Over 5,000 migrants died attempting to reach Europe in 2016. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports an average of fourteen people lost their lives each and every day. Most of them were travelling the central Mediterranean route, often crammed into run-down boats and enduring horrific conditions.

It’s true that, in absolute terms, the number of migrants and refugees coming to Europe has fallen dramatically from its high-point of over one million in 2015. However, if anything, the crossings are now more fraught with peril than ever; in 2017, the number of people making the trip more than halved compared to 2016, yet the death rate has doubled. As the Prime Minister of Malta warned in 2013: the Mediterranean is becoming ‘a cemetery’.

Some EU countries are moving to allow legal ways to apply for asylum before crossing by sea. At an August 2017 summit in Paris, the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and Spain agreed to a plan to open migrant processing centres in African countries such as Libya, Chad, and Niger. The move has been condemned by left-wing politicians because Libya does not have a functioning government and parts of the country are still effectively conflict zones.

In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis will be on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.

This week, we are looking at Athens, Greece. Greece currently hosts 63,000 refugees and asylum seekers, with approximately 14,000 of them on the mainland (including in reception centres in Athens). Despite significant sums of money being spent by the European Union (by some estimates over €675 million), conditions have been described by human rights groups as “unfit for humans” in Greek camps. Many arrivals have by now fallen outside the formal asylum system (with 2,500 people estimated to be living in squats or informal housing), meaning their request for asylum cannot be processed.

Curious to know more about refugees and procedures for entering the EU? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Francesca, arguing that if the EU really wants to end the tragedy of migrant deaths at sea then it needs to “invest money in managing safe and legal ways for refugees to access protection in Europe and in establishing a mechanism for resettling refugees among ALL the 28 Member states”.

To get a response, we spoke to Judith Sunderland, Associate Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. What would she say to Francesca’s comment?

I would say that I completely agree, and that’s in fact one of the major recommendations that Human Rights Watch and virtually every other human rights and humanitarian organisation – as well as policy experts and think-tanks – have been making for the past countless number of years. More safe and legal channels for asylum seekers, refugees, and indeed migrants hoping to improve their opportunities, would be a significant way to minimise the recourse to dangerous migration.

No amount of safe and legal channels will eliminate dangerous migration, because the offer will never fully meet the demand, and there will always be people on the move and willing to take dramatic risks to find places of safety and to improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones. But if the EU countries together, or even individually, were to expand existing safe and legal channels, and increase the number of humanitarian visas given to people in embassies and consulates around the world so that they can travel lawfully and safely to an EU country in order to apply for asylum here; if they were to dramatically increase the number of recognised refugees – currently living in camps around the world – being resettled to European countries; if they were to facilitate family reunification so that people already here in Europe with some kind of status can bring their family members from their countries of origin or neighbouring countries where they have fled to join them in a safe and legal way; if EU countries were to do all those things that would help significantly to reduce the number of people who currently find themselves obliged to put their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers and fate.

We also had a comment from Lidija, who argued that the refugee crisis has “exposed not only the inadequacy of its external borders, but the consequences of not having a uniform system for screening new arrivals or common criteria for determining who may stay. Someone rejected at one border might be accepted at another.” Is she right? How would Judith Sunderland respond?

Well, she is pointing to one of the bigger conundrums in all of this, which is that the EU does have a common asylum system, and binding EU law that requires all EU Member States to provide fair and efficient asylum procedures and certain material reception conditions for asylum seekers, and a whole range of guarantees and rights to which asylum seekers are entitled. Those rights should be guaranteed across all EU countries, but the fact of the matter is that they are not, and there are huge disparities in the kinds of procedures that are implemented and the entitlements and the rights that asylum seekers and refugees enjoy in different EU countries.

One of the things that the most recent crisis – which really flared up in 2015 – has laid bare is the fallacy of this common European asylum system, which is in reality not at all harmonised. You have that on the one hand and on the other you have what are called the Dublin Regulations, which generally insists that it is the first country of arrival in the EU that has to take responsibility for an asylum application. What that does it put an unfair burden on countries on the EU’s external borders, and particularly countries like Greece and Italy, and to a far lesser extent Spain, which are all exposed to land and sea arrivals. And, of course, there are countries on the Eastern border of the EU which are also subject to land arrivals.

