaving the EU "offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders".[327]

Migration crisis was a defining issue in the "Leave campaign", (Vote Leave predominant economic, Leave.EU predominant anti-immigration) giving a sharper focus to the slogan of “taking back control” and opposition to EU law and European human rights law, both giving rights to “foreigners” which were deemed unacceptable by many conservatives as well as those further to the right. Crisis created the image of a Union unable to handle the situation, and "Leave" campaigners raised the spectre of Turkish people [generally did not distinguish between different categories of migrants] gaining freedom of movement.[328]

Theresa May, who sided on "Remain," declared that Britain should withdraw from the European convention on human rights (ECHR) irrespective of the EU referendum result. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has argued in a speech staking out her position between Brexit (She was against) - migration crisises (She was for control of refugee policies)"[328]

[on the freedom to act regarding migrants/foreigners] The ECHR can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals—and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights . . . it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court.

—  Home Secretary, Theresa May [329]

Hungarian migrant referendum

The 2016 Hungarian migrant quota referendum announced by the Third Orbán Government was about the EU migrant relocation plan. It was commonly referred to as the "quota referendum" in the Hungarian media. In September 2015, the Justice and Home Affairs Council at the EU's interior ministers meeting approved to relocate 1,294 refugees from other member states to Hungary. The referendum question was "Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?" The result of the referendum was to reject the plan, with 3,362,224 'No' votes (98.4%) and 56,163 'Yes' votes (1.6%). The voter turnout was 40.4%, which was short of the required 50% threshold stated in the constitution. Government declared result is binding "politically and legally", but the opposition said it was invalid. Mr Orban told EU, it should take a note of the result.[330]



On 6 August 2015, Amnesty International Secretary General Heinz Patzelt inspected the refugee camp Bundesbetreuungsstelle in Traiskirchen where more than 4,800 migrants and refugees are housed. Medical expert Siroos Mirzaei from Amnesty International noted that people had to wait for days to get medical help due to the vast number of people received over a short period of time. The report also stated that only four doctors were present at the refugee camp and showers and other hygienic facilities were in disrepair. Patzelt claimed, "Austria [was] violating human rights and should focus on unattended children and minors".[331]

On 27 August 2015, 71 migrants were found dead in an unventilated food truck near Vienna.[332] Austria officially responded by inspecting vehicles for smuggled immigrants entering from Hungary on 31 August 2015, leading to vehicular backups that extended 19 kilometres (12 mi) and train delays for hours.[62]

Late on 4 September 2015, Chancellor Faymann of Austria, in conjunction with Chancellor Merkel of Germany, announced that migrants would be allowed to cross the border from Hungary into Austria and onward to Germany. Buses carrying migrants began crossing the Austro-Hungarian border on 5 September 2015.[333][334] Austria reported that 6,500 migrants had crossed the border by the afternoon of 5 September 2015, with 2,200 already on their way to Germany.[335][336]

Migrants at Vienna's Westbahnhof train station, 5 September 2015

On 14 September 2015, Austria followed Germany's example; it instituted border controls of its own and deployed the Austrian Armed Forces to its border with Hungary.[337][338][339]

On 19 September 2015, Austria permitted entry to approximately 10,000 migrants arriving from Slovenia and Hungary.[340] Austria took on the role of regulator for the flow of migrants destined for Germany by feeding, housing and providing them health care in transit.[341]

On 28 October 2015, Austria built a 91 km long fence along its border with Slovenia[342] to "be able to control the migrants in an orderly manner", said Minister of the Interior Johanna Mikl-Leitner.[343]

On 20 January 2016, Austria announced it would limit the number of asylum applicants to 37,500 in each of the next four years, compared to the 90,000 applications in 2015.[344] On 19 February 2016, Austria started putting a daily cap of 80 asylum seekers allowed to enter the country to apply for Austrian asylum, and a maximum of 3,200 allowed daily to transit towards other countries (primarily to Germany). The EU's migration commissioner said the cap was incompatible with Austria's obligations under EU and international law.[345] The EU Council of Ministers' legal team however concluded that Austria's moves are not illegal.[346]

