The European Commission has taken stock of its migration policy since 2014 and the challenges ahead after the European Parliament elections in May. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the Commissioner responsible for migration, highlighted the progress made until now but did not hide that the crisis is still not over. “Irregular arrivals are now lower than before the crisis, the European Border and Coast Guard has brought joint EU border protection to a new level and together with our partners we work on ensuring legal pathways while stepping up returns,” he said at a press conference in Brussels (6 March).
“Looking ahead, it is essential to pursue our common approach but also to complete the ongoing reform of the EU’s asylum system. In addition, temporary arrangements on disembarkation should be established as a priority.”
According to the Commission’s factsheet on migration, the agreement that was concluded with Turkey in March 2016, proved to be a game changer. “Arrivals to Greece quickly drop by 97% and have remained low ever since. Irregular migrants will be returned to Turkey and more than €6 billion will be mobilised to support 3.5 million Syrian in Turkey.”
Irregular arrivals of migrants are down to pre-crisis levels. In 2018, 150,000 irregular arrivals were detected – the lowest level in 5 years and 90% less than during the peak of the crisis in 2015.
Arrivals via the Central Mediterranean route was reduced by 80% as compared to the first half of 2017 and will remain at this relatively low level throughout 2018 thanks to joint EU efforts with African partner countries and in Libya.
In 2018, the Western Mediterranean route via Morocco and Spain has become the most used route by irregular migrants, even if figures do not compare to the crisis in 2015 (65,000 arrivals in Spain in 2018). Both Spain and Morocco are receiving EU assistance to cope with the situation.
“Spain is now in the frontline but not alone,” Avramopoulos added.
The EU helped also almost 37,000 migrants stranded in Libya return safely home in cooperation with the IOM, UN and African Union. But Avramopoulos admitted that conditions in detention camps in Libya are unacceptable and that the situation there is chaotic.
As regards the situation on the islands in Greece, his home country, Avramopoulos claimed that the situation has changed and that reception procedures will improve. “Dire conditions and overcrowding remain a concern,” he said.
Almost 35,000 asylum seekers – all those eligible – have been relocated from Greece and Italy to other EU Member States under the EU’s relocation emergency scheme. “Don’t blame the Commission for that relocation has failed,” he said and put the blame on three Member States without mentioning them by name.
“Without responsibility and solidarity, Europe cannot exist,” he underlined.
The Commissioner made it clear that the Commission’s fact sheet is a response to misinformation, fake news and populism in Europe.
After protests from the Commission, the Hungarian government decided to stop its anti-migration campaign which figured pictures of Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros. But reportedly it will be resumed soon with Juncker replaced by Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans.