Europe's refugee conundrums

Since 2014


For more on refugees, see also: here, here and here

Also: Recent trends (IOM), Help for refugees, Refugee routes to Europe (scroll down this page), trans-Mediterranean refugees, migrant smuggling, regulations in Europe.

Refugees from Ukraine, see below.

New EU asylum "pact" (April, 2024), see here


"Asylum policy is the Achilles heel of Europe"

Horst Seehofer, German Interior Minister, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, April, 2019


Pace of asylum applications approaching 2015-16 peak years

(NZZ, 9 Sept. 2023)


 • Compared to 2015-16, origins are more

    diverse, e.g. larger numbers from Latin

    America (to Spain) and from Africa.


 • Less than one quarter of rejected

    applicants actually depart.


Perilous Mediterranean crossings are rising, though numbers so far in 2023 are below those of 2015-16 (Economist, 20 June 2023)

 The "second-most deadly migrant shipwreck in the Mediterranan," off Greece's coast on

 14 June 2023, occurred atypically not on the way from west Libya to nearby EU islands

 (such as Malta or Lampedusa) but on a longer route from east Libya to Sicily or mainland

 Italy, and the vessel was overloaded with people. A majority of the perhaps 500 who died

 were from Pakistan. For more on their circumstances and the often circuitous routes used by

 smugglers of migrants to Europe, scroll down this page. On current trends, 2023 could have 

 the highest annual trans-Mediterranean volume since 2017 and the highest death rate ever.



Source: UNHCR daily reports. From the war's onset, UNHCR reported "refugees fleeing Ukraine," by country, and as of late April, "Ukrainians entering Ukraine." By June, reports were of border crossings (flows) and registered refugees (stocks) by country. These figures indicate that most border crossers were refugees through June, and that net flows from Ukraine have been perhaps 1/2 of gross. Flows to Russia grew from 10% of Poland in March to near 40% by Sepember.


40 thousand migrants arrived by sea into Europe during the first half of 2021, most of them Afghans. Some are being "pushed" back and forth at sea between Greece and Turkey and Turkey has recently installed a 40km fence and surveillance system on its land border with Turkey (NY Times, 17 July, 2021, BBC, 21 August, 2021)



Migrants escorted by police officers

near Dobova, Slovenia, in October, 2015

One million migrants and refugees entered

Europe by sea and land in 2015 in “the

largest movement of people on the

Continent since World War II.”

(New York Times, 23 December, 2015)


EU package for Tunisia  Guardian, (11 June, 2023)

EU proposes €900mil in macrofinancial asisstance to Tunisia and €100mil to help "combat people-smuggling, human trafficking and tragedies at sea."

Economist (3 May, 2023) 24 thousand migrants crossed from Tunisia to Italy in the first four months of 2023 (vs 30 thousand for all of 2022).


Refugee rights at Europe's borders  Guardian (March 1, 2021)


"Turkey tightens restrictions on refugees" Economist, (7 Sep. 2019)


Europe needs to assist Turkey [and Greece] with managing refugees

Greece: support/pressure to hear and decide asylum cases more promptly

Turkey: financial assistance managing refugees there (closer to their home countries)
Neue Zürcher Zeitung
(Sep 6, 2019), “Europa muss Ankara stärker unter die Arme greifen”


"Cyprus is saturated" with refugees Guardian, (11 Dec. 2018)


UN migration compact is a "sitting duck" ( Economist, 8 December, 2018 )

"European governments in melt-down over an inoffensive" pact; "symbolism over toothlessness"

"It has become impossible to have a level-headed conversation about managing migration in Europe."


         Guardian, June 15, 2018                                    Economist, Nov. 3, 2018


Hardline stance of Italian interior minister impedes EU asylum reform efforts   Guardian, (11 June 2018)

Matteo Salvini's refusal to let the rescue ship Aquarius land 600 migrants in Italy comes in the wake of deadlocked attempts to reform EU asylum policies. With member states in disagreement on refugee burden-sharing, "Europe's capitals are exploring alternatives."  Germany plans to unilaterally tighten its asylum system. Austria is "working informally with Denmark and Netherlands" on plans for "camps for rejected asylum seekers outside the EU."


Africans crossing the Colla della Scala  Guardian, (16 Jan 2018)


EU council president Tusk to suggest scrapping refugee quotas

Guardian, (11 December, 2017)

He said [already] in October that mandatory quotas had put member states

in almost permanent conflict. Tusk will [now] call on EU governments to take

charge, rather than leaving Brussels to set the pace in managing refugee policy.

"Only member states are able to tackle the crisis effectively."


Jean-Claude Juncker: Migrants 'need legal ways to reach Europe'

Deutsche Welle (27 November, 2017)

If those who come -generally speaking, the poor and needy- are unable to enter the house of Europe through the front door, they'll keep making their way in through the back windows.