In February 2018, Austrian authorities stopped providing food and accommodation to rejected asylum applicants. The proposed legislation introduced penalties between €5000 to €15000 to those who remained in Austria with those refusing to leave to be detained.[347] According to the interior ministry, application from mainly Afghans, Nigerians and Pakistanis were rejected.[347]

From April 2018, Austrian authorities confiscated mobile phones of migrants in order to use its geographical data to verify how migrants arrived to the country. If migrants were found to have entered via a country covered by the Dublin regulation, they were sent there. To cover the cost of handling the application, 840 euro is demanded.[348]


Bulgaria built a fence along its border with Turkey to prevent migrants from crossing through its territory to reach other EU countries. The fence is equipped with infrared cameras, motion sensors and wire, and is monitored by the army.[349]


Croatia received 1,064[350] migrants in 2015–2017 according to the EU plan. Croatia was originally supposed to receive 505 migrants, but decided to accept more—making it the only country in the EU, along with Estonia, to have done so.[351] On 29 August 2015 the Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji list published an interview with a "senior government official" who said that the Croatian government formed an interdepartmental working group that worked on a plan to accept migrants. Croatia sent its delegation to the migrants' camps in Italy and Greece in October 2015 to choose immigrants from Syria and Eritrea that Croatia will accept. Criteria for the selection were:

  1. any kind of connection to Croatia, such as family in Croatia or a diploma from one of the Croatian Universities (while Croatia was a member of Yugoslavia, many foreigners from Non-Aligned Movement countries, especially Syrians, came to Croatia to study);
  2. education in occupations that are in demand in Croatia; and
  3. families with small children.[352]

Croatia shares a land border with Serbia. As such, there was a risk of a strong influx of migrants from Serbia as Hungary erected a fence on its border with Serbia. Nearly 80 percent of the 527 km Serbia-Croatia border consists of the Danube, with the remaining 70 kilometers in Syrmia dubbed the "Green Border". Parts of the Croatia-Serbia border are known minefields, which represent a considerable threat. According to the Croatian Minister of Interior Ranko Ostojić, "police in the area have enough people and equipment to protect the Croatian border against illegal immigrants".[353] Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and First Deputy Prime Minister Vesna Pusić rejected the proposal to build a fence on the Croatian border with Serbia.[354][355] Grabar-Kitarović accused Merkel of causing "chaos".[356] Grabar-Kitarović anticipated a possible new migrant wave that might have come in the winter of 2016 and stated on 21 September 2016 before the UN General Assembly that "if a new migrant wave reache[d] Croatian borders, Croatia would not let migrants pass through its territory" because Croatia needed to protect its territory, adding that it turned out that over 85 percent of them were economic migrants and not genuine refugees.[357] Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović said his country is ready to help refugees coming to Europe, insisting that people fleeing conflict should be given the right to remain in the EU.[358]

On 15 September 2015, Croatia started to experience the first major waves of refugees, who carved out a new route through Europe after Hungary sealed its borders.[259] On 15 September 2015, Hungary declared it would start arresting people crossing the border illegally, and as of 16 September 2015, Hungary had detained 519 people and pressed criminal charges against 46 for trespassing.[359] Thousands of migrants were subsequently led to pursue alternative routes through Croatia from Serbia.[359] After Hungary closed its border with Serbia on 15 September, migrants headed towards the Serbian town of Šid, less than 10 kilometers from the Croatian border. Several buses filled with migrants arrived on the Croatian border crossing of Tovarnik, where the Croatian Vukovar-Srijem County Care and Rescue teams and the Croatian Red Cross were on standby awaiting migrants.[360] On 17 September 2015, more than 5,000 migrants arrived in Tovarnik;[361] Ostojić said Croatia was "absolutely full" by the evening. Croatia decided to close its border with Serbia[362] and train lines from Serbia via Croatia to Slovenia were closed until further notice.

