Europe needs migrants to tackle its demographic decline but disorderly migration is a cause of concern and often leads to exploitation, human trafficking and tragedy.
Migration is a top priority under the European Commission presidency of Jean-Claude Juncker, who created a Commissioner specifically for migration when he took office in 2014.
A migrant crisis that was emerging at that time peaked in 2015 when more than one million people landed on Greek and Italian shores and over 1.2 million people applied for asylum in the EU.
The vast majority of these new arrivals were ordinary citizens, fleeing war-torn cities, towns and villages.
Most sacrificed everything to escape hopeless situations, and many died or became victims of unscrupulous human traffickers profiting from their desperate plight.
The crisis showed that Europe was unprepared for the arrival of so many migrants in such a short space of time and EU leaders and officials were forced to act quickly and decisively.
The European Agenda on Migration outlines the EU’s response to the crisis situation and sets out longer term steps to manage migration in all its aspects.
Ireland, with its own history of migration, will play its part in developing and implementing the EU’s common migration and asylum policy.
European Agenda on Migration
The new European Agenda on Migration enabled the European Commission to reenergize the process and propose measures to ease the crisis, deliver humanitarian assistance to those in need and formulate long-term actions to manage migration compassionately and securely for the future.
Presented in 2015, the Commission’s Agenda set out a European response beginning with immediate actions to tackle the human tragedy across the whole of the Mediterranean.
An emergency scheme to relocate 120,000 refugees in clear need of protection from Greece, Italy and Hungary to other Member States was put in place.
This followed an earlier decision to relocate 40,000 people, meaning 160,000 refugees most in need of support were brought to safety.
The Commission later adopted a Recommendation asking Member States to resettle 20,000 people from outside the EU.
An EU Action plan against migrant smuggling was also introduced to protect those fleeing from desperate situations being exploited by criminals.
An agreement on a Joint Action Plan was signed with Turkey as the majority of migrants fleeing to Europe at the beginning of the crisis arrived in Greece by sea from Turkey.
The number of refugees in Turkey had reached over 3.2 million and the Turkish government was struggling to manage this huge humanitarian crisis.
Under the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement, Turkey agreed to work with the EU to take back irregular migrants landing on the Greek islands. In return, the EU resettled Syrians in need of protection from Turkey to EU Member States.
The EU also agreed to provide humanitarian funding for projects such as the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey.
The European Commission later adopted an important set of measures to manage the EU's external borders by transforming Frontex into a new, stronger European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
The Commission also presented proposals to reform the Common European Asylum System as well as a communication for a Migration Partnership Framework with third countries to allow Europe work closer with third countries, tackle the root causes of irregular migration and bring order to migratory flows.
Much has been achieved since the adoption of the European Agenda on Migration and significant progress has been made in many areas.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been rescued at sea and tens of thousands of migrants in need of protection relocated or resettled.
The effects of the EU-Turkey Statement were immediate. Arrivals decreased significantly from 10,000 in a single day in October 2015 to an average of around 80 by February 2018.
However, while joint EU efforts have shown results, the situation remains fragile.
A progress report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration published in May 2018 shows that while still drastically lower than before the EU-Turkey Statement, arrivals from Turkey significantly increased from March 2018.
The report also showed increased movements along the Western Balkan and Western Mediterranean routes, highlighting the need to maintain the intensity of the EU's efforts across the board.
Managing the EU's external borders has also improved with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency now supporting national border guards with around 1,350 staff deployed along all migratory routes.
Work is continuing to address root causes of migration while protecting migrants along the route and offering alternatives to irregular migration.
The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa has been strengthened with €500 million bringing the total resources allocated to €2.38 billion.
Including funding already used, nearly €8 billion is being used over the period 2016-2020 to support key third countries.
It's proposing a standing corps of 10,000 operational staff for the European Border and Coast Guard by 2020 so it can rely on its own staff and equipment, such as vessels, planes and vehicles.
The Commission wants the Agency– subject to prior agreement of countries involved – to be able to launch joint operations and deploy staff outside the EU.
The Commission also calls for the future EU Asylum Agency to be equipped with the mandate, tools and financial means needed to provide a rapid, full service to Member States throughout the asylum procedure.
A targeted review of the Return Directive that will speed up return procedures, prevent absconding and irregular secondary movements and increase effective returns in full respect of fundamental rights is also proposed.
There are also proposals for better legal pathways into Europe for migrants, including a new EU Blue Card to attract highly-skilled workers.
Reaching agreement on migrant measures has been a challenge for the European Union. It’s a sensitive issue, and Member States have different views and policies on migration making it difficult to negotiate coordinated, common positions.
Some Member States, including Greece and Italy, have been dealing with disproportionate pressure at their external borders.
As the European Union is governed by the principle of solidarity, all Member States are obliged to support those facing such pressure so EU legal responsibilities towards migrants can be met.
