Posted on April 17, 2023

Europe’s Migration Policies in Chaos as Arrivals Surge

Sana Noor Haq et al., CNN, April 16, 2023

As a boat carrying 400 migrants drifted, out of fuel, along a perilous migration route in the central Mediterranean last week, Italian authorities led a major rescue operation following the reported refusal of Maltese authorities to retrieve those on board.

Passengers’ desperate pleas for aid went unheeded for nearly a week before they finally reached Italian shores on Wednesday, along with 800 migrants stranded for more than 10 days on another vessel.


But the episode was yet another tussle between EU countries that sheds a fresh spotlight on the bloc’s inability to negotiate who should accommodate a spike in migrant arrivals, something that critics say is only leading to further suffering and tragedy.

By the time the occupants of the first two boats finally reached safety, two more, both containing around 450 people, had been spotted at sea. Again, Sea-Watch International alerted both Italian and Maltese authorities, it confirmed to CNN, but no rescue was launched immediately by either country.

The number of undocumented people arriving on European shores by sea has skyrocketed so far this year due to conflict, global inequality and the climate crisis.

More than 36,000 migrants arrived in the Mediterranean region of Europe from January to March this year, nearly twice the number compared with the same period in 2022, according to the latest figures from the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR). It is the highest number since the refugee crisis that peaked in 2015 and continued into the first months of 2016, when the arrival of more than one million migrants on Europe’s shores led EU solidarity to collapse into bickering and border chaos.

So far this year, more than 98% have arrived by sea, against 2% by land, the highest share since 2016, according to the UN. And an estimated 522 migrants have died or gone missing en route, the UN data shows, capturing the lack of safe and legal routes available to refugees and asylum seekers.

“People flee because they have to get away from these very difficult situations at home,” said Jenny Phillimore, a professor of migration and superdiversity at the University of Birmingham in central England.


In March, at least 28 migrants died after their boats sank off the coast of Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy. The month prior, at least 93 people were killed after a wooden boat carrying migrants from Turkey crashed on the rocks off the coast of Calabria in southern Italy.

Further north, four people died in December after a small boat believed to be carrying migrants capsized in the English Channel, in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

In many cases, migrant vessels are overcrowded and unfit for the journey, and the need to expend resources to rescue those on board can lead to European countries shifting responsibility because authorities “don’t want people landing on their shores,” added Phillimore.

“Italy has long been one of the countries that (has) seen a larger proportion of arrivals across the Mediterranean, in comparison to northern European countries. Whilst the EU Commission has tried to instigate sharing and quotas, it really hasn’t worked out,” she said.

Italy’s cabinet on Tuesday issued a state of emergency following the migrant boat arrivals. Those on the vessels are considered migrants, even if they come from countries that qualify for asylum status. They are not recognized as refugees until the lengthy process is completed.

Italy’s populist, right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is set to introduce new legislation this month that will tighten rules to include forced repatriation for migrants who do not meet refugee status requirements. {snip}


In 2022, 74,751 asylum requests were made in the UK, according to the UK government. The total number of people waiting for an asylum decision more than doubled between 2020 and 2022, from around 70,000 to 166,300, according to the Home Office. {snip}


In Italy, 77,195 applied for asylum last year, according to the Italian Interior Ministry. Of those, 52,625 applications were examined and 53% were denied asylum. Those who are denied can appeal the decision, but most slip away and go undocumented.

Further west, in France, of the 137,046 asylum requests that were registered in 2022, 56,179 were granted, according to the French Interior Ministry. Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees said that 244,132 asylum applications were filed in 2022. Of those 72.3% were granted, with some of the approved applications including backlog requests from the previous year.

In Greece, 37,300 applications for asylum were lodged, about a third more than 2021, according to the European Union Agency for Asylum. Of those, 30,886 were examined, and of those 19,243 were granted and 11,643 were denied.


Several NGO workers have faced legal obstruction after attempting to rescue migrant boats stranded at sea. In January, human rights groups and the European Parliament roundly condemned a trial of 24 emergency workers in Greece, after they were arrested in 2018 to assist refugees that became stuck in a dinghy after leaving Turkey.