Migration Crisis Contents


Rapid growth in numbers of refugees and migrants

1.Europe, including the UK, is facing a huge challenge arising from the number of refugees and migrants reaching levels not seen since the Second World War. In addition to people fleeing war and insecurity as refugees, there are large numbers of migrants attempting to come to Europe to seek a better life for themselves and their families. There are many different nationalities in the migrant flows trying to enter Europe to improve their standard of living and many countries, including the UK, place controls on the number of economic migrants they are willing to accept. It is difficult to know exactly how many migrants and refugees have entered Europe in the recent past, and from which countries, not least because many are able to cross borders without being registered and processed. However, it is obvious that managing large numbers of people moving across international borders requires local and regional cooperation between states.7

2.A refugee is defined in the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees as someone who:

[ … ] owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.8

Signatories to the 1951 Convention are bound by international law not to turn refugees away. In 2014, the number of refugees worldwide was estimated at 19.5 million, representing about 8% of all migrants. More than half of these refugees came from just three countries: Syria (3.9 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million) and Somalia (1.1 million). Before the Syrian war started in 2011, the country had a population of 22 million. By 2016, more than four million Syrians were registered as refugees outside Syria, including almost two million in Turkey alone, making it the largest refugee-hosting country in the world. 9

3.In terms of overall movement, over 600,000 people are believed to have passed through Greece in 2015, although the number of first-time asylum applications there was only 11,370.10 German authorities have suggested that the total number of migrants entering Europe is higher than previously thought. Its system for recording people entering Germany who intend to apply for asylum showed 1,091,894 entries for 2015—more than double the number of asylum applications actually made in Germany in 2015 (441,800).11

4.For the UK, the latest ONS Migration Statistics Quarterly Report (published in May 2016) showed that net long-term international migration was 333,000 in the year ending December 2015, an increase of 20,000 from December 2014. Of this, non-EU net migration was estimated to be 188,000 (very little changed from the previous year) and overall immigration of non-EU citizens decreased from 287,000 to 277,000. There were 41,563 asylum applications (including dependants) in the year ending March 2016, an increase of 30% compared with the previous year (32,036). This was the fifth successive year in which asylum applications rose (although the number of applications was described as “low” relative to the peak of 103,081 in 2002).12

5.Migration routes change over time as countries tighten up their processes and new conflicts and areas of insecurity stimulate greater numbers travelling from new departure points. The lack of a single, stable government in Libya and the resulting difficulty in controlling its borders and coast mean that it is a popular embarkation point.13 Italy has been a frequent arrival point: it received 170,000 refugees and migrants in 2014—75% of all the maritime refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean.14 In more recent years, as controls have increased in the west and central Mediterranean, flows moved further east, with routes being used from Turkey to Greece then up through the Balkan states to northern Europe.15 However, the March 2016 EU-Turkey agreement has resulted in a major reduction in flows of migrants from Turkey to Greece, and displacement back to the Libya-Italy route, at least in the short-term. We assess the key routes for migrants and refugees into Europe, and the scale of the flows, in detail in Chapter 3; and the impact of the EU-Turkey agreement in Chapter 7.

The EU and UK responses

6.The UK’s attractiveness as a destination for both refugees and migrants has created specific challenges, including that presented by people gathering in Calais and other Channel ports hoping to find ways to cross into this country. The Government has said that it will take a comprehensive approach to current issues around migration. This includes addressing the reasons people migrate, and their experiences during transit, at the EU external border, the UK border and when they arrive in the UK.16

7.The EU collectively has taken a number of different steps to try to address the migration crisis, including measures to bolster its ability to protect its borders and properly monitor and process people entering EU Member States. It has also tried to respond to the refugee crisis. Most recently, in March, the EU reached agreement with Turkey on the return of migrants arriving in Greece. The provisions include: the return of all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands with the costs covered by the EU; and the resettlement of one Syrian in the EU from refugee camps in Turkey for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greece (“one in, one out”). In return the EU will pay Turkey €6 billion (up to the end of 2018) and plans for visa-free travel for Turks to the EU will be speeded up. Some of the concerns raised about the arrangements include: the limited application of the Refugee Convention; human rights issues; the logistical challenge; displacement to other migration routes; and the reluctance of some EU members to accept refugees and/or to agree to visa-free access for Turkish citizens.17

