What is the current state of the migration crisis in Europe?

Three years since the peak of the crisis, here is how things stand as tensions rise again

Three years after Europe’s biggest influx of migrants and refugees since the second world war, tensions between EU member states over how to handle irregular immigration from outside the bloc – mainly from the Middle East and Africa – are rising again.

What is the scale of migration?

Numbers are sharply down from their 2015-16 peak because of an EU deal with Turkey, new border fences in the Balkans, and a bilateral arrangement between Italy and Libya. The UNHCR says Spain has welcomed 9,500 irregular migrants so far this year, Greece 12,000 and Italy 15,300. But the underlying factors that have led to more than 1.8 million migrants coming to Europe since 2014 have not gone away; most observers believe it is only a matter of time before the number of arrivals picks up again.

Why is it a problem?

Everyone agrees Europe needs to urgently overhaul its asylum and immigration rules. At present Italy and Greece take most of the strain because of their geographical position and the fact that, under EU law, asylum seekers must lodge their applications in the first EU country they enter. However, no one can agree how to do it: some countries are pushing for tougher external border controls, others for fairer distribution of new arrivals. Any solution will have to somehow balance the concerns of the “frontline” southern states with those of the wealthier northern “destination” states, but also deal with the flat refusal of hardline central and eastern European governments such as Hungary and Poland to be pushed into accepting any migrants at all.

What is the wider political context?

With anti-immigration sentiment on the rise across the continent, the far-right League party of Matteo Salvini, which campaigned on a pledge to send 500,000 irregular migrants home, has entered government in Italy. The similarly rightwing, populist Freedom party is sharing power in Austria. In Germany – which welcomed more than 1 million migrants in 2015 under Angela Merkel’s open-door policy – the rightwing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) made major gains. This has put the chancellor’s centre-right CDU and especially its Bavarian CSU sister party, which faces regional elections in October, under intense pressure to tighten the country’s immigration laws.

What sparked the latest flare-up?

Salvini barred a migrant rescue ship carrying 629 people from entering any Italian port. After Malta followed suit, the Aquarius is heading for Spain, welcomed by the newly formed government of the centre-left prime minister, Pedro Sanchez. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, called Italy’s move “cynical and irresponsible”, prompting a major diplomatic row between the two countries. At the same time, Germany’s hardline CSU interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has demanded the right to turn migrants away at Germany’s borders – a proposal Merkel has rejected because she wants a Europe-wide solution.

What will happen now?

Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU bloc is teetering on the brink, threatening her coalition government. Austria, Italy and Germany are exploring proposals for an “axis of the willing” against illegal immigration. France is also talking to Italy about “joint initiatives”. The German chancellor has said solving the question is “a litmus test for Europe’s cohesion and future” that will demand a strong, collective response. Spain has warned that one of the bloc’s core principles – freedom of movement – is at risk. An EU summit in Brussels on 28 and 29 June is due to discuss new rules to ease the burden on frontline states, but agreement is far from certain.

Source: theguardian