The Migrants’ Files, June 2016 update

Migration policies of the European governments are getting more restrictive this year, as governments dismantle the international law regarding refugees

This is the last Migrants’ Files newsletter. The database will be last updated on June 24. This decision comes as we have outspent the 17,000€ in grants that the project received. More importantly, it comes as the goal we set ourselves has been reached.

We started The Migrants’ Files in mid-2013 after realizing that there was no usable database of people who died in their attempt to reach or stay in Europe. In the last three years, we collected data and used it to shed light on government policy in a domain that was driven by emotions rather than facts. Our data was reused by hundreds of news outlets, by artists, NGOs, activists and governments alike.

Since we published our first results in 2014, the International Organization for Migration and others have started their own data collection operations. A large number of media outlets now feature these numbers regularly. Some even go further and talk of mortality rates by route rather than absolute numbers, which was precisely what we wanted to achieve with The Migrants’ Files.

Despite some voices claiming that these databases dehumanize refugees, counting casualties is one of the only ways to assess the effect of the policies of European governments. We believe that Migrants’ Files did a lot to help this assessment. Our only regret is that the current measurements show that governments keep killing refugees massively by denying them a safe passage to claim asylum in Europe.

The human and financial costs of Fortress Europe

At least 2438 people have died or went missing trying to reach Europe in the first five months of this year. This is an increase compared to the same period last year, but still lower than the death toll of 2011.


The migration routes have changed  ‒ after the EU agreed to a new deal with Turkey, there has been a significant decrease in arrivals on the Eastern Mediterranean route. But the good weather brought with it an increase in traffic on the Central Mediterranean. Mortality on this route is now 1 for every 25 crossings, which is a major increase compared to previous years. In the Eastern Mediterranean, it remains at 1 death for each 500 crossings. The number of people crossing the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy continues to grow, and a major search-and-rescue operation took place at the end of May [Reuters, May 24].


A new migration route started to develop this year, leading from Egypt and Libya to Crete. In the last weeks, one boat has already reached Greece’s southernmost island, and another one capsized, killing at least 9 people [BBC, June 3]. If this trend continues, this route could become as deadly the the existing Central Mediterranean crossing between Libya and Southern Italy. The distances ‒ about 300 km ‒ and conditions are roughly the same. This route lies away from the usual search and rescue operations, and from NATO patrols ‒ which can prove to be especially dangerous in case of an accident, like it happened on April 13, when over 450 people drowned between Tobruk (Libya) and Crete.

The NATO maritime operation that has started in the Aegean Sea in February this year is regarded (by NATO) as successful: the number of people arriving by this route has dropped compared to the previous year [Ekathimerini, May].

By the end of this summer, a NATO fleet will patrol the Libyan coast. It will join forces with the present naval Operation Sophia (the operational name of EUNAVFORMED), which involves several ships, is coordinated by Italy and was started with the aim to rescue refugees and arrest smugglers [Telegraph, May 13]. The aim of the new NATO operation is to prevent refugees crossing the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy  [Middle East Eye, Apr 25]. The mandate of Operation Sophia has been extended: it will now include training of the Libyan coast guard, and the prevention of arms smuggling [EU Observer, May 24]

EU -Turkey deal

The centerpiece of the new European policies is the deal the EU has signed with Turkey on 18 March. According to this agreement, the EU pays 6 billion euro to Turkey to prevent refugees from crossing to Europe. Under this deal, Greece is able to send all the refugees that arrived after March 20 back to Turkey. For each refugee sent back to Turkey, EU countries relocate one Syrian refugee who applied to asylum while being in Turkey [Economist, Apr 11, 2016]. Turkey has also been promised visa-free travel to Europe.

The deal came under heavy criticism from human rights groups for ethical reasons [Amnesty International, March 18], as well as from practical and legal points of view. Some experts fear that the deal struck with Turkey indicates a new and dangerous turn in the European policy towards the refugees, which directly undermines the 1951 Convention on Refugees [MPI, March 2016].

In May, the deal was jeopardised, because Turkey had not met all of the required 72 liberalisation criteria for visa-free travel, most notably, the anti-terror and organised crime legislation, which contradicts the European standards on human rights [see the full list of criteria published by the EC]. The process was further complicated when Ahmet Davutoglu, one of the deal’s architects, resigned from his post as Prime Minister [Gatestone Institute, May 18], and the EU ambassador to Turkey Hansjörg Haber has been called off [DW, June 14]. The European side, desperate to keep the deal in place, is showing the willingness to overlook human rights violations in Turkey to save the deal [Economist, June 1]. At the time of writing, the current Readmission Agreement has been halted [EU Observer, June 6].