The Scientist Who Escaped Aleppo NPR, (11 July, 2017)

In Syria, security forces report called for his imprisonment. Refugee camp in Turkey: "physically alive but psychologically dead." Borrowed $5-7 thousand to pay smugglers for trip Turkey to Greece..."My family is now with me in Leipzig, Germany...for the first time in my life, I feel like a real scientist."


European court of justice does not require issuance of humanitarian visas to Syrian refugees  Economist, (11 March, 2017 )

"For now the smugglers' business model is safe."


Stranded on the doorstep of Europe Los Angeles Times, (5 March, 2017)

"I have to keep trying. I'll never go back to Afghanistan. Sometime in the future, when I sit in a warm place, I'll think back on this and remember everything."

 -Tariq Stanikzay, formerly a shopkeeper at US military outpost in Afghanistan, who

   has tried six times to get into the EU from Serbia, and who now lives in a metal

   shed behind the main train station in Belgrade.


Over 100 dead from two capsized Mediterranean dinghies Guardian  (Dec. 23 2016)

Death toll reported by International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, which estimates total Mediterranean deaths for 2016 at over 5000 (mostly between Libya and Italy), compared to 3800 in 2015. Hundreds, however, have also been rescued recently in operations supported by the Italian coastguard and Spanish navy. Video details recent rescue efforts by Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Méditerranée bringing 112 migrants aboard ship Aquarius. Asylum-seekers reaching Italy by boat in 2016 are at an all-time annual high.


Save the children rescue from dinghies off Libyan coast. BBC (Oct. 4, 2016)


The Calais "Jungle" New York Times, (28 Sept, 2016)

African child migrants in Italy 

New York Times  (June 10, 2016)


Bono: Hope is not lost, but is getting impatient. We should be too.

New York Times, (12 April, 2016)

Refugees need more humanitarian support. For host countries migrants

could also be a productive benefit. Shore up development assistance

to sending countries before they spiral into anarchy.


Red Cross slow to deploy Das Magazin (Tages-Anzeiger, in German, 26-Mar-16)


"Every element of the arrangement is politically, legally or morally problematic...but it is Europe's best option."

[Economist, 12 March, 2016, p. 14, re the Turkey-EU deal]


Turkey-EU reach tentative deal on refugees  Guardian, (8 March, 2016)

Turkey accepts one refugee returned from Greece for each one taken directly from Turkey to Europe, as quid pro quo for more funding, visa liberalization for Turks visiting Europe, and accelerated consideration of EU membership.


"Forming a more orderly queue"   Economist,  (6 Feb., 2016 )

1) Support allowing refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon to work, 2) Organized registration and processing of claims in Greek "hot spots," (3) more authorized direct resettlement from Turkey to richer countries, (4) deals with source countries to facilitate return movement. 


Schengen border-free dream at an end?

So far, no, except at a few borders on main refugee routes. BBC (26 Jan. 2016)

Profitable humanitarianism in Bavaria

"Making money out of the migrant crisis"  BBC   (Jan. 31, 2016)

Schengen open border agreement partially suspended

after Paris attacks:  Re-erection of internal EU borders?

BBC 15 Nov. 2015 / Wash. Post, Tages-Anzeiger (German) 16 Nov. 2015


Winter help needed on Mediterranean / Balkan routes

New York Times   (Nov. 12, 2015)


Volunteers on Lesbos  20 Minuten  (in German, Nov. 6, 2015)


More Afghans to Europe, esp. Germany and Switzerland (Nov. 2015)

Recent Taliban military successes in Kunduz, concerns about curtailment of Balkan transit routes, and acceleration of smuggling operations (also exporting opium from Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer) are said to have helped sharply increase the influx of Afghans to Europe. In Germany, a leading destination, some 30 thousand Afghan asylum-seekers arrived in October 2015, roughly equaling the nine month total from January to September. In Greece some 60 thousand arrived in October, double the September number, and second only to the entry of Syrians. German officials have warned that “not all” Afghan arrivees can expect to stay there. It is

also noted that Germany has contributed 2 billion Euros to “civilian projects” in Afghanistan and 54 German soldiers have been killed there since 2001, “the

biggest toll of any German deployment abroad since 1945.
    In the first week of November, some 650 Afghans entered Switzerland: three quarters seeking asylum by entering through its eastern borders, and one-quarter having been registered (but not accepted for asylum elsewhere in Europe). Afghans were also nearly three quarters of all asylum seekers arriving at those eastern checkpoints. According to one Swiss border agent, migrants hear through personal networks of delays in entering Germany, and head to Switzerland instead. The Canton of St. Gallen has emergency accommodations for 1,000 (fully occupied, however, as are currently most other currently available facilities in Switzerland). Recently, about 2 thousand Afghans per day have been reaching Germany.
  Schweiz am Sonntag, “Flüchtlinge kommen via Deutschland in die Schweiz” (Nov. 7)
  New York Times, “Afghans arriving in Germany…” (Nov. 10)
  Tages Woche (Switz.) “ Flüchtlinge aus Afghanistan…” (Nov. 10)


Economist, 24 Oct, 2015: "Refugee realpolitik" 

“ Angela Merkel's response to the migrant crisis is less emotional, and more risky, than it looks...less strategic vision than piecemeal reaction... Europe's most powerful politician seems destined to be shaped by events rather than help shape them...a leader who will chance her way through crises... The Merkel paradox: that such a rational politician can be so hard to predict.”



