Migration numbers have fallen since 2015 peak, but countries are still grappling with the political and practical fallout
How are migration routes in Europe changing?
The Balkan route
In the first six months of 2018, more than 8,000 migrants came to the small Balkan state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, 20 times more than those arriving the previous year. Thousands are now sleeping rough in towns near the border, in the hope of crossing into the European Union via member state Croatia.
The surge is explained by an increase in arrivals over land and sea, via Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean. Numbers are still much lower than three years ago, before the EU signed a deal with Turkey in 2016 that sharply restricted migrant crossings, but are increasing again.
The Italian route
Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini has made clear that migrants are not welcome in his country , but migrant numbers were falling long before his far-right League party came to power in coalition with the Five Star Movement. Deals struck by the previous centre-left Italian government with Libyan authorities led to a sharp decline in smuggler boats.
So far in 2018, 19,231 migrants have arrived in Italy via the Mediterranean, an 80% reduction on the same period in 2017. But people are more likely to die attempting the crossing. NGOs say some ships encountering migrant boats have ignored their plight.
The Spanish route
Narrowing options to reach Italy have led some migrants to try Spain. More than 25,100 people have arrived in Spain via the Mediterranean so far this year, almost three times as many as the whole of 2016. In June – the month when Spain’s government allowed the Aquarius rescue ship to dock in Valencia , after it was turned away by Italy – a record 7,300 people arrived over land and sea. This included 2,900 people who arrived via the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in north Africa. Guinea, Syria and Cote d’Ivoire are the three main countries of origin for migrants arriving in Spain.
How many migrants are coming to Europe?
Migrant numbers continue their downward trend from the peak of the political crisis in 2015-16. According to the latest data from the International Organisation for Migration , 61,517 people have travelled across the Mediterranean this year, almost half the number that made the crossing during the same period in 2017. This figure, in turn, is sharply down on the 2015 peak when more than one million people crossed into Europe by land and sea – the largest flow of people since the end of the second world war.
What has been Europe’s response?
Europe might not be facing a crisis of numbers, but countries are still grappling with the political and practical fallout of managing 2015-16’s record arrivals. Fear of migrants has been exploited by nationalist and far-right parties in Germany, Italy, Austria and Hungary. EU leaders remain divided over the best response.
Germany’s veteran chancellor, Angela Merkel, wants common EU policies to protect Europe’s 26-country border-free travel zone. But she is facing opposition from Salvini, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and her Bavarian sister party, who favour unilateral action, often closing borders and ports.
What happens next?
While the EU searches for a common approach, questions remain about how prepared it is for a future surge in arrivals. Will the EU-Turkey deal survive? What happens to the clampdown on people traffickers across the central Mediterranean if there is another power shift in Libya? Will Spain continue to be one of the most welcoming countries in Europe?