On 6 October 2015, 125,000 entered Croatia over the course of three weeks.[363] Between mid-September and mid-October 2015, about 200,000 migrants had passed through Croatia, with most moving on to Hungary.[122] On 17 October 2015, Hungary closed its border with Croatia to migrants, forcing migrants to be diverted to Slovenia instead.[122] However, Slovenia stated that it would only be able to admit 2,500 people per day with its population of only two million, stranding thousands of migrants in Croatia as well as Serbia and North Macedonia, while new migrants continued to add to the backlog.[33][34]

In late December 2015, Slovenia erected a razor-wire fence on the border of the western Croatian regions of Istria and Gorski Kotar, of which the latter is a habitat of the lynx and the brown bear, which are both endangered and protected by law in Croatia. Local hunters found deer killed by the fence, which led the WWF and the inhabitants of the regions from both sides of the border to protest against the decision to put up the razor-wire fence.[364][365][366]

On 9 March 2016, Croatia started implementing border restrictions on the border with Serbia in an attempt to reinstate the Schengen rules.[367]

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic received 4,306 refugees according to quotas accepted by the European Commission.[368] Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the European Commission had failed in solving the crisis and disagreed with proposed quotas, saying: "We reject the system of quotas. I do not consider it effective, I do not think it would help bring any solution. It makes no sense to discuss any numbers for now". He said Europe needed to complete what the European Council had agreed upon in the past and to refrain from creating new plans and proposals. He supported the idea of creating hotspots in Italy or Greece.[369] Czech President Miloš Zeman expressed his dissatisfaction with the mass influx of migrants to Europe on several occasions; in late August 2015, he said in an interview for radio station "Frekvence 1": "The reception of migrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa to the territory of Czech Republic [brought] with it three major risks – spread of infectious diseases, terrorism of the Islamic state and the creation of new ghettos." According to his opinion the majority of refugees are actually economic migrants who are not fleeing war. Zeman also believed that migrants crossing Czech territory to go to Germany will stay in Czech Republic when Germany eventually stops accepting them, "which would then make Czech Republic to defend its boundaries with the police and army".[370]

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš called for NATO intervention against human trafficking in the Mediterranean.[371] After talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the migrant crisis issue he said: "NATO is not interested in refugees, though Turkey, a NATO member, is their entrance gate to Europe and smugglers operate on Turkish territory".[372] Miroslav Kalousek from the opposition party TOP 09 said that "confident and wealthy countries such as the Czech Republic should not be afraid to accept 3,000 refugees" and accused Zeman of inciting hatred against refugees, though he also disagreed with proposed quotas.[373] Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg said that accepting 80,000 refugees would be suitable.[374] Minister of Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Jiří Dienstbier said the country was able to accept 7,000 to 15,000 refugees and should express solidarity and help other countries facing the strongest influx of refugees without quotas.[375]


Denmark temporarily closed rail links with Germany and the E45 Motorway in September to stop migrants from illegally entering the country.[376] Denmark had the second highest amount on asylum seekers among European nations in 2015, compared to GDP (0.47 percent of GDP, after Sweden at 0.5 percent, followed by Germany and Italy at 0.2 percent, with remaining lower),[377] which rose in 2016.[377] In December 2015, the Danish government announced that it would introduce a new law that would allow the government to confiscate cash above 3,000 DKK (roughly €402) and valuables worth more than 3,000 DKK from asylum seekers to pay the cost of their stay. Items of sentimental value (such as wedding rings, personal mobile phones and personal laptops) would not be taken.[378] In January 2016, the limit was changed to 10,000 DKK (roughly €1,340) before the law passed.[379][380] Similar laws already existed in Switzerland (limit 1,000 Swiss francs (roughly €913)),[379] the Netherlands (limit €5,895)[381][382] and some federal states of Germany (limit varies, €750 in Bavaria and €350 in Baden-Württemberg).[383] The law was condemned from several sides, including the UNHCR,[380][384] and caused Danish politician Jens Rohde to defect from the Venstre party to the Social Liberal Party.[385] The Danish police said that this could not be enforced[386] and a review two months after the law came into effect showed that there had been no confiscations.[387]

On 6 September 2015, large groups of migrants who declined to apply for asylum in Germany began passing the Danish borders, with most heading for Sweden.[388] Initially the Danish police attempted to register all migrants in accordance with EU rules, but many refused, resulting in a fight of about 50 people on 9 September at the Padborg rail station.[389][390]

On 9 September 2015, Denmark suspended all rail and ferry links with Germany for one day. On the same day parts of the E45 motorway was closed to vehicles to avoid accidents as hundreds of migrants were walking along it in southern Jutland towards Sweden;[390]