EU: hits and myths


In the wake of yet another tragedy in the Mediterranean, Europe has been forced to debate ways to better coordinate migration. The issue was the subject of a European Council special meeting in April and was discussed during the European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg. We have fact-checked some of the most interesting statements. 


Of the 278,000 immigrants who illegally entered Europe in 2014, 170,000 arrived in Italy

TRUE – Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni spearheaded calls for greater European participation in handling migration flows. According to the minister, Italy was the entry point for 60% of the illegal migrants entering the EU. Gentiloni’s figures are supported by the EU’s border agency, Frontex. Its data shows around 280,000 migrants illegally entered the EU in 2014 (2.5 times greater than 2013 levels). Of these, 170,000 are said to have entered through Italy alone, “representing the largest influx into one country in EU history”, according to Frontex. By comparison, 51,000 reached the EU via the Eastern Mediterranean through Greece and Bulgaria. As Frontex also points out, “the single biggest entry route for migrants into the EU is via international airports: most people currently residing illegally in the EU originally entered with valid travel documents and a visa, whose validity period they have since overstayed”. 


Eleven million migrants have already arrived from Syria

FALSE – Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias spoke of an epicscale exodus from war-torn Syria. However, a report commissioned by the UN cites different figures: around five million Syrians have emigrated or become refugees. More importantly, the majority have been taken in by neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon and Turkey, and not Europe. In fact, the number of Syrians arriving in the EU is in the hundreds of thousands, not millions. The UNHCR states that a ‘mere’ 207,455 Syrians applied for asylum in EU countries, Norway and Switzerland from April 2011 to December 2014. Eurostat reports that from the fourth quarter of 2011 to the fourth quarter of 2014, just over 114,000 asylum applications were approved. Only around 5% of Syrians fleeing the conflict have sought safety in Europe. In other words, Kotzias has greatly exaggerated the number of Syrians arriving in Europe. 


Half of the refugees are going to just three or four EU member states.

TRUE – European Parliament President Martin Schulz, has emphasised the need for more European solidarity on refugees. In particular, Schulz called for fairer distribution of refugees among EU member states. The figures in his statement are true — and even a conservative estimate — when examining any of the potential parameters: asylum applicants, positive asylum decisions and the refugee population by EU country of asylum. Sweden, Germany and France made up 50.6% of the positive asylum decisions in 2013 in Europe. With Italy, the figure rises to 61.2%. In terms of overall numbers, France and Germany have respectively taken in 232,000 and 188,000 refugees. Together with the UK (126,000), this means the three most ‘hospitable’ countries are home to 55.7% of all the refugees present on EU soil. 



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