Infographic - Migration flows: Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes

Migration flows: Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes

The growing instability in the EU's southern neighbourhood has increased the number of people trying to reach the European Union. The EU and its member states are intensifying efforts to establish an effective, humanitarian and safe European migration policy.

The European Council plays an important role in this effort, setting the strategic priorities. Based on these priorities, the Council of the EU establishes certain lines of action and provides the mandates for negotiations with third countries. It also adopts legislation and defines specific programmes.

Over the past months, the Council and European Council have worked to build up a strong response in several areas. The timeline on migratory pressures provides an overview of the key developments in the work of the Council and the European Council to build an EU response to migratory pressure.

Valletta mirgation summit interactive map
Click on the image to access the interactive map (available in English and French only)

The presidency of the Council has also activated the integrated political crisis response (IPCR) arrangements. These provide tools to step up support to the Council response in the event of a crisis, both at political level and at working level, with the Commission, the EEAS, and relevant agencies.

The EU migratory policy comprises the following strands:

  • working with countries of origin and transit
  • strengthening the EU's external borders
  • managing migration flows and curbing migrant smuggling activities
  • reforming the common European asylum system
  • providing legal migration pathways
  • fostering the integration of third-country nationals

Working with countries of origin and transit

The global approach to migration and mobility (GAMM) is the overarching framework for the EU's relations with third countries. Under the GAMM, several dialogues on migration have been launched and developed, and cooperation frameworks have been established with relevant third countries. In 2015, EU leaders agreed on an action plan in Valetta to respond to the influx of migrants into the EU, primarily from African countries. In 2016, the European Council approved the establishment of a new migration partnership framework to deepen cooperation with key countries of origin. The same year, the EU-Turkey statement was adopted to tackle the irregular migration flow through Turkey to the EU. In addition, the EU is taking action to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

Strengthening the EU's external borders

Effective management of the EU's external borders is essential if free movement within the EU is to function well. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency was launched in October 2016, following the European Council's call in September 2015 to strengthen controls at external borders. The adoption of reinforced checks  at external borders is being negotiated, as well as the strengthening of controls through the use of new technologies.

Key concepts

Readmission agreement: sets out rules for returning irregular residents to their country of origin or transit.

 Relocation: transfer of a person who has made an application for international protection from the member state in charge of examining their application (currently Greece or Italy) to another EU member state.

 Resettlement: non-EU displaced persons in clear need of international protection are transferred from a non-EU country to an EU member state.

Managing migration flows and curbing migrant smugglers

One of the key priorities of the EU's migration policy is the prevention of illegal migration as well as the return of irregular migrants to their countries of origin. The return directive sets clear, transparent and fair rules for returning irregular third-country nationals. The EU readmission agreements are crucial to the implementation of the EU's return policy. The EU also has established a series of naval operations to secure EU borders, save migrant lives at sea, and fight human trafficking networks and smugglers.

Reforming the common European asylum system

The migration crisis highlighted the need to reform the common European asylum system (CEAS). Under the existing framework, asylum seekers are not treated uniformly and recognition rates vary, which may encourage secondary movements and asylum shopping. The Council is examining seven legislative proposals made by the European Commission to reform the CEAS. 

Providing legal migration pathways

The EU is committed to providing safe and legal avenues to Europe for those in need of international protection. In July 2015, Member States agreed to resettle 22,504 people. The EU-Turkey statement of March 2016 provides that for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU. The Commission on 13 July 2016 proposed a permanent EU resettlement framework to establish common standards and procedures. In addition, the Council is examining a proposal to improve the blue card directive to attract highly-skilled talent that the EU economy needs.

Fostering the integration of third-country nationals

Relocation and resettlement measures adopted in response to the refugee and migrant crisis have emphasised the need to support member states which have less experience with integration. Indeed, third-country nationals across the EU often face barriers with regard to employment, education, and social inclusion. In its conclusions in December 2016, the Council invited member states to exchange best practice on the integration of third-country nationals, to improve monitoring and assessment of integration, and to address the recognition of qualifications and skills of third-country nationals.