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As European policymakers debate opening new channels of entry to address migration crisis, more needs to be understood about existing pathways
Press Release
Wednesday, September 6, 2017

As European policymakers debate opening new channels of entry to address migration crisis, more needs to be understood about existing pathways

BRUSSELS — Amid the rush for solutions to Europe’s migration crisis, politicians and advocates alike have shown interest in opening additional legal channels of entry to improve the management of asylum flows and provide an alternative to the dangerous, unauthorized journeys many refugees undertake. But if policymakers are to make smart choices about how to implement new legal channels in the future, much more needs to be understood about how such pathways are used today.

A new Migration Policy Institute Europe report, Tracing the Channels Refugees Use to Seek Protection in Europe, argues it is "nearly impossible" at present to obtain a clear picture of how protection seekers enter Europe and what legal channels are available to them.

Still, the authors find that despite limitations data from EURODAC, Eurostat, Frontex, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and national databases do suggest several important trends:

  • A plurality, and possibly a majority, of asylum seekers arrive in Europe via unauthorized channels.
  • Refugees who receive protection after filing a spontaneous asylum claim outnumber those granted protection through resettlement or humanitarian admissions about 10 to 1.
  • In Member States that make such data available, family reunification appears to be as important a channel for legal entry as asylum for individuals in need of protection.

The inability to have clarity at present is rooted in two areas. First, data on the legal and clandestine channels of entry refugees and asylum seekers use to enter European Union/European Free Trade Association territory are extremely limited. The second challenge comes in the lack of uniformity in how Member States, EU agencies and international actors define and implement key policies such as resettlement, humanitarian admission and humanitarian visas.

"Without a common understanding of what these humanitarian concepts mean and how these policies should be applied, measuring their use in a meaningful way is a nearly impossible exercise," said MPI Europe Director Elizabeth Collett. "The result is a confusing picture not just of how pathways to protection are currently used, but also of how Member States should coordinate to deploy them more effectively in the future."

The report recommends that European governments seek agreement on how key humanitarian policies are defined and implemented. Without such common definitions, programs are not only difficult to evaluate, they also risk duplication or a lack of focus that can prevent them from achieving their fundamental aim of establishing safer and more orderly migration routes for the benefit of both protection seekers and the European societies that receive them.

The authors further suggest that governments will need to invest in more detailed data collection and aggregation if they are serious about effectively implementing more legal channels to protection for refugees. No common European dataset exists to document the modes of entry or legal statuses of individual asylum applicants, and few if any Member States systematically report such data at the national level.

Policymakers should consider measures to improve the collection and reporting of data on statuses asylum applicants hold prior to submitting a protection claim, as well as on how asylum seekers use existing legal channels such as humanitarian admissions programs and visas. Such data become a powerful tool to connect the dots between entry, status and protection outcomes and to foster comparison across European countries.