Europe’s new refugee deal: The most important questions answered

Since the first large influx of refugees in 2015, politicians have been arguing about the admission and deportation quotas, about the rule of law and humane procedures and the question of how the many people who are seeking protection in Europe can be accommodated during their recognition procedures.

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The lines of conflict run right through the societies of the member states, and even among the European neighbors there is no consensus on the right path. The asylum compromise negotiated in Luxembourg is intended to improve the situation in the future. But is that even possible? And what is the current situation? FOCUS answers the most pressing questions.

What are the most important escape routes and how many people come to Europe this way?

Most refugees try three Mediterranean routes. According to a report by the EU Commission, almost 117,000 people came to Europe in 2022. The majority uses the central Mediterranean route. This leads from Libya and Tunisia to Italy. The eastern route runs through Turkey to Greece. The western route across the Mediterranean stretches from Morocco to mainland Spain.

Many asylum seekers make their way by land. The so-called “Balkan route” is still the most heavily used today. More than 86,000 irregular border crossings were registered there last year.

Where do most refugees arrive? How are they registered?

Most migrants reach so-called “hotspots” via the escape routes. These are the areas on the EU’s external border where people seeking protection are registered and transferred to the corresponding national follow-up procedures. At the end of 2021, there were four hotspot centers in Italy: Taranto in Puglia, Pozzallo and Trapani in Sicily, and Lampedusa. In Greece, these are essentially Lesbos, Chios, Samos and Leros.

According to the Dublin procedure, EU states are currently obliged to register illegally arriving migrants over the age of 14 and enter them in the European database Eurodac, including their fingerprints. However, an evaluation by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees shows that many cannot be found via this database: For example, there was no Eurodac hit for a good 101,000 of 151,277 first-time applicants aged 14 and over who arrived in Germany in 2022.

How many asylum seekers did each EU country last take in?

The distribution of refugees among the EU countries is not balanced. Of the total of 881,220 initial applications last year, 217,735 were assigned to Germany, i.e. around 20,000 per month. With a share of almost 25 percent, the Federal Republic of Germany accepted the most people.

France is in second place. The country counted a total of 137,510 asylum applications in 2022, around 16 percent of the total. Spain and Austria followed with 13 and 12 percent. Little Liechtenstein, with 70 applicants, and Orban’s Hungary, with just 45 people seeking protection, accepted the fewest.

Will the planned reform improve the situation in the border camps?

According to the compromise agreed in Luxembourg, asylum seekers from countries with a low recognition rate of less than 20 percent should be entitled to an accelerated preliminary examination. Nevertheless, according to experts, it can take many weeks to determine the individual claim. It is planned to carry out these checks within three months in the future. According to experts, this is only practicable under “detention-like conditions”. This is how it is described, for example, by the ethnologist Bernd Kasparek from the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Some of these camps, such as in Moria, Greece, have been criticized in recent years for their catastrophic humanitarian conditions. In addition, there were reports that lawyers were denied access to their cases. Representatives of the Greens, like party leader Ricarda Lang, criticize the fact that the compromise that has been reached does not exempt families with children from being admitted to such border camps. It is questionable whether the test can actually be carried out within three months.

How many asylum seekers are currently being returned? How will it work in the future?

In the past three years, Germany has deported significantly fewer people than in the period from 2015 to 2019. In 2022 it was 12,945 people, in 2016 it was 25,375. Refugees from Georgia, Albania and North Macedonia have to return home most often. They are closely followed by asylum seekers from Serbia, Afghanistan, Syria, Algeria, Turkey, Moldova and Iraq.

According to the previously applicable Dublin regulation, Germany can also deport refugees to other EU countries – they are considered “safe third countries” alongside Switzerland and Norway. Spain, Poland, Austria and France are among the ten most common target countries for deportations. In the current negotiations, Italy, Greece and Austria have now prevailed with their demand to be allowed to deport migrants to other “safe third countries”. They also include Tunisia.

How is the compromise process going in Europe?

The negotiations were tough. Countries like Italy, which are particularly hard hit by the influx, pleaded for more solidarity. Hungary and Poland, on the other hand, did not want to participate in the redistribution of refugees.

In the end, however, 22 out of 27 EU countries voted in favor of the asylum compromise. Only Poland, Hungary, Malta, Bulgaria and Slovakia opposed the reform. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban called the compromise “unacceptable”. The proposal now has to pass the EU Parliament.

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