Author: Bernd Parusel
Editor: Therese Lindström
Over the past ten years (2010-2019), the Member States of the European Union have provided protection to at least 940,000 people who had fled the war in Syria and arrived in the EU to apply for asylum. In total, over 2.3 million asylum seekers from a diverse range of countries, predominantly in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, were granted a right to stay in the EU over these years.
However, instead of taking pride in this achievement and trying to build on it, European societies and the political leaders of the EU and its Member States are today deeply divided over asylum, refugees and migrants. After strong inflows of people seeking protection during the so-called “European refugee crisis” in 2015, proposals to reform and strengthen the so-called Common European Asylum System (CEAS) reached a standstill as a result of these divisions. Instead, one Member State after another has been trying to close its doors, often without coordinating new measures at supranational level. Some Member States lowered their protection standards and tried to become more unattractive as destinations for people in need (EMN 2017; Parusel 2016). Others have erected fences or other physical barriers (Dunai 2017), obstructed private search-and-rescue missions at sea or tried to close their ports to vessels carrying migrants and refugees (Cusumano and Gombeer 2020). Both at national and at EU level, controversial agreements have been made with Turkey, Libya and other countries in the EU’s vicinity (Collett 2017), and there are allegations of irregular migrants and asylum seekers being pushed back to unsafe third coun-tries in the Aegean and on the Central Mediterranean route (Amnesty International 2020a; Christides et al. 2020). Altogether, progress was mostly made in terms of border control and deterrence strategies, rather than on creating fair and robust asylum systems.