During the first half of 2023, over half a million asylum applications were received by the EU – the highest number since the major migration wave of 2015 and the second-highest figures ever from the EU’s asylum agency.
The small Italian island of Lampedusa, with just 6,000 inhabitants, has seen a staggering 7,000 migrants, mainly from the North African coast, arrive on its shores within two days.
Migrants reaching the EU’s external borders via the Mediterranean have significantly increased in number during the first half of 2023. The EU’s increasingly limited toolbox to address the strained situation has so far had no effect, according to Bernd Parusel at the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies.
– I am concerned about the situation because I don’t think the pressure will decrease. At the same time, many EU countries are very keen to reduce the number of migrants reaching the EU, he commented on the numbers during an interview with the Bonnier newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
As for the countries of origin, the number of asylum seekers from Syria, like in 2015, remains high. There are now, however, also a large number of people who have traveled from Syria to other countries, such as Tunisia, Lebanon, and Jordan and are trying to reach the EU for various reasons. Most of them are motivated by a deteriorating economic situation, according to Parusel.
Approximately 90% of the boats with migrants arriving in the last three months come from Tunisia, where political instability prevails. The path via Libya to Europe has been open since NATO’s bombings in 2011 toppled Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, also nullifying the agreement that had been in place to keep migrants on the African continent.
Large migrant inflows across Europe
During the period of July-August, a majority of migrants arriving in beleaguered Italy mainly came from Tunisia, reports Reuters. Italy, despite criticism from prime minister Giorgia Meloni, continues to be a central transit country for migrants wanting to enter the EU. So far this year, over 115,000 migrants have reached Italy, according to the interior ministry, a dramatic increase compared to the 65,000 who arrived during the same period last year. Preliminary figures from Spanish authorities show that the number of migrants arriving in the Canary Islands has also dramatically increased recently, more than doubling to 2,891 people during the first two weeks of September.
The number of detections of illegal border crossings at the EU’s external borders increased by a fifth during the first eight months of 2023 to over 232,350 – the highest number for the January-August period since 2016, according to preliminary estimates. In the United Kingdom, illegal immigration has totaled 36,250 people so far this year. Spain has also seen an increase in migrants arriving illegally; this year, 16,700 have migrated, an increase of 3.8% compared to the same period last year.
One million by the end of the year
EU countries had previously concluded a revised migration pact aimed at distributing asylum seekers physically and financially across the union. However, the agreement has not yet been implemented, and negotiations are still ongoing between the council of ministers and the european parliament regarding its final form, according to Bernd Parusel.
Historically, the number of asylum applications has been even higher during the second half of the year, which could mean that in 2023 as many as over a million applications could be submitted to countries within the EU.