So, it is a big issue that many experts and officials at both the EU and national level are trying to sort out. In the long run, we argue that there should be a concerted effort to bring all countries up to quite a high minimum standard laid out in EU law and in conformity with international law and human rights law. But what we’re seeing instead, in an effort to harmonise procedures, is actually more of a race in the other direction, a race to the bottom. It’s part of an effort to make Europe a more hostile environment for asylum seekers, according to this rather bizarre logic that this might discourage people from coming. So, in various countries across the union you have efforts to reduce benefits, reduce entitlements, change procedures in ways that limit peoples rights within the procedure, including to appeal negative decisions…

Should there be legal ways for refugees to enter Europe? Would that help cut down on the number of migrant deaths each year? Would it discourage people from risking their lives to reach the EU? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

The Debating Europe “Cities & Refugees” project is co-funded by the European Union’s “Europe for Citizens” program.
IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – United Nations Photo
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The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.



98 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Max Berre

    Of course there needs to be. Refugee law is a concept that was based on a European idea to begin with. An idea about people fleeing from war and dictatorship.

    • Katerina Mpakirtzi

      We fight against them. If everyone runs what happened to their land?

    • Max Berre

      You can TRY to fight against the situation, I suppose. But YOU are probably a lot less scary than ISIS. So I’m not sure that you will be taken very seriously. It might be more efficient to just send troops to go kill ISIS.

    • H. Bell

      Out of the pot and into the fire as far as the EU is concerned then, you couldn’t call the EU democratic by any stretch of the imagination.

  2. Andrian Marinov

    Through the border entrance with documents, entering legally. Should they stay? Till the end of the war, then back home.

  3. Andrius Adomaitis

    these are economic migrants, not refugees and they heading to countries that have big social grants/payouts for children, etc – exactly what muslims aim for. To colonize Europe by number (hijra=jihad by immigration) and get paid for that in process. This is dangerous stupidity on our side. Removing social grants/payouts will be huge step in resolving imigrant problem itself, as there will be no point/gain to come here in first place.

  4. Gururaj Bhat

    Europe is going to be another Arab country be use of the immigrants of the Arab people that they spoil the country wealth infrastructure and economy be use of their love towards to the intollorable religion which emphasises more to violance and sex .in the near future this ckuntrybwill suffer like India is facing be use of the congress party which ruled and ruined the country by suppressing the majority hindu community feelings and promoting the apeasement to the minority community because of vote bank politics .there for to bring the Muslims to the Europe means face the crisis like unhygenic and filtyh5 people of Muslims to that country which you are all diciplene in cleanliness health and good infrastructure will be ruined and face lot of problems from them like separate voter list separate region for themselves and freedom to have their region by the loosing the place you live like the Kashmir in India we are facing .

    • José Bessa da Silva

      Europe is not and will not be another arab country because Europe is not and will not be a country to start with.

    • Gururaj Bhat

      If white people if they don’t think what in have written they will be remember after effect after some years and new generation of Europe will curse the present generation.

    • José Bessa da Silva

      Again, Europe is not and will never be a country. The problems my country faces are not the same problems France faces. Different countries, different problems, different measures, different results…

    • Gururaj Bhat

      Why you people I inviting problem by taking them if one Muslim means that area will face so many problems better late than never.positive action of the govt is necessary or else Europe will be doomed

    • Jose Quintans

      Jose Blesa Da Silva, many of your problems are not the same as your neighbour’s. You share some though, with your neighbour, also you share some problems with Europeans.

      We are Europe!

  5. Lefteris Eleftheriou

    There needs to be a legal process to accept refugees (=people willing to live anywhere away from war). Every EU state has ports and airports and borders. So travel from Syria to an EU country legally and request permission to enter as a refugee.
    BUT… If you left Syria 2-3-4-5 years ago lived in Turkey and now you decided to come to Europe I’m sorry you are an immigrant not a refugee. And EU states must become stricter – illegally entering the sea area or illegally crossing a land border without papers should be considered an invasion and punished accordingly.

    • Jose Quintans

      And +50000 terrorists, Cyberpol says.

    • Max Berre

      The only party who is joking and playing is the side that says “no”, but also has no presence in the battlefield, no ships in the med, and is generally much less scary than ISIS.

  6. Luis García

    why not Kwait? or Arabia Saudi? or Turkey….or Egipt..or Quatar….or EAU…or Dubai…why Norway? why Sweden? why Germany?

