Some 4.8 million people were registered as applicants for temporary protection by the United Nations Refugee Agency at the beginning of December, mainly in the eastern countries of the European Union: Poland, Germany, the Baltic countries, Romania and Slovakia. Depending on how the war progresses, the numbers could be even higher next year.
The block faces the The biggest refugee crisis since World War II, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said in Brussels in mid-December, adding that together Europe would continue to support people.
However, some EU states have already complained of being overwhelmed. In Also in Germany, federal and local governments have cited difficulties with accommodation. Johansson faces the challenge of maintaining a sense of unity among member states in 2023. Indeed, until now, war refugees have not been distributed according to any formula and are moving freely within the EU under a special protection status, without an asylum procedure. .
Unresolved problems in the south
Concerns about Ukrainian refugees have also overshadowed growing migration movements in the southeast. Over the past year, the number of asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt, as well as irregular border crossings, has increased sharply. THE border management agency Frontex around 280,000 irregular entries were recorded in October, 77% more than in 2021 and the highest number since the peak of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015 and 2016, for which there are only estimates.
In its “risk analysis” for the coming years until 2032, Frontex said it expected migration pressure to continue to increase. “Over the next decade, EU border management will experience an increased frequency of migration/refugee crises (or disproportionate pressures) that will test the effectiveness of border controls. The complex interplay geopolitics, security conflicts and other megatrends will influence different regions of the world, including countries close to Europe,” the report said.
Given that migratory movements would pose a massive threat to the security of Europe’s external borders, the Warsaw-based organization, also known as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, recommended comprehensive precautions to strengthen border protection.
Defunct rules in “Fortress Europe”
European Union interior ministers took these warnings seriously and promised during the last meeting of the year in Brussels to intensify their efforts again in 2023. In the first half of the year, the Swedish EU presidency is expected to promote reforms on asylum and border management, topics on which ministers cannot agree For years.
But the fundamental conflict between states that want to further restrict migrant access and those that are still willing to welcome them is unlikely to be resolved in 2023.
While the most migrant-friendly states demand solidarity and relief from proponents of the “Fortress Europe” concept, this has hardly been achieved. As a result, countries of first entry such as Greece, Italy, Spain, Hungary and Croatia are currently allowing migrants and potential asylum seekers to continue their journey north. Austria and Germany are complaining that tens of thousands of people are applying for asylum there when they should actually be doing so in the country through which they entered the EU.
A new solidarity system?
The so-called Dublin rules, which designate the responsibility of asylum seekers in the State of first entry, do not work. The European Commission has presented various reform proposals, but of the ten draft laws, only three are under serious discussion. According to European Interior Commissioner Johansson, further laws will be adopted in the coming year to finally establish a system of accountability and solidarity in European migration and asylum policy.
A voluntary system of distributing asylum seekers from countries of first entry to the rest of the EU recently failed again because France failed to reach an agreement with the new radical party. right-wing government in Italy. Rome wants to stop letting migrants disembark by introducing a sort of naval blockade against Libya and Tunisia southern Mediterraneana move that other EU states view as both legally questionable and impractical.
Migrants rejected at external borders
Another legally questionable practice has emerged along the so-called Balkan route. At the EU’s external borders in Hungary, Croatia, Greece and Bulgaria, “pushbacks” of migrantsthe practice of forcibly expelling people who have already reached EU territory, is said to occur regularly.
Media and refugee advocates accused Frontex of looking the other way, and the organization’s head subsequently resigned last spring.
The Balkan route via Greece, North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Hungary currently hosts the largest number of migrants and asylum seekers. The EU has therefore offered the Western Balkan states increased aid to protect their borders. Additionally, states like Serbia are set to change their visa policies, as Pakistanis can enter Serbia without a visa and from there attempt to enter the EU.
Regarding migration policies for the BalkansGerman Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said: “We agree on the need to strengthen the protection of external borders and that there can only be joint EU action to solve the big problems.”
Schengen expansion stalled
Migration issues face harsher criticism in Austria, which, although surrounded by EU countries, recorded almost 100,000 asylum requests in 2022. Hungary, which has an external border with the EU, had only 50. This disparity led Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner to suspect something might be wrong. Asylum seekers from the southern EU cannot simply travel to the north to lodge their asylum application wherever it is convenient for them, Karner said.
In this case, Austria, Germany and other countries should carry out permanent border controls, which should no longer exist within the country. Schengen area. “We currently have internal border controls in many places in Europe: from Austria to Hungary, from Germany to Austria, from the Czech Republic to Slovakia,” he said. “This is further evidence that the system is not working in many ways at the moment.” This is why Austria is blocking the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen area.
“I think it’s not good to expand a system that doesn’t work in many places,” Karner said. But since Austria is the only one in this situation within the EU, a new attempt will be made in 2023 to modernize the rules of the Schengen area without systematic border controls. The objective is to abolish temporary border controls due to migratory movements and also to integrate Bulgaria and Romania.
A “dramatic situation”
Pushbacks do not only occur on the Balkan route, but also in Poland and Lithuania. There, authorities say people are deliberately brought to the Belarusian border to exert political pressure. Attempts by Poland and other states to use this “instrumentalization” of migrants as an opportunity to temporarily suspend the right to asylum in the EU have not succeeded – at least not yet.
Migration researcher Gerald Knaus has sharply criticized the state of European refugee and asylum policy. He sees a “dramatic situation in the EU” because Europeans have signed conventions on human rights and asylum, but have not respected them since 2021, he told the TV channel Austrian puls 24 in December.
Knaus called for more agreements on migration with countries of origin to reduce pressure and deter people from migrating irregularly and often hopelessly. But the already difficult negotiations with home countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and others will remain a delicate task for the EU in 2023.
This article has been translated from German.
Edited by: Richard Connor