July 24, 2017    6 minute read

European Union Migration Crisis: The Next Challenge for the EU?

The Problem of Borders    July 24, 2017    6 minute read

European Union Migration Crisis: The Next Challenge for the EU?


2016 saw major tensions on the migration front. The Syrian war turned into a humanitarian disaster with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe, along with Afghanis and Iraqis.

This huge migration flow dropped in March 2016, when the European Union agreed with Turkey to manage migrants in exchange for financial aid. On the other hand, more and more people decided to leave Northern African countries to head to Europe, especially Italy. This has led to over 180,000 people landing on the Italian coast and more than 5,000 people, including children, dying during their journey.

This trend has continued, even though Europe and Italy have tried to reduce it by signing agreements, organising summits and proposing new solutions.

Migrants in Italy: Numbers Up to 2017

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since the beginning of the year until the end of June, over 83,000 people landed in Italy. If we look at the very same period in 2016, there is an increase of 18%, showing that Italy and EU’s interventions didn’t work out.

The most common countries of origin are Nigeria (15% of the total), Bangladesh (12%), Guinea (10%) and Ivory Coast (9.5%). 75% of migrants are men, and 15% are children.

Most migrants arrive in the southern part of Italy, as that is where Italian and European rescue ships take them. 60% of migrants are taken to Sicily, 25% in Calabria, followed by Campania, Puglia and Sardinia.

Migrants in Europe

If we look at the overall picture, from 1st January up to the end of June, more than 95,000 migrants arrived in Europe. After Italy, the most targeted countries are Greece and Spain, even though migration flows towards those nations have significantly decreased after the agreement with Turkey.

Migration has been on the top of the European political agenda for three years now, with lots of issues still to be solved. Europe has proven to be unable to find a sustainable solution, given the irreconcilable differences among its members. Indeed, some of them are offering first aid and support (Italy and Greece), others are hosting a significant number of migrants (Austria and Sweden), and a few that do not want even to take into consideration the idea of welcoming refugees (Hungary and Poland).

Besides the agreement with Turkey, the main strategy so far is the so-called relocation programme, which aims at distributing migrants more fairly among European countries. When it was first signed, the relocation agreement contemplated 160,000 migrants moving from Italy and Greece to other EU members by September 2017.

Missing Targets

Since it began, the whole process has been plagued with several issues, and the EU Commission has had to reduce the target to 98,000 people. So far, only 20,000 migrants have been relocated – just 20%. The EU Commission is currently evaluating the idea of reducing further the target to 33,000 people, which seems more likely to be reached.

At the beginning of the year, the European Union claimed that it wanted to shut down the route from Libya to Italy, applying a similar approach which led to signing an agreement with Turkey. In February, Italy and Libya signed an agreement, which establishes a collaboration between these countries to reduce the number of migrants leaving African coasts every month.

However, this collaboration is proving to be completely unfit to stop people from leaving their home countries. The Libyan government is completely unable to effectively apply the agreement. Even though Libya has started to intercept and bring back some of the boats used by migrants to escape from Africa, those actions have had a marginal overall impact and can’t stop the increasing flows.

Furthermore, there is a huge humanitarian problem, which is the incessant violation of human rights to the migrants, including abuses, tortures and rapes. Because of these reasons, the EU is trying to look for a temporary solution: if we can’t stop the flow, at least let’s distribute it.

How Italy is Responding to Its Unique Situation

Besides European initiatives, Italy’s government is working to implement new legislation, which will introduce important changes. The main aim is to make more efficient the procedure to expel irregular migrants, reducing time and money. The Italian government is also proposing a new reform to distinguish more easily refugees from migrants. Finally, Italy is also trying to sign bilateral agreements with migrants’ home countries to prevent people from leaving their home and to increase the efficiency of the repatriation mechanism.

If on the one hand, Europe is facing an unprecedented crisis, on the other, Italy represents a unique case in the European Union. Irregular migration has become a huge problem, and the figures show that Italy accounts for the highest percentage of irregular migrants in Europe. Although this may be explained in part by Italian legislation (for example, Italy does not recognise Jus Soli), the main reason lies elsewhere.

Italy suffers from a deep conflict of interest. As soon as they land in Italy, migrants are managed by cooperatives, which take care of their needs, including accommodation and food. Of course, these cooperatives are sponsored by the Italian government and have no interest in stopping migrants arriving.


Over the past few years, tensions between Italian people and migrants have drastically increased. Violent protests around the country are on the daily news. From the north to the south, people do not want any more migrants. Ordinary workers are already exhausted from a severe crisis that began in 2008 and migration is adding to their woes.

The political answer to this phenomenon may be an increase in anti-EU rhetoric, leveraging the recent terrorist attacks which shocked the world. Several Italian nationalist parties have pointed the finger at the Italian government and the European Union, claiming that the Italian people feel like they have been abandoned and betrayed.

In any case, it is clear that a new European project is required to solve this crisis, one which possibly takes into consideration the major differences between countries, but does not leave some nations facing their problems alone.

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