    • Max Berre

      Fact Check: The majority of all refugees from the syrian conflict have ended up in either syria or turkey. So, your question does not make much sense.

    • Luis García

      Max Berre not make sense because there are a big problem with Turkey and with millions of refugees than cross the borders to arrive to Germany… not sense because EU is payins millions of euros to Turkey in exchange to control this biblical human movement to Europe….but in YOUR opinion, not sense. Ok. Forguet the pay to Erdogan, and retire the europeans policies in Greeek borders…not necessary, “not make sense” :)))))

    • Luis García

      Not sense because there are a miliion of sirian refugees in Germany, so not sense the problems with Hungary or Czech republic or Poland, jst “not make sense..”

    • Luis García

      Max Berre your answer was ironic?

  7. George Ferentinos

    The EU instead of destabilizing the Middle East by intervening in the internal affairs and causes wars and destruction in the region as a stooge of USA, should help the area to develop a more stable political situation and a dynamic economic growth, so that the local population stay and prosper in their own countries!!this is the only rational solution to the migration problem for Europe!!

  8. Andrea Scacchi

    There already are. Enough also. It’s the scale that is out of control.
    We are still talking about illegal undocumented “migrants”.
    Many of whom are in military service age
    Illegal economic migrants. Or are u telling me all are “refugees”?

    • Max Berre

      The scale of this is something that nobody has thought to mention so far. Europe’s leaders did nothing about the conflict back when it was small and manageable. Now it has grown to be 23 times the size of 1994 cuban refugee crisis.

      Not sure how almost europe’s non-existing navy and security forces plan to manage the situation now.

    • Andrea Scacchi

      We are dealing with this crisis the same way the romans did with the goths in 376-378 ad: very badly.

  9. Mauricio Giordanelli

    Yes. And considering that we, Europeans, have spent centuries sending our economic and war refugees all over the world, illegally, we need to stop crying over refugees coming to us now that we’re prosperous and begin paying back what others have done for us.

    • Ivan Burrows

      Why do you say ‘we, Europeans’ ?! it is a meaningless term in reference to the EU as there are 24 ‘European’ Nations not in the pointless EU.

  10. Constantinescu Florin

    The law exists…Interesting is the fact that everybody has mercy for the refugees wich are not obeing the law! They have to stay in some places – they run away, they have to behave in some ways – they made the opposite so on. Who is imposing the law?

  11. Anatilde Alves

    There is. I met refugees before in central Europe, they were very much legalized having a refugee status. There isn’t a solution in massive scale that’s all.

  12. Ivan Burrows

    There are legal ways to get into the nations in Europe, the trouble is most of the ‘migrants’ know they would not meet the criteria of entry so chose the illegal way.

  13. Nikolas Kalaitcidis

    Talking about Europe dear? Wrong question. Refugees in 2017? Europe can be proactive and receive emigration specialties. For Any Gods ‘ sake!!

  14. Joe Grixti

    Of course Yes..like we use to do in the sexteys. To Canada . And. Australia .

  15. Joe Grixti

    Of course Yes..like we use to do in the sexteys. To Canada . And. Australia .

  16. Joe Grixti

    Of course Yes..like we use to do in the sexteys. To Canada . And. Australia .

  17. Joe Grixti

    Of course Yes..like we use to do in the sexteys. To Canada . And. Australia .

  18. Joe Grixti

    Of course Yes..like we use to do in the sexteys. To Canada . And. Australia .

  19. Joe Grixti

    Of course Yes..like we use to do in the sexteys. To Canada . And. Australia .

  20. Joe Grixti

    Of course Yes..like we use to do in the sexteys. To Canada . And. Australia .

  21. Joe Grixti

    Of course Yes..like we use to do in the sexteys. To Canada . And. Australia .

  22. Joe Grixti

    Of course Yes..like we use to do in the sexteys. To Canada . And. Australia .

  23. Joe Grixti

    Of course Yes..like we use to do in the sexteys. To Canada . And. Australia .

  24. Pedro Jorge Lemos

    Absolutely not…. they are criminals and terrorists and dont respect our laws… they are here to take control of europe knowing we will do nothing until too late. The trojan horse strategy is again working perfectely

  25. Chris Pavlides

    Europe dont needs these people population wise. Actually they are gona be used against locals.