Since the agreement between the EU and Turkey was signed and resettlement started, 462 people have been deported to Turkey, and just 508 were moved to Europe ‒ that is just 2% of the pledged goal of 20,000 by mid-May. The process doesn’t seem likely to speed up, because, according to the last report, European states have only accepted 723 more applications for resettlement [Washington Post, June 15,EU Observer, May 23].

The EU-Turkey deal has put refugees that are already in Greece in a dangerous position. They have to live in crowded detention facilities, which were never built to house that many people. These facilities were built as “hotspots” to allow the quick registration of the refugees arriving to Greece, but are now holding several times more people than they were supposed to [The Conversation, May 17]. And when they are deported to Turkey, these deportations are often carried out with many human rights violations [HRW, Apr 19].

Meanwhile, the refugees who are deported to Turkey are not offered safety. Many Syrian refugees do not have access to a lawyer and no opportunity to apply for asylum in Europe [The Guardian, May 16]. Some of them are sent back to Syria [Amnesty International, Apr 1].

In May, the Greek appeal committee on Lesbos has ruled, for the first time since the deal was signed,  that Turkey is not a safe country for ten Syrian refugees, who now cannot be deported. At the time of writing, dozens of similar rulings have been made [Ekathimerini, May 23], and a group of refugees have challenged the deal in the European Court of Justice. As The Telegraph has explained, this lawsuit strikes at the heart of the deal’s legal architecture: the assumption that Turkey is a safe country for refugees [Telegraph, June 13].

Some Syrian refugees who are trying to get to Turkey are shot by the Turkish border guards [HRW, May 10]. To date, we know of 34 people who have died trying to cross the Turkish border. The refugees who stay in camps close to the Turkish border, be it in Turkey or in Syria, are in danger from bombings [HRW, May 10, BBC, May 5].

In this light, the EU-Turkey deal directly violates the 1951 refugee convention: The non-refoulement principle is not respected and refugees are deported to an unsafe country. What’s more, a recent poll by Amnesty International showed that 80% of the Europeans surveyed would accept refugees in their countries, and 70% think that their governments are not doing enough [Amnesty International, May 19]

Closing borders

The European Commission has allowed 5 members of the Schengen agreement ‒ namely Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Norway, to continue the suspension of the agreement on their borders till Autumn 2016 [EC Press release, May 4]. All the five countries have introduced ID checks on their borders last year, following the refugee crisis.

The Austrian government was considering to build a razor-wire fence on the border with Italy, in the Brenner Pass. The Italian government has objected to the idea, pointing out that it would be detrimental to the European economy: The Brenner Pass is a major land route. Italian citizens have violently protested the closure of the pass. The Austrian government has since agreed to freeze the plans, on the condition that Italy would stop migrants from coming to Austria [BBC, May 17]. The Austrian government is turning increasingly anti-migrant: having built fences and reinstated border checks, it has introduced one of the strictest laws on refugees in Europe [Al Jazeera, April 28].

Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Norway are not the only countries that conduct border checks: France, under the state of emergency, has reintroduced identity checks on all the entry points into the country, including airports [The Local, May 13].

Bulgaria plans to complete the 146 km of fence on the border with Turkey in 2 months [Novinite, May 23], and is turning to armed “civil militants” to patrol the borders and push back refugees [Global Voices, June 15].

The dismantling of the refugees’ legal status

Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia have been declared safe by the German Parliament. The aim of this declaration is clear: to stop people from these countries coming to Germany and claiming asylum, as they are not likely to get it, and will probably be deported. This new practice can be a major setback for the the refugees who face danger and discrimination in their countries for reasons like homosexuality or religion [DW, May 13].

On June 7th the European Commission has announced the new Migration Partnership Network: a series of anti-refugee deals with several African dictators, including the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who was condemned by the Hague Tribunal for his war crimes [EC Press release, June 7]. The estimated cost is said to be €8 billion [Bloomberg, June 7], followed by up to €31 billion of investments in the future [EC Factsheet, June 7], which should be spent on ‘improving the living conditions’ in those countries . In previous years, the EU has reached similar agreements with the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and Mauritania [MPI, Nov 1, 2006, Migration Policy Centre, June 2013]. They did not improve the living conditions of refugees.

The @MigrantsFiles Team The Migrants’ Files was financed in part by Coordination: Journalism++. This newsletter was edited and curated by Daria Sukharchuk. email  Photo credit: Tim Lüdemann Flickr [link]

Voir aussi :

The Migrants’ Files / March 2016 update