Greek islands likely to have migrants “no longer just passing through"

BBC, 24 Oct., 2015  "Inside Europe"

About 1,500 migrants per day have been arriving at the Greek island Samos, near Turkey. “Those describing themselves as Syrian...wait for up to three days to obtain

registration papers, and then head to Athens.” Others wait an average of 10 days in an “old military base” where over 1000 are housed in space intended for 200. “Those who can afford it stay in hotels.” The crowded conditions are contributing to poor sanitation, lack of cleaning facilities, “hygiene issues”  and “health problems.” To reduce the migrant flow through Balkans, the EU plans to support  processing and screening asylum seekers in Italy and Greece. Samos and four other Greek islands plan permanent reception centres by the end of November, and officials there are “worried about” the impacts “when vast numbers of migrants are no longer just passing through.”


Economist, 26 Sept, 2015: "Point taken, Mr. Orban" 

Officials in Europe “struggle to gainsay” points made about mismanagement –“Greece merrily nods hundreds hundreds of thousands of refugees up to Europe”…Germany apparently "opens its doors one day" and tightens its borders the next… plans to redistribute 120,000 asylum-seekers start to "look irrelevant"…Spurred by such “awkward questions,” a “grand bargain may be in offing: strengthen the EU’s external borders…in exchange for smoother functioning” of the Schengen zone and “burden-sharing” of refugees. But, "the biggest task of all” remains: integrating the many already arrived migrants “who Mr. Orban says will undermine the civilizational roots of Europe. Here, if not elsewhere, Europeans must prove Hungary’s prime minister wrong.”


"Let refugees fly to Europe"

Alexander Betts, NY Times, op ed, 25 Sept, 2015)


Migrants to Europe, photographed by Giulio Piscitelli

(slide show, NY Times, 23 Sept, 2015)



Hungarian border town mayor, in video, encourages migrants in Serbia (enroute to Austria, Germany) to travel via Croatia and Slovenia instead of Hungary (NY Times 19 Sept. 2015).


Economist, 19 Sept, 2015: Shooting Schengen.

Alterations in border restrictions can indicate wider change, as with the Berlin Blockade in 1948 and the  the Austrian-Hungarian border-opening in 1989. New border controls by Germany and Austria could now presage the demise of the Schengen free-travel area in Europe. More..

Pope Francis: Every Catholic parish in Europe should 

shelter a refugee family   Washington Post   (Sept. 6, 2015)


In-transit Mideast Refugees Welcomed in Vienna

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Sept. 2, 2015, p. 2)

Original article in German. English synopsis:

The Other Austria Shows Itself: Over 3,500 asylum-seekers arrive in just in a few hours

    Vienna's West Train Station open all night (August 31-Sept. 1);  refugee trains arriving from Budapest greeted by applauding activists and welcoming placards in Arabic, Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) distributes water bottles and food to arriving passengers; hundreds travel directly on to Germany while most spend the night in the train station in order to catch an early train Tuesday morning; Caritas uses a left luggage depot as a supply room where volunteers deliver donations of food and drink.

     It is as if another Austria has come to the fore. After months of political wrangling and hate-laden on-line commentaries, the 71 dead refugees found in an abandoned truck last week shocked the country. Hundreds of volunteers in Austria have long been active helping refugees, but until last week’s tragedy they were quieter than the polemicists.


MV Phoenix volunteers save over 8 thous. in 8 months

Entrepreneurs to the rescue  Outside Magazine (Sept. 1, 2015)

Helping smuggle migrants from Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean is not legal. Helping rescue migrants swindled by those smugglers is not just allowed, it is encouraged. “I realized that I was good at doing the impossible,” says the founder and founder of the NGO which deploys the 131 foot rescue vessel Phoenix.


Rushing the Channel Tunnel  (NY Times, 30 July, 2015)

Refugee influx to Turkey  (NY Times, 23 Sep, 2014)


"The worst refugee crisis since the Second World War"

Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration, The Telegraph, Aug, 2015




See also here:

"Hoaxmap" researches, debunks false rumors about refugees in Germany (2015-16)


Migrant smuggling

Contemporary refugee movements

Contemporary migration processes

Climate migration

Contemporary migration travel

Migration in the news

                                 This page last updated 10 September 2023