Democracy & Justice

Asylum Applications Back to Pre-2015 Levels

The number of migrants arriving in Europe is back to pre-2015 levels, but far-right leaders are still using anti-immigration rhetoric to advance their agenda. Meanwhile, the journey for migrants and refugees becomes ever more dangerous.

by Jascha Galaski

Anti-immigrant parties are on the rise in Europe (although there is some hope for European liberals). Right-wing leaders continue to use the migration ‘crisis’ narrative to polarize European politics and advance their anti-immigrant agenda.

At the same time, the number of migrants arriving in Europe is decreasing sharply. According to the European Statistical Office, more than 1.3 million asylum applications were registered in the EU in 2015, compared to 704,600 in 2017. Latest Asylum Trends by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) show that the amount of migrants and refugees trying their luck in the EU in 2018 reached only some 406,000 (for the period of January to August), representing 15 percent fewer applications for the same period in 2017.

The number of sea arrivals has also considerably decreased. The most noticeable shift has been observed in Italy: By 30 October 2018, only 22,031 sea arrivals had been recorded, representing a drop of 88 percent from the same period in 2017.

The journey becomes more dangerous

While the number of those arriving is falling, the proportion of those drowning is rising. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports one death for every 18 arrivals between January and July 2018, compared to one death for every 42 arrivals in 2017.

The hardline stance of the new Italian government, which has been blocking sea rescue operations by NGOs, is not helping. The deterrence policies aimed at discouraging irregular arrivals are, however, not effective, as a study by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) shows. ISPI explains that the drop in arrivals is not so much linked to Italian authorities impeding NGOs' efforts to save lives as to secret deals between Italy and Libyan militias who have been stopping new departures.

In addition, human traffickers are taking more risks because surveillance by the Libyan coast guard has increased. The lack of safe and legal pathways for refugees has been criticized by the UNHCR, which calls on Europe to increase resettlement places and address obstacles to family reunification.

Distribution of displaced people in the world

The migration ‘crisis’ has dominated European politics and the media since 2015. Less covered has been the distribution of refugees in the world. Of the 68.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world, 85 percent live in developing countries.

Including Palestinian refugees, the number of refugees in Jordan reaches three million, outnumbering the total refugee population in the European Union of only 2.3 million. To put things into perspective, Jordan has a population of less than 10 million people, while the EU has a population of 512 million.

The total number of registered refugees in Hungary stood at a mere 5,641 in 2017. Yet, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has used stark anti-immigrant rhetoric to mobilize his constituency. Another recent example of demagogy helping to win elections.

European governments have “succeeded” in reducing the numbers of arrivals through deals made with the Turkish government and the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, leaving thousands of refugees and migrants trapped on Greek Islands or worse in detention centers in Libya, where they face forced labor, extortion and even torture and execution. Isn't it time to focus our efforts on improving the lives of these people?


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