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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
Migration in Europe and Italy: Statistical Data and Policies at the National and European Union Levels
Nicoleta Nichifor, NYU Florence student
La Pietra Dialogues
April 10, 2015


Migration has been a highly discussed topic in Europe in recent years. Specifically, irregular immigration has become an area of concern. According to the European Commission Glossary, illegal or irregular immigration means “crossing borders without complying with the necessary requirements for legal entry into the country,” which has created challenges both at a national level and within the European Union. European countries are affected by immigration to different degrees and immigrant integration policies remain a national level competence. However, the EU has been monitoring external immigration and has made attempts to regulate the flow of immigrants through its European migration policy. According to the European Commission Fact Sheet, through the European migration policy, the EU regulates “legal migration, irregular migration, borders, visa, a Common European Asylum System, and the external dimension.” The EU also established the ‘Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund’ to promote a common procedure among member states when handling asylum applications and immigration.

A: Legal Migration

As legal migration continues to increase, the EU has established policies and other instruments to facilitate integration and guarantee legal rights to migrants. The European Commission Fact Sheet provides information regarding the statistical data on legal migration as well as the instruments implemented at the EU level. According to the Fact Sheet, in 2013 third-country nationals made up 4 percent (20.4 million people) of the total EU population. The two largest groups of third-country nationals were Turks and Moroccans. The increasing number of migrants led to the expansion of the European legal migration policy, which started in the early 2000s. The migration policy established criteria to enter and reside in the EU and a list of rights that should be granted to migrants. In 2003, the EU established rules to allow non-EU nationals who have legally resided in the EU for at least five consecutive years to receive a “long-term resident” status. The Directive 2003/109, which documents the policy, says that the EU must guarantee equal treatment in all member states, regardless of the EU country of residence. The EU also adopted the Directive 2003/86 , which says that legal residents in EU territory have the right to family reunification. Another status, “Single Permit,” was introduced in 2011, allowing third-country nationals to reside and work in any member state. The instruments mentioned above and described in the European Commission Fact Sheet represent a framework for the EU migration policies, which aim at securing migrants’ rights and assists them with the integration process.

B: Refugees and Asylum Seekers

The number of migrants and applicants for asylum is rising drastically. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2014 the EU member states received 25 percent more asylum applications than they did in 2013. A quarter of the applicants were Afghan, Eritrean or Syrian. Also, a quarter of them were under 18 years of age.

According to the European Commission Fact Sheet, there are around 1 million recognized refugees in the EU, which is 7.6 percent of the total refugees worldwide, and approximately 0.2 percent of the EU’s population. The states that host the highest numbers of refugees are France (238,000), Germany (200,805), United Kingdom (126,055), Sweden (114,175) and Italy (76,263). In 2013, the number of asylum applications was almost 435,385 and in 2014, there were around 600,000. Of those 600,000 application, around 436,000 of them were submitted by people with “stateless person” status, according to the UNHCR. According to the International Observatory on Statelessness, a “stateless person” is “someone who is not considered a national by any state under the operation of its law.”

But not all countries in Europe are facing the issue of immigration so dramatically. Countries with the largest application requests are Germany, France, Sweden, Italy and the United Kingdom. Factors such as geographic position and a country’s policy towards migrants are important to explain why the countries mentioned above have a larger number of application requests for asylum.

In the past 15 years, new instruments were put in place to encourage a higher degree of cooperation among member states and to ensure that the asylum seekers are treated equally in the asylum application system. The European Commission Fact Sheet includes the following revised regulations:

“The revised Asylum Procedures Directive aims at fairer, quicker and better quality asylum decisions. Asylum seekers with special needs will receive the necessary support to explain their claim and in particular there will be greater protection of unaccompanied minors and victims of torture.

The revised Reception Conditions Directive ensures that there are humane material reception conditions (such as housing) for asylum seekers across the EU and that the fundamental rights of the concerned persons are fully respected. It also ensures that detention is only applied as a measure of last resort.

The revised Qualification Directive clarifies the grounds for granting international protection and therefore will make asylum decisions more robust. It will also improve the access to rights and integration measures for beneficiaries of international protection.

The revised Dublin Regulation (Dublin II) enhances the protection of asylum seekers during the process of establishing the State responsible for examining the application, and clarifies the rules governing the relations between states. It creates a system to detect early problems in national asylum or reception systems, and address their root causes before they develop into fully fledged crises.

The revised EURODAC Regulation improves the functioning of the EU database of the fingerprints of asylum seekers to make it easier for States to determine responsibility for examining an asylum application. It will allow law enforcement access to this database under strictly limited circumstances in order to prevent, detect or investigate the most serious crimes, such as murder, and terrorism.”

An important instrument for regulating migration is the Dublin Regulation (Dublin II). The European Council on Refugees and Exiles defines the Dublin System as a “hierarchy of criteria for identifying the Member State responsible for the examination of an asylum claim in Europe.” The ECRE explains that the Dublin Regulation ensures that the EU member state in which the asylum seeker first entered is responsible for the examination of his or her asylum application. This regulation was put in place to prevent multiple asylum claims and to accelerate the process of examining applications. In addition to the EU member states, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland must also follow this regulation.

