Overall, 155,090 migrants arrived in the European Union from January to July, according to the European border agency Frontex. The number of migrants arriving in the EU rose by 86 percent compared to the same period last year. Ukrainian refugees crossing the borders into the EU were not included in these figures.

For years, it has been the approach of European asylum policy to let individual member states pursue their own policies. Therefore, Brussels considers it a success that most EU countries agreed on a solidarity mechanism in June. This allows other EU members to either take over refugees from Italy, Spain, Malta, Greece and Cyprus, or to help with money and in-kind services. 13 states want to participate in taking over refugees. They have made commitments for a total of just over 8,000 people. Germany is taking almost half (3,500), and the first people are to be relocated from Italy in August. In return for this help, the southern states are given new tasks in identifying those seeking protection. In the future, it should be possible to immediately deport refugees with no prospect of being granted asylum.

So far, no progress has been made at EU level on sea rescue. Since the large-scale flight movements of 2015/16 and the resulting distortions between EU countries, any state-supported and EU-coordinated sea rescue seems unimaginable. The central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Southern Europe was used by more than 42,500 migrants between January and July 2022, an increase of 44 percent compared to the first seven months of last year.

Spain’s Mediterranean coasts, including those of its islands of Majorca (Mediterranean Sea) and the Canary Islands (Atlantic Ocean), often used to be the destination of the small boats in which migrants from Africa set out on their route towards the last stretch of their European dream. The Spanish President, Pedro Sánchez, said on August 16 that there is a “downward trend” in the arrival of immigrants in Spain compared to last year. A fact that “should be celebrated” and which he attributes to the fact that “we are working well” with the transit countries.

Western Balkan “the most active” migratory route

The Western Balkan route continues to be “the most active”, with more than 14,866 irregular border crossings, “nearly three times as many” as recorded in July of last year. The main nationalities on this route were migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Turkey. On the EU’s eastern border, in Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Romania, the number of illegal crossings has declined by 32 percent year-on-year to 2,923 since the beginning of 2022. The main nationalities present on this route were Ukrainian, Iraqi and Belarusian. Meanwhile, compared to the period from January to July of 2021, channel crossings from continental Europe to the United Kingdom increased by 55 percent to 28,000 cases detected, according to Frontex.

Emergency at the Latvian border with Belarus

Meanwhile, Latvia has extended the state of emergency on the border with Belarus until November 10. This was decided by the government in Riga on August 16. The state of emergency has already been in effect for almost exactly one year. It was declared in August 2021, because thousands of migrants wanted to cross the EU’s external borders into Poland or the Baltic states. The European Union accuses Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately organizing to bring migrants from crisis regions to the EU’s external border.

With the extension of the state of emergency, the Latvian border guard is remains authorized to send back migrants who entered the country illegally from Belarus. According to the Interior Ministry in Riga, the number of illegal border crossings has recently decreased. Nevertheless, the border guard will have to continue to deal with migrants trying to cross into Latvia from Belarus. Another important factor for the renewed extension of the state of emergency is Russia’s war in Ukraine. Latvia borders Russia and its authoritarian-ruled ally Belarus. According to official figures, nearly 6,800 attempts by migrants to cross the border illegally have been prevented in Latvia since the state of emergency was declared.

Russian war causes wave of Ukrainian refugees

According to Frontex, 7.7 million Ukrainian citizens have entered the EU since the start of the Russian invasion in February. However, according to the European Commission, the influx of Ukrainian refugees into the EU is relatively constant at present.

More than 700,000 Ukrainian people have come to neighboring Slovakia. That is according to figures from the Interior Ministry in Bratislava, which the state news agency TASR published on August 15. Until Sunday, the total number of border crossings since the beginning of the war had reached 699,874. Recently, between three and four thousand people have arrived every day. Relative to its own population of just 5.5 million, Slovakia is thus the EU country that has taken in the greatest number of Ukrainian refugees, at least temporarily. In the same period, 3.7 million Ukrainians came to Poland, more than five times as many as to Slovakia.

Der Kommandeur eines Bataillons der Territorialen Verteidigung mit dem Decknamen Staryi (oder Bohun) ist in der Region Saporischschja im Südosten der Ukraine im Einsatz.
Photo: Ukrinform/dpa

At present, the number of people arriving in the EU roughly equals the number entering Ukraine from the European Union, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said in an interview with several news agencies. Every day, between 35,000 and 40,000 people travel from the EU to Ukraine. At the same time, Johansson stressed that this was not the number permanent returnees. Some of them simply live in the border region.

In recent weeks, people have returned to Ukraine from Slovakia and Poland than have entered those countries from there. “At the moment, we don’t see many people coming. Therefore the focus is on supporting those who want to return,” Johansson said. But caution is still necessary in the light of the Russian war on Ukraine. If the situation worsens, people are always welcome back in the EU, she said. Reliable data on how many people decided to return permanently does not exist.

This article is published Fridays. The content is based on news by agencies participating in the enr.