Migration crisis is ‘over’, says EU chief

EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos: Migration crisis is 'over'. [Shutterstock]

Europe’s migration crisis is over, the EU’s migration chief said on Wednesday (6 March), blaming “misinformation, untruths and fake news” for clouding the debate on the issue, which he said could dominate campaigning for the European elections in May.

“The times of crisis, when hundreds of thousands were coming by sea to Italy and Greece are behind us,” Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters, adding that migration into the EU was “now back to levels not seen since 2013”.

However, he conceded that “migration is still at the top of the political agenda and will continue to feature prominently in many election campaigns across Europe in the run-up to the European elections”.

“Amid misinformation, untruths and fake news it is sometimes hard to know what is actually going on when it comes to migration in Europe,” he said.

Asylum applications across the EU fell to 634,700 in 2018, a 10% drop from 2017, according to data published by the European Asylum Support Office in February. At the height of the crisis, asylum applications peaked at 1.4 million and 1.3 million in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

However, Avramopoulos warned that Spain was “under particular migratory pressure” and would continue to need emergency support from the EU.

Yet despite the falling numbers, the perception of high levels of migration remains. Some 40% of Europeans consider immigration to be one of the two most important issues facing the EU, according to Eurobarometer.

Meanwhile, European governments have been deadlocked for more than a year on a planned overhaul of the bloc’s asylum policy and the controversial question of relocation quotas.

That has pushed the EU executive to seek new partnerships with North African countries, modelled on the migrant control deal struck with Turkey in 2015, with Avramopoulos singling out Morocco for praise.

“It is clear that we need to strengthen our relationship with Morocco,” he said, calling for the EU to develop “a closer and more ambitious partnership with Morocco”.

A Moroccan official has told EURACTIV Rabat is seeking a “privileged relationship with the EU”. Last autumn, the EU and Morocco agreed on a €140 million programme to help strengthen Morocco’s border security.

Despite giving the EU overall a clean bill of health, Avramopoulos offered barely veiled criticism of Alexis Tsipras’ government’s handling of migration to Greece.

”Dire conditions and overcrowding on the (Greek) islands remain a serious concern,” said the Commissioner, who stated that the Greek authorities “must put in place a national management strategy”.

The EU has attempted to strike migration control deals with the likes of Egypt and Tunisia, prompting the African Union to urge all its member states to reject EU pressure to allow migrant camps or ‘disembarkation platforms’ to be hosted on African soil.

“Europe will still have to uphold its duty, we will still need to better manage migration within Europe and we have to be able to stop secondary movements or asylum shopping,” said the Commissioner, once again urging governments to “finalise reform of the common European asylum system”.

“What we need is political will… we cannot continue to rely on ad hoc measures,” Avramopoulos said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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