Has the European Union achieved a “control of migratory flows”?

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22 February 2018 – According to the first statistical publications of the year, 2017 would have registered a 60% decrease in irregular crossings of the EU external borders (FRONTEX) and 43% fewer asylum applications (EASO). There is no doubt that the European institutions will not fail to consider these results as a success of the European immigration control policy … at least if it is reduced to a numerical question.

The decline in the number of asylum seekers

On 1 February 2018, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) published the provisional trends and statistics on asylum applications in the EU in 2017. Since Eurostat has not yet published its official statistics, one will have to still wait before making a comprehensive assessment of the situation, in particular on the decisions of granting the (conventional or subsidiary) status in the various Member States.

For now, we already know that in 2017, EU countries registered 706,913 applications for international protection. This decrease by 43% compared to 2016 brings us slightly above the 2014 threshold (660,000), the year before the “crisis”.

As soon as these results were published, the European Commission hastened to congratulate itself. Commissioner Avramopoulos declared that the EU, while being a continent of solidarity, openness and tolerance, should continue its policy on migration management[1], the results of which were reflected in these latest figures.

Requests for protection remained stable over the year with monthly number of applications ranging from 49,042 in December to 66,443 in March. The seasonal trend of higher applications numbers over the summer has been less visible than in the previous three years. This apparent stability at the EU level hides however significant disparities at the member states level.

· Which are the host countries of asylum seekers?

Although most official data on Member States are not yet available, it is already known that, in 2017, Malta registered 1 619 applications, Hungary 3 397[2], Bulgaria 3 700[3], Serbia 6 199[4] and France 100 412[5].

Moreover, the Eurostat website[6] shows that despite a very sharp decrease (-69%), Germany remains at the top of European countries with 222 560 applications, followed by Italy (128 825).

This raw data will have to be more finely analysed in order to draw conclusions, especially since one should remember that, at the end of 2016, 601 900 files (more than one out of two) were still pending. This will certainly be reflected in the final figures for granting protection.

· Where do applicants for international protection in the EU come from?

According to EASO, the origin of applicants for international protection is comparable to that of previous years. Thus, for the fifth consecutive year, Syrians are in first place with more than 98,000 applications, followed by Iraqis, Afghans and Nigerians, who represent more than 40,000 applications each. In 2017, one in three applicants came from one of these four countries.

The top ten of countries of origin also included Pakistan, Eritrea, Albania, Bangladesh, Guinea and Iran. Among them, only Bangladeshi and Guinean citizens lodged more applications than in 2016. Other notable increases were recorded for Venezuela (+ 158%), Turkey (+ 45%), Georgia (+ 35%) and Ivory Coast (+ 24%) applicants.

· How many asylum applications have resulted in the issuance of a protective status?

In the EU as a whole, 40% of all decisions in first instance were positive. This is a decrease compared to 2016 where the recognition rate in the first instance was 61% (17% on appeal).

On the other hand, there is little change in substantive trends since the majority of positive decisions resulted in granting refugee status (59%) and a lower share resulted in subsidiary protection (41%); almost as in 2016 (respectively 55% and 37%[7]).

In the same way, the recognition rate for Syrians is always the highest of all citizenships since it reaches 94%.

Far fewer crossings at EU external borders, fewer irregular migrants, fewer returns of migrants: FRONTEX report

As for Frontex, the Agency published its annual risk analysis report[8] on 20 February 2018.

Again, the tone is satisfactory, the Agency observed “a significant fall in detections of illegal border-crossing along the EU’s external borders“. From the very first pages of the report, we are told that the 204,719 “detections” recorded this year represents “a 60% decrease compared with the 511,047 detections of 2016 (and an 89% decrease compared with 1.8 million detections at the height of the migration crisis in 2015) “.

As summarized in the map below, this (welcome?) decrease is associated with a significant drop in detections on the Eastern and Central Mediterranean route, as well as the Western Balkans (see in this Newsletter the article on the agreement between Frontex and Albania). Frontex also notes that “the sudden reversal in the numbers of irregular migrants detected in Italy in mid-2017 is the most significant development at the EU’s external borders since the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement in March 2016 “.

However, the Agency tempers its positive conclusions by observing that, on the other hand, “the Western Mediterranean route saw the highest number of irregular migrants since Frontex began systematically collecting data in 2009“, including an increase in Maghreb countries (Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians). Nevertheless, while keeping up with the Agency’s usual performative discourse[9], and after having underlined that the “new Frontex”, as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency “is more active at the EU external borders than ever“, its director, Fabrice Leggeri considers Frontex strengthening necessary as it is the “operational arm of the EU and a partner for the Member States“.

It should also be noted that the report reviews the illegal presence of migrants in Europe and the implementation of returns.

As regards “illegal stays“, they went down from 491 918 to 435 786 (or -12%).

Therefore, it is not surprising that the number of return decisions is also down by 8.6% compared to 2016: 279 215 against 305 463. However, Frontex considers that the figure – the lowest recorded since 2011! – is still underestimated, as data on decisions were unavailable from Austria, France and the Netherlands. But we also note that some Member States recognize registering the same people several times, while other States do not declare all the decisions taken. This raises the issue of the reliability of these observations…

As a result, the Agency insists on one of the “spines” regularly mentioned by the Commission: the difficulty to effectively implement return decisions because of practical problems in the identification of returnees and in obtaining necessary documentation from third-country authorities. With 151 398 effective returns to third countries (of which 14 000 with the support of Frontex), the 54% rate is still growing when compared with previous studies carried out by the European Commission. But the report does not say whether this “progress” is due to the use of European Union laissez-passer.

It can be noted that neither EASO nor FRONTEX give any indication of the number of resettlements provided by Member States, whereas in most official communications on the prospects and means to receive refugees in the EU, it is valued as the legal and safe way to access the territory…


More information :






[6] Eurostat : asylum seekers, consulted on 24.02.2018

[7] Eurostat add to those figures the « humanitarian visas »,  8%.

[8] FRONTEX : Risk analysis for 2018

[9] See AEDH : « Frontex’s performative speech: Or how to provoke the risks allegedly predicted », 5 APRIL 2017 –