by Natalie Winters, The National Pulse:
In 2022 around 330,000 people crossed into Europe illegally, according to Frontex, the European Union’s border agency – the largest number since the Migrant Crisis of 2015-16 and a 64 percent increase on 2021. The figures do not include the 13 million refugees who fled Ukraine and entered the EU due to the conflict with Russia, ten million of whom have subsequently returned home.
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This is the second year running with a steep increase in the number of migrants crossing into Europe, after a significant lull during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, with most of them now entering the European Union (EU) through the western Balkans. Almost 50 percent were from Syria, Afghanistan, and Tunisia, with the number of Syrians doubling to almost 95,000.
Of the total 300,000+ people, just over 71,000, or 37 percent, attempted to leave the EU for the United Kingdom, but not all were successful. Afghans, Iraqis, and Albanians were the most likely to attempt to leave the EU for the UK.
Although the recorded number of migrants is huge, it is also likely to be a significant underestimate. Whether or not the current wave is as big as the record numbers from half a decade ago will become clearer with time. During the first year of the migrant crisis, 1.3 million people entered Europe, the highest annual figure since the end of World War II. Most of the migrants then were Syrians, fleeing the country’s civil war, but there were also significant numbers of Afghans, Iraqis, and Africans.
The 2015 crisis was encouraged in part by the open-door policy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who refused to put any kind of limit on the number of migrants Germany would accept, famously declaring “wir schaffen das” (“we can handle this”). The crisis deepened existing social, economic and political fractures across the continent, as well as creating new divides between pro-immigration countries, like Germany, and anti-immigration “conservative” countries like Poland and Hungary. The rise of populism within Europe, including such notable events as Brexit, is generally seen as a direct consequence of the events of the Migrant Crisis.
At the Highest Levels Since 2016.
The data also reveals a clear pattern in the routes of entry. The West African and Western Mediterranean routes have become significantly less popular, by 31 percent and 21 percent respectively, while Central and Eastern routes are now being favored by the vast majority of migrants.
The Central Mediterranean route, via Italy and its islands, remains popular, with about a third of all migrants choosing it, an increase of 51 percent on 2021. But the routes to the east, especially the Western Balkan route, through non-EU countries like Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, have exploded in popularity.
The Western Balkan route is now the most popular by far, with 145,000 reported entries, an increase of 136 percent over last year. This was also the most popular route in 2015-16.
Before 2015, most crossings were from Libya to Italy, as border controls collapsed in Libya due to the Second Libyan Civil War. Most of the migrants who crossed from Libya to Italy before 2015 were sub-Saharan Africans.
It’s almost certain that the figures from Frontex are an underestimate, perhaps a significant underestimate, of the total number of migrants entering the EU. The Hungarian government, for instance, announced that over 250,000 illegal crossings were thwarted along the country’s borders in 2022, more than double the 122,000 recorded in 2021.
Figures for asylum applications from within the EU may give a more accurate idea of the state of migration. Nearly 800,000 people applied for asylum from within the EU between January and October last year, according to EU Agency for Asylum chief Nina Gregori. That’s a 54 percent increase compared to the previous year, but still less than the highs experienced during the Migrant Crisis. Most asylum applicants came from Syria, Afghanistan, and Turkey.
Wir Schaffen Das? Not Really.
Talk of a “new normal” after the pandemic appears spectacularly misplaced in Europe, where a replay of the events of 2015/16 – the unhappy “old normal” – is now firmly on the cards, if it isn’t already happening. Nobody expects migration to do anything but continue to climb in the coming years now that the pandemic restrictions have been eased and Europe is once again “open for business”.
While Europe’s pro-migration regimes may feel slightly more secure with Trump out of the White House and after the recent failure of the right-wing challenge to Macron in France, there can be no doubt that the resumption of massive migration will cause another populist reaction.