Although the Dublin Regulation is supposed to be an efficient mechanism for analyzing asylum applications, it can also be disadvantageous for refugees. For example, long delays may occur in the application processing, or it can be detrimental for the applicant to have his or her application reviewed by the member state that they first came to because they may not have a particular connection to that country. Additionally, the Dublin mechanism may put the member states on the external borders of Europe in a challenging situation because they receive more asylum seekers than they can offer support and protection to.

The ECRE calls attention to the fact that the Dublin system is not perfect. There have been court appeals both at the EU and national levels against the transfer of refugees from one European country back to the first European country they originally arrived in. In January 2011, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in M.S.S. v. Belgium & Greece that Belgium had violated Articles 3 and 13 of the European Convention of Human Rights by sending asylum applicants back to Greece. Even though Belgium was complying with the Dublin Regulation, the Court found that the Greek asylum procedure was deficient and living conditions for asylum seekers were unsafe.

Another important case took place in December 2011, which was a joint case: N.S. v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, and M.E. and Others v. Refugee Applications Commissioner and Minister of Justice, Equality, and Law Reform. In this case, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that member states cannot transfer asylum seekers to other states where they would not be protected and would be exposed to inhuman treatment (which would be a violation of Article 4 of the Charter). These two cases show that member states have to apply the Dublin Regulation in a way that would not violate the fundamental rights of the asylum seekers.

The Dublin Regulation was recast in July 2013. The recast included new right to asylum seekers such as the right to information and personal interviews.

C: Irregular Migration

Irregular migration represents an area of high concern for the EU. According to the European Commission report “Irregular Migration & Return,” in 2014 more than 276,113 migrants entered the EU irregularly, which is 138 percent more than in 2013. In order to enter the EU via irregular routes, most migrants use criminal networks or smugglers. According to the UNHCR, from January to July 2014, more than 87,000 arrived in Italy by sea (most of them from Eritrea and Syria). Crossing the sea through illegal channels is highly dangerous and tragedies are very likely to occur. According to the article “Some 300 feared dead in fresh Mediterranean tragedy” published by the UNHCR in 2014 there were more than 218,000 migrants and refugees who crossed the Mediterranean Sea by irregular routes. In the same year, about 3,500 people lost their lives trying to reach European shores by boat. The number of the refugees and migrants arriving on boats seem to increase constantly. According to the UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards, the number of people who arrived in Italy through such means was 3,528 in January 2015 alone, compared to 2,171 in January last year.

In order to prevent the activity of organized crime groups that facilitate irregular migration, the EU adopted a legal framework, Directive 2002/90, to fight against smuggling in 2002 . The goal of this framework is to stop organized crime groups and eliminate or at least reduce the flow of irregular immigration.

The EU also created the Operational Action Plan on Illegal Immigration, which aims to dismantle organized criminal networks that facilitate irregular immigration. Under the OAP, member states law enforcement authorities cooperate on joint operational actions with EU Agencies such as Europol, Frontex, Cepol and Eurojust. Joint Operational Team MARE was established to focus on the smuggling networks present in the Mediterranean.

Another important instrument is the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility, launched in 2005 and renewed in 2011, which is the common EU policy on external migration and asylum. According to the European Commission, the main four goals of the GAMM are:

  1. “better organising legal migration, and fostering well-managed mobility”
  2. “preventing and combating irregular migration, and eradicating trafficking in human beings”
  3. “maximising the development impact of migration and mobility”
  4. “promoting international protection, and enhancing the external dimension of asylum.”

To promote the return of migrants and to fight against human trafficking, the EU has established bilateral agreements with the countries of origin of some of the migrant groups. According to the the European Commission Fact Sheet the Mobility Partnership with Jordan, signed in 2014, is the first of its kind with a Middle Eastern country. Other countries that border the Mediterranean and signed partnerships are Morocco, in June 2013, and Tunisia, in March 2014. Mobility Partnerships also exist with the Republic of Moldova and Cape Verde (2008), Georgia (2009), Armenia (2011) and Azerbaijan (2013).

After the Lampedusa tragedy in October 2013, when a boat carrying migrants from Libya sank in the Mediterranean, the Italian government started the Mare Nostrum operation, which has rescued more than 100,000 people. Mare Nostrum was a national operation and was very costly for the Italian government. That is why Mare Nostrum ended in 2014 and a new operation, Triton, which is at the EU level, has been launched. According to the European Commission Fact Sheet, since November 1, 2014, when the Joint Operation Triton started operating, over 19,500 people have been saved. Triton has been extended until the end of 2015. In addition to this, in April 2014, the EU adopted the ‘Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund’, representing a commitment of over €3 billion for the period between 2014 and 2020. This fund has the goal to help the member states improve asylum systems, reception modalities and integration policies at a national level.

D: Conclusion

As the European continent receives a drastically increased number of immigrants, migration becomes a more prevalent topic discussed and debated at both the national and EU levels. Special attention is devoted to the issue of irregular migration. Smugglers and criminal networks facilitate the arrival of irregular migrants in Europe through irregular channels and unsafe means, such as old and overcrowded boats. However, irregular migration is not a uniform phenomenon throughout Europe. Some countries such as Italy are more affected than other countries, mainly because of their geographic position. Although migration is primarily a national issue, there are regulations and instruments implemented at the EU level. Despite all efforts at both the national and EU levels, migration, in particular irregular migration, remains an area of concern as the number of irregular migrants constantly and exponentially increase.

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