  26. Andrew Potts

    Everyday there is a pro migrant story how about a story about the dreadful unemployment figures among the under 25s in some European countries. How maybe German could recruit young workers there for the factories of the car industry. Now that would be a story of European solidarity.

  27. Magaly Morales

    The only way economic migrants will stop entering the EU and asking for asylum is to process asylum out of Europe. It should be processed by embassies

    13/09/2017 Vasilis Papadopoulos, Coordinator of the Legal Unit of the Greek Council for Refugees, has responded to this comment.

  28. Magaly Morales

    The only way economic migrants will stop entering the EU and asking for asylum is to process asylum out of Europe. It should be processed by embassies

  29. Lárus Baldursson

    The asylum seekers to Iceland are from Albania, Georgia, Macedonia, in search of international protection?

  30. Yannick Cornet

    Do we want to create a ‘fortress Europe’? It might work for a while, but with increasing pressures from climate changes, it’s already clear migration (in all directions) will increase in absolute terms (see academic evidence of climate being one of the main trigger to the Syrian war as a reference below). What the EU (and the UN) needs is a real future-proof policy that gives all people a chance to pursue a better life – and to literally save their lives. Economic treaties allow freedom of capital movement at global level pretty much, in my view what is needed is to complement that with freedom of movement. But nation states (as long as this format exists) prevent that from happening. The solution I like to think of is the concept of Sanctuary Cities. Cities are natural environments where people mix, and cities benefit from this, whereas countries prefer (usually) to defend and preserve a sense of culture and history that is less welcome to change (and therefore immigration). It’s all fair enough perhaps, therefore I would suggest this: could we think of a system where movement between cities is encouraged and managed in ‘legal ways’, whereas ‘nationality’ would be somehow more restricted? Basically, that involves empowering cities to deal with immigration themselves and take part of that power away from nation-states. I’m in. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/11/3241.abstract

  31. Maia Alexandrova

    No, let’s stick to the illegal ways. Better have chaos in Europe.

  32. Jose Quintans

    +50000 terrorists Cyberpol says.

    • Max Berre

      That isn’t how refugee law works. It measures how shitty the situation they’re fleeing from is. Not how much of a bigoted redneck the average host-country’s farmer is.

  33. Γουλιέλμος Μαργκερον

    Definitely yes ! If they had way to come legally, they won’t spend thousands of € to come here, but will spend them here. 1st, they could take care of themselves (meaning that the state will spend less money to help them), 2nd, that money will serve the european economy and growth.

  34. catherine benning

    Should there be legal ways for refugees to enter Europe?

    There already are legal ways for refugees to enter Europe. Most of them circumvent legality and are therefore illegal and living on this continent. Yet, they are allowed to remain. Which means Europe legitimises criminals from the day they enter. They encourage what they say they don’t want. Now why is that? What is the reason they do this?

    Add to that the fact that Europe allows camps to build up on their borders with the UK trying to flush them through to our tax payers largesse. And then expect the British people to want to remain as part of the EU. You must be out of your minds if you feel will will stand for that shiite.

    And all the threats levelled at our government to bend to the will of your drunken negotiators only makes us determined to get the hell out of it as quick as we can. Even if that means walking away from you with no deal at all.

    From my point of view, no deal is a good deal.

    Have a guess.

  35. Paul X

    It would be easy drafting a legal process for refugees to enter Europe but making it work is impossible. You need manpower to manage the process which would need to be based outside Europe, and then total border control to confirm the legal status of people who are entering Europe….both these the EU is incapable of providing

    But it’s an irrelevant question anyway…a legal process for refugees will not have any impact on the amount of illegal immigrants that try to get in

  36. Karolina

    My great grandparents were refugees and so were my grandparents. They always entered the country providing refuge legally. Everything was arranged for them by the government beforehand and they were simply told where to go. This was because the host country sympathised with them and wanted to give them refuge. If there are countries that don’t want to provide refuge, then refugees should not try to enter illegally but simply go where they are willing to provide them this refuge. A peaceful refugee trying to save their life would never tear down fences in order to enter illegal. That’s an aggressive invader.

    • Paul X

      How about… Are there any from the Liberal-Left who don’t label everyone who voices concerns over immigration as Racists, Xenophobes etc?

  37. hahaha

    Only for children age under 10 years and women but in small numbers.

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