Our inquiry and this report

8.We have followed our predecessors’ practice of regularly assessing and commenting on immigration issues by examining the Home Office’s quarterly immigration statistics and publishing reports on the work of the Immigration Directorates. Our latest report was published on 3 June 2016.18

9.In response to the acute problems faced by Syrian refugees, the then Prime Minister announced in September 2015 that the UK would resettle 20,000 Syrians over the lifetime of this Parliament.19 We reported on progress with this initiative in our first two reports on the Immigration Directorates, and we provide a further update in Chapter 4 of this report.

10.It is also our practice to carry out thematic inquiries into particular immigration issues, and the current migration crisis has been our major focus since the beginning of this Parliament. We began this inquiry by focusing on the acute problems in Calais which occurred in summer 2015, with disruption to Eurotunnel and ferry crossings caused by strikes by French workers, which provided greater opportunities for large numbers of migrants to attempt to stow away on vehicles, trains and ships. This work followed up a report published by our predecessors at the end of the last Parliament.20 We examine the background to this specific problem and the measures taken to address it in the next Chapter.

11.Our inquiry has since broadened to the much wider issue of how the UK and the EU are responding to the almost unprecedented numbers of people arriving on their borders, seeking refuge or a better life. We have taken evidence from many witnesses, including political representatives of the countries and areas most affected, and from UK Ministers and officials.21 We have also received a substantial amount of written evidence. We are grateful to all those who have contributed to our inquiry. We are particularly grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, and to the Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler, for sharing their views on migration and asylum with us.

12.Since we concluded our evidence for this inquiry and began to consider our findings, there has of course been a seismic change in the UK’s relationship with the EU, following the EU Referendum on 23 June and the decision to leave the EU. However, EU policy on migration and refugees will remain crucial to the UK and the future arrangements for dealing with migration will form a central part in the negotiations for the UK’s exit from the EU. In the meantime, the current arrangements will continue to operate for the two years or more that that negotiation process is likely to take. This report therefore sets out our assessment of the challenges which Europe and the UK face in dealing with the migration crisis, and our recommendations for how the UK unilaterally, and Europe collectively, should respond. We will consider the major implications of EU exit for justice and home affairs issues, including immigration and asylum, in more detail in forthcoming inquiries.

7 Written evidence submitted by Dr Vicki Squire, Dr Dallal Stevens, and Professor Nick Vaughan-Williams (University of Warwick), with Dr Angeliki Dimitriadi (ELIAMEP, Athens), Dr Maria Pisani (University of Malta), Skerlida Agolli, and Dr Emanuela dal Zotto (University of Milan) (MIG0050)

8 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 – see UNHCR website [accessed 11 April 2016]

9 UNHCR, Syrian Regional Refugee Response, accessed 16 March 2016 and the UN International Migration Report 2015. Estimates are based on national statistics, mainly from population censuses. The UN uses the definition that an international migrant is a person who is living in a country other than his or her country of birth

10 Oral evidence taken on 24 November 2015, Q175

13 Home Office written evidence (MIG0067)

15 Migration Policy Centre report: When the best option is a leaky boat, October 2014

16 Home Office written evidence (MIG0067)

18 Second Report of Session 2016–17, The Work of the Immigration Directorates (Q4 2015), HC 22; see also Second Report of Session 2015–16, The Work of the Immigration Directorates (Q2 2015), HC 512; and Sixth Report of Session 2015–16, The Work of the Immigration Directorates (Q3 2015), HC 772

19 Prime Minister’s oral statement to Parliament, 7 September 2015, Syria: refugees and counter-terrorism

20 Eighteenth Report of Session 2014–15, The work of the Immigration Directorates: Calais, HC 902, Chapter 1

21 Lists of Witnesses and of Written Evidence are set out at the end of this Report.

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

28 July 2016