Faced with the most severe refugee crisis the world has seen since the Second World War, the EU managed to bring about a step change in migration management and border protection. The EU has offered protection and support to millions, saved lives, dismantled smuggling networks and brought irregular arrivals to Europe down to the lowest level recorded in 5 years.

Nevertheless, more work is needed to make the EU’s migration policy truly future-proof in view of a constantly evolving geopolitical context and a steady rise in migratory pressure on a global scale, according to the European Commission.

“Over the past four years the EU has made significant progress with tangible results in addressing the challenge of migration. In very difficult circumstances, we acted together. Europe is no longer experiencing the migration crisis we lived in 2015, but structural problems remain. Member States have a duty to protect and care for those they shelter. Continuing to work together through a comprehensive approach, in solidarity, and with a fair sharing of responsibility, is the only way forward if the EU is to be equal to the migration challenge,” said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans.

“Our work with the African Union and the United Nations is bringing results. We are assisting thousands of stranded people, helping many to go safely back home to start an activity, saving lives, fighting traffickers. The flows have decreased, but still too many put their lives at risk and every single life not saved is one too many. That’s why we will continue to cooperate with our international partners and with the countries concerned to provide protection for people most in need, address the root causes of migration, dismantle the traffickers’ networks and set up pathways for safe, orderly and legal migration. Migration stays as a global challenge that can be tackled, as we’ve chosen to do as the EU, through joint work and strong partnerships,” added High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini.

For 3 consecutive years, arrivals figures have been steadily falling, and current levels are a mere 10% of what they were at their peak in 2015. In 2018, around 150,000 irregular crossings were detected across EU external borders. But the fact that the number of irregular arrivals has been reduced is no guarantee for the future, considering the likely continuation of migratory pressure. It is therefore essential to pursue a comprehensive approach to migration management and border protection.

Avramopoulos: Migration will continue to be an important topic

According to the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos, migration will continue to be an important topic.

“The results of our common European approach on migration speak for themselves: 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. 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,” he said.

Avramopoulos underlined the fact that “amid misinformation, untruths and fake news, it is sometimes hard to know what is actually going on when it comes to migration in Europe”.

For the Commissioner the times of crisis when hundreds of thousands of people were coming by sea to Greece and Italy are already behind us.

“The numbers have decreased continuously year-over-year since 2015 and are now back to levels not seen since 2013. That does not mean that we should rest on our laurels. In the Western Mediterranean, Spain is under particular migratory pressure,” he pointed out.

Unaccompanied children and minors represent a major concern.

“My most pressing concern however is for the provision of adequate accommodation places for over 2000 unaccompanied minors. It is the Greek authorities that are responsible for the overall migration management in Greece. We have been and will continue supporting the Greek authorities operationally, financially and politically,” Avramopoulos added.

Immediate measures needed

The most pressing issues the European Commission considers that require further work are:

Western Mediterranean route: support to Morocco needs to be further intensified as the Western Mediterranean route has seen a significant increase in arrivals. This must include the continued implementation of the €140 million programme to support border management and a resumption of negotiations on readmission and visa facilitation with Morocco.

Central Mediterranean route: Improving the appalling conditions in Libya: efforts through the trilateral AU-EU-UN taskforce must continue to help free migrants from detention, facilitate voluntary return (37,000 returns so far) and to evacuate the most vulnerable (almost 2,500 evacuated).

Eastern Mediterranean route: Migration management in Greece: While the EU-Turkey Statement has continued to ensure greatly reduced arrivals on the Greek islands, key problems in Greece remain unresolved as regards returns, asylum processing and adequate accommodation. To improve migration management, Greece should swiftly establish an effective national strategy with operational workflows.

Temporary arrangements for disembarkation: Building on the experience made with ad hoc solutions over the summer of 2018 and in January 2019, temporary arrangements can provide a more systematic and coordinated EU approach on disembarka­tion. Such arrangements would put solidarity and responsibility at EU level in practice and serve as a bridge until the reform of the Dublin regulation is finalised.

Act with partners outside the EU

When it comes to migration, a comprehensive approach is indispensable – embracing action with partners outside the EU, at the external border, and inside the EU. It is not enough to only concentrate on the most pressing matters. The situation requires continuous, determined action across the full range of the comprehensive approach along each of the four pillars of the European Agenda on Migration:

  1. Tackling the drivers of irregular migration: Over the past 4 years, migration has become firmly embedded in all areas of the EU’s external relations:

Through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, over 5.3 million vulnerable people currently benefit from basic support and over 60,000 people have received reintegration support after returning to their countries of origin.

The fight against smuggling and trafficking networks has been further stepped up. In 2018, Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre had a key role in more than a hundred high priority smuggling cases and Joint Investigation Teams are active to tackle smuggling in countries such as Niger.

To step up return and readmission, the EU continues to work on concluding readmission agreements and arrangements with partner countries with 23 agreements and arrangements concluded so far. Member States now need to make full use of the existing agreements.

In addition, the European Parliament and Council should swiftly adopt the Commission proposal on return aimed at limiting abuse and absconding of returnees within the EU.

  1. Stronger Border Management: Established in 2016, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency is today at the core of the EU’s work to support Member States in protecting the external borders. In September 2018, the Commission proposed to reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard further and equip the Agency with a standing corps of 10,000 border guards to ensure that Member States can rely on full EU operational support at all times. The Commission calls on the European Parliament and Member States to adopt the reform before the European Parliament elections. To avoid gaps, Member States must also ensure sufficient deployment of experts and equipment to the Agency.
  2. Protection and asylum: The EU will continue to provide support to refugees and displaced people in third countries, including in the Middle East and Africa, as well as to offer refuge for people in need of international protection. More than 50,000 persons resettled have been resettled under EU schemes since 2015. A key lesson learned from the migration crisis is the need to overhaul the EU’s asylum rules and establish a system that is fair and fit for purpose and could manage any future hike in migratory pressure. The Commission has put all necessary proposals on the table and strongly supports a step-by-step approach to take each proposal forward. Those proposals that are close to finalisation should be adopted before the European Parliamentary elections. The Commission will continue working with both the European Parliament and the Council to progress towards the finishing line.
  3. Legal migration and integration: Legal migration pathways serve as a disincentive to irregular departures and are an important element in making orderly and needs-based migration the principal way of entry to the EU. The Commission will shortly present a comprehensive evaluation of the EU’s legal migration framework. In parallel, Member States should step up the use of voluntary, legal migration pilot projects. Successful integration of persons who have a right to stay is critical to making migration work and the EU budget has invested over €140 million in integration measures in the years 2015-17.