In Focus: European Approaches to Irregular Migration

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This In Focus brief was previously published under the title 'European approaches to migration in the Mediterranean'.

‘Migration is about people – behind each face arriving at our borders, there is an individual: a businessperson travelling to work, a student coming to study, a victim of people-traffickers, a parent trying to get their children to safety. When presenting a comprehensive European Agenda on Migration we have to think about all dimensions of migration – this is not about quick fixes; this is about creating a more secure, prosperous and attractive European Union.’

- Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner

In 2015more than 1 million people entered Europe by various routes over land and sea, most of whom were fleeing conflict and persecution. Since the beginning of 2016 over 260,000 arrived by sea, with estimates that during the first three months Greece was receiving on average between 1,000-4,000 new arrivals every day, many of them Syrian refugees. The mass refugee influx into Europe has been described by the UNHCR as "the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era" and a "largely self-induced humanitarian crisis". It has placed enormous pressure on countries in the region: not just Europe, but also its neighbours such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, who are also hosting the bulk of the refugees displaced as a result of the war in Syria. 

Europe has been debating the question of how to manage the flow of asylum seekers and migrants across its borders for decades, with increasing urgency since January 2015. This In Focus brief provides an overview of the key proposals for European law and policy to manage the flow of asylum seekers and migrants into the region since the onset of this 'crisis'. Before reading it, we recommend reviewing our background information about the European system for managing migration, which introduces the key institutions and legal frameworks, and explains how decisions are made in the EU. 

Preventing irregular migration into Europe


Managing the processing and movement of people within Europe's borders


Saving lives at sea


Note on terminology

In the context of addressing irregular migration in the Mediterranean, the term ‘trafficking’ is sometimes used to refer to what is in fact the related but distinct concept of ‘smuggling’. This brief has taken care to use the use the correct terms as much as possible. The importance of distinguishing between these two concepts has been highlighted by the UNHCR.

Would you like to contribute to this story? If so, please contact Madeline Gleeson, Director of the Regional Protection and Cooperation Project.