Ireland currently has no obligation to take in refugees as, along with the UK and Denmark, it negotiated an opt-in or opt-out clause on justice and immigration measures when the Lisbon Treaty was drafted.
However, Ireland voluntarily agreed to fully participate in the EU relocation and resettlement schemes by accepting up to 4,000 migrants.
By 2018 the EU relocation scheme had seen almost 34,000 persons – more than 96% of all eligible applicants registered –relocated with almost all Member States contributing.
Two successful EU resettlement programmes have also helped over 38,000 of the most vulnerable people find shelter in the EU.
In September 2017, the Commission launched a new resettlement scheme in which Member States pledged to resettle more than 50,000 persons in need of protection - the largest EU resettlement scheme to date.
Ireland has pledged to take 1,200 people under the new scheme.
Sharing the cost
The EU dedicated over €10 billion to dealing with the refugee crisis during 2015 and 2016.
Some of the funding is being spent financing projects that address the most urgent humanitarian needs of refugees arriving on European shores.
The EU also provides humanitarian aid to refugees and migrants in countries outside the EU, and supports work to address the root causes of irregular migration.
Funds are allocated to support individual Member States taking in refugees.
Ireland has been allocated more than €52.2 million from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), with significant funding going to Irish projects run by NGOs and community groups that support migrants.
The Yellow Flag programme targets schools with high numbers of third-country nationals, asylum seekers, refugees, travellers and other minority ethnic groups.
A further €10.2 million has been allocated to Ireland from the Internal Security Fund (ISF) that supports measures to protect EU borders.
Funding from ISF was used to help set up a high-tech system in Dublin Airport that allows Irish gardaí to access the Interpol Fixed Interpol Network Database (FIND).
FIND detects and prevents the use of fraudulent travel documents by terrorists and criminals and it went live in Dublin Airport in November 2016,
The Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration is responsible for managing AMIF funds in Ireland while An Garda Síochána is the responsible authority for the ISF.
For the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027, the European Commission proposes to almost triple funding for migration and border management to €34.9 billion, as compared to €13 billion in the previous period.
Tackling the root causes
The EU is directing funds and resources to tackle the root causes of mass migration, like war and poverty, at source. Much of this work is done through European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.
The biggest refugee population from a single conflict in this generation comes from Syria with over 4.8 million Syrians now in neighbouring countries and the wider region.
The European Union is the leading donor in the international response to the Syrian crisis with over €10.8 billion mobilised collectively with EU Member States for humanitarian, development, economic and stabilisation assistance.
The 2017 EU Strategy for Syria - re-endorsed by EU Foreign Ministers in April 2018 - guides EU action in the region and complements the EU regional strategy for Syria, Iraq and the Da'esh threat.
In Turkey, there are over 3.5 million registered Syrian refugees, meaning that it hosts a larger absolute number of refugees than any other country in the world.
The EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey is helping deal with the challenge with €6 billion allocated for humanitarian assistance, education, health and socio-economic support.
The EU Trust Fund for Africa is increasing stability and resilience in the continent by supporting economic development and migration management programmes in countries facing crises and emergency situations.
Increased focus has been put on improving the often appalling conditions faced by migrants in Libya. In close cooperation with the UNHCR, UNICEF and the IOM almost 4,000 migrants and more than 2,000 displaced Libyan families have received medical assistance and basic support.
The Trust Fund for Africa also supports work by the IOM and the Nigerien authorities to carry out search and rescue missions in the desert with over 1,100 migrants having been brought to safety after being abandoned by smugglers in 2017.
Up to 2018, over 15,000 migrants, including more than 10,000 from Libya, had benefitted from assisted voluntary return, and projects are in development to step up work with Libya's neighbours to help more migrants return.
But emergency assistance alone cannot meet the ultimate challenge of achieving sustainable development. It must be complemented by other tools such as the ambitious EU External Investment Plan.
The plan will encourage investment in partner countries in Africa and the EU neighbourhood region. The EU contribution of €4.1 billion to the EIP will leverage up to €44 billion of investment by 2020 which otherwise would not happen.
Irish sea rescues
The European Union responded by tripling the budget for search and rescue operations carried out by the EU’s border protection agency, Frontex.
Ireland is playing its part in these humanitarian rescue operations by deploying Irish Navy ships to help rescue migrants from illegally overcrowded boats.
Ireland initially participated through an arrangement with Italy called Operation PONTUS but later the Dáil approved the deployment of vessels to serve as part of the EU naval operation, Operation Sophia.
Between May 2015 to 2017 Irish Defence Forces rescued over 17,500 migrants.
Operation Sophia rescued over 44,900 lives and contributed to the apprehension of over 150 suspected smugglers and traffickers.
Óglaigh na hÉireann was recognised with an Irish People of the Year Award in December 2015 for the work of the Naval Service’s humanitarian missions in the Mediterranean.
The following year, the Defence Forces received the European Movement Ireland European of the Year award for its contribution to international peacekeeping and humanitarian work.