Pandemic sees migration spike in the Mediterranean but numbers plummet elsewhere

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on migration flows into the EU, with numbers close to tripling in the Mediterranean but dropping sharply elsewhere

Although the European Border and Coast Guard Agency has registered an overall six-year low in irregular border crossings, the 2020 Central Mediterranean Route witnessed a considerable spike over 2019 figures
Although the European Border and Coast Guard Agency has registered an overall six-year low in irregular border crossings, the 2020 Central Mediterranean Route witnessed a considerable spike over 2019 figures

The European Parliament has highlighted the fact that restrictions on movement and travel implemented after the coronavirus pandemic took hold, have led to a stark reduction in regular and irregular migration alike after countries closed borders, scaled-back programmes to take in refugees, and restricted routes for legal migration.

The Mediterranean crossing remained a deadly route with 1,754 people reported dead or missing in 2020 compared to 2,095 people in 2019. Irregular arrivals into the EU through the Central Mediterranean Route to Malta and Italy increased by 154% between January and November 2020 compared to the first 11 months of 2019.

Although the European Border and Coast Guard Agency has registered an overall six-year low in irregular border crossings, the 2020 Central Mediterranean Route witnessed a considerable spike over 2019 figures.

In fact, there were more than 34,100 such arrivals in 2020 compared to nearly 11,500 in 2019, with the majority of people arriving in Lampedusa.

Arrivals in Spain, and in the Canary Islands in particular, also increased by 46% to 35,800 last year.

The European Parliament notes how many of the new arrivals originate from countries suffering from an economic downturn, rather than conflict, and that a decline in global remittances is also likely to contribute to this trend.

Until the pandemic is contained and economic recovery is underway, poor employment and healthcare prospects will remain an incentive for people to come to the EU.

Asylum applications drop sharply across the EU

As opposed to the spike in the Central Mediterranean, asylum numbers have declined elsewhere.  Over the first 10 months of 2020, there were 390,000 asylum applications lodged in the EU as a whole, 33% fewer than in the same period of 2019. In 2018, there were 634,700 applications, significantly lower than the one million plus applications registered in 2015 and 2016.

Particularly large declines were seen in Germany, France and Italy in the first seven months of 2020. There were fewer first-time applications from Syria (135,000 fewer than the average for 2018 and 2019, down 52%), Iraq (down 55%) and Nigeria (down 58%).

However, numbers were higher in Spain and Romania, partly due to an increase in applications from South American countries, including Colombia, which had increased by 102%, and Peru, which were 76% higher.

 

A six-year low

According to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, there were more than 2.3 million cases of irregular migration in the EU in 2015 and 2016.  The total number between January and November 2020 had plummeted to 114,000 – a six-year low and a decrease of 10% compared to 2019. Despite a 55% drop, Afghanistan remains one of the main countries of origin of people detected making an irregular border crossing into Europe, along with Syria, Tunisia and Algeria.

What do Europeans think?

Although a recent Eurobarometer survey found migration to be the fifth-biggest issue influencing Europeans’ voting decisions, Parlemeter 2020, conducted by the European Parliament, registered a drop in importance. Migration is now considered to be the main area of disagreement between the EU and national governments by nearly half of those surveyed.

Around the world, the number of people fleeing persecution, conflict and violence amounted to 80 million – equivalent to almost every man, woman and child in Germany being forced from their homes. Children account for about 40% of the world’s refugee population.

The countries hosting the largest number of refugees are Turkey, Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda and Germany. Only 14% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developed countries.

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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