Big challenge for Europe

The wave of asylum seekers in the European Union (EU) and the UK continues to increase, despite the complicated developments of the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing pressure to prevent a recurrence of the migration tragedy in 2015, European countries have increased coordination to find solutions to the “migration problem”, but there are still deep disagreements among EU member countries.

Afghan refugees on the Croatian border with Bosnia - Herzegovina.
Afghan refugees on the Croatian border with Bosnia - Herzegovina.

A report released by the European Statistics Office (Eurostat) shows that the number of people applying for asylum in EU countries has rebounded sharply to the same number as before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, there were 60,800 people applying for first time asylum in the EU, up 58% over the same period last year and equivalent to this figure in February 2020.

Germany is the top “destination” for migrants, followed by France, Italy and Spain. Meanwhile, the UK is also a “promised land” when the number of migrants crossing the English Channel from France to the UK in 2021 tripled to more than 27,000, the highest level ever. Along with the surge in the number of people crossing the border illegally, the number of deaths on these dangerous journeys has also soared.

In order to prevent migrants from crossing the Channel into the UK, leaders of the UK and France have agreed to step up joint efforts. The two sides stressed the importance of close coordination with neighbouring countries, including Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as partners across the continent to effectively resolve this problem.

The Belgian government said that the EU will provide 150 containers for Belgium to strengthen the country's capacity to receive asylum seekers as the country is under pressure from a sharp increase of asylum applications from Afghans. According to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), in addition to Belgium, EASO also provides assistance to Spain, the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, and Malta.

In addition to the coordinated actions to prevent migration, deep disagreement exists among EU members. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban strongly criticised the EU's blocking of funds for Budapest and affirmed that Hungary will continue to enforce strict immigration regulations.

Hungary's response came after top EU officials said it would be difficult for Hungary and Poland to get EU’s multi-billion Euro pandemic recovery fund, due to controversies related to democracy in Hungary and the government's response to immigration.

Prime Minister Orban affirmed that Hungary will continue to enforce strict immigration regulations, while criticising EU policies that have become outdated in the face of massive immigration waves since 2015. The Hungarian Constitutional Court has ruled that the country has the right to take its own measures in those areas where the EU has not taken the appropriate steps to implement the common EU rules. Hungary does not accept an EU court finding that Budapest broke EU laws designed to protect refugees by deporting them to the Serbian border.

Given that it must block migrants outside its borders, Hungary called on the EU to quickly assist Turkey in the management of migrants, as committed, because Ankara plays an important role in the protection of Europe.

Europe faces unprecedented pressure on the issue of migrants, including the protection of Hungary's southern border starting in Turkey. Hungary called on the EU to transfer all 6 billion EUR to Turkey as promised, as well as supporting efforts to protect its borders to prevent the flow of migrants.

Turkey, which is seen as a “stopper” for migrants to the EU, says it is managing the largest number of refugees in the world since 2014, as the wave of people fleeing Afghanistan continues. This is a big challenge for the whole of Europe as it has to resolve internal disagreements while also working with the UK and Turkey to deal with the influx of migrants.