How has the unity of the European Union been affected by the migration crisis?

Analytics | Rashad Alakbarov | 1-04-2017, 15:15

How has the unity of the European Union been affected by the migration crisis?Ongoing conflicts, poverty, violence and persecution forced people to leave their country in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Africa, and South Asia. Most of them seek to get asylum in the European Union while searching for better life away from their homeland. Logically, democratic and economically developed regions and countries are more attractable for the most of migrants, considering their need for security and international protection. The lack of safe and legal routes left them no choice but to use illegal ways to enter the EU. However, the current situation over the refugee crisis demonstrates that even the EU, which is known as a champion of the protection of the human rights and fundamental values, could not effectively handle the problem. The crisis not only tested the unity and cohesion of the Members of the Union but also challenged their core values, as well as the Member States’ commitment to the legal acts and regulations of the EU. 

Although there is a noticeable decrease in the number of migrants coming to the EU in comparison with the earlier years, the crisis is still there and remains unresolved. The  mismanagement of the migration crisis uncovered serious gaps in the EU asylum policy, as well as the facts of the fundamental rights of people fleeing conflict being violated by the Union member states. The absence of a common EU migration policy makes member states design individual responses to the crisis. 

In Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union, the fundamental values of the EU are enshrined as follows: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” The current situation regarding migrants in some European states shows that the crisis could have affected the Member States’ commitment to their obligations and Treaty of the EU. To some extent, all the EU Member States have been affected by the migration flows to the continent, however, some of them were on the major routes and the crisis has influenced not only their socio-economic welfare, but also changed the political agenda of those countries. This study briefly analyzes how the EU member states responded to the migration crisis on state level and how the crisis has challenged the solidarity in the Union. 


Lack of Common Asylum System

Since migrants choose to move to the country where they can get maximum benefits, some countries compete for being the least attractive country for the migrants. With its new Immigration Law the Danish government has reduced social benefits provided to the migrants considerably; moreover, asylum seekers are not allowed to meet their family members during the first 3 years of their stay, as well as rejected asylum seekers are sent back to their country (Kampmark, 2016). Strict rules and requirements put by the Danish government to asylum applicants are advertised in several Arabic newspapers, aiming at diminishing the number of applicants; a Lebanese newspaper named The Daily Star reminded refugees that they are unwanted in Denmark (The Daily Star Lebanon, 2015). On the other hand, according to the Romanian asylum law, asylum seekers receive approximately €3 per day/per person and can also claim free medical care. However, usually migrants refuse to get registered in Romania, since they seek to get asylum in wealthier European states (Gotev, 2015).

Germany has recently become the second most common destination for migrants in the world, and its migration policy has improved over the last years. According to the German asylum legislation, if an applicant is granted refugee, asylum, or subsidiary protection status, they get a temporary residence permit and is entitled to receive the same benefits as Germans do through the social insurance system. Moreover, they can receive welfare, child, and child-rearing benefits, in addition to “integration aid” that includes language courses and integration allowances, which makes it one of the most attractive countries for the migrants (Katsiaficas, 2014).

Hungary is one of the EU countries most criticized for its asylum procedures, one of their most controversial elements being widespread detention of asylum seekers. Detaining refugees or asylum seekers in closed facilities alongside real criminals is against fundamental human rights, as they have special status and are protected under international law (Jacobs, Lamphere-Englund, Steuer, Sudetic, & Vogl, 2015). In response to the huge influx of refugees crossing the Hungarian boundaries, the government increased border control and closed its borders with the neighboring states where the possibility of illegal migrant flows are high. In his speech, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said: “We will teach both Brussels and the human traffickers that Hungary is a sovereign country and one can only enter its territory if he keeps our laws and obeys our uniformed men (About Hungary, 2016). 


Intolerance, xenophobia and the rise of nativist political parties

The side effects of the crisis have been mostly felt in the countries lacking in experience of receiving large numbers of refugees and immigrants. Bombings in Brussels that exacerbated the shock of the Paris terrorist attack, increased intolerance against Muslim refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Poland, for example, refused to take any refugees coming from the Muslim countries, considering them as a “security” threat (Broomfield, 2016). The leader of the Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, who takes a nationalist, right-wing stance on most issues, opposed the EU’s plans to provide shelter and food to the refugees. Poland is also among the countries opposing the Brussels’ suggestions on the quotas for accepting migrants for each member country. According to this plan, if a country refuses to take a suggested number of refugees, it has to pay €250,000 for each asylum seeker they reject to grant asylum to (Broomfield, 2016). The money thus collected was supposed to be given to the countries which are now sheltering a disproportionate number of refugees, such as Greece, Germany, Italy (Broomfield, 2016). Overall, the crisis boosted the popularity of nativist political parties whose leaders promoted their anti-immigrant platforms. Austria is one of the best examples, where the anti-immigrant Freedom Party of Austria more than doubled its vote count since the previous elections. The nativist Danish People’s Party won the second place but was the real champion of the general election in Denmark on 19 June (Jacobs, Lamphere-Englund, Steuer, Sudetic, & Vogl, 2015).

Matteo Renzi, Italy’s ex-prime minister, blamed Hungary, Poland and Slovakia for their stubbornness in refusing to take any refugees and called the European Union to cut off their funding from Brussels (Squires, 2016). During the first month of 2017, there were 4,480 cumulative arrivals to Italy, compared to 5,273 arrivals recorded in the same month in 2016. Moreover, in Greece a 97% decrease in the number of arrivals was registered in January 2017, compared to the same period in 2016: 1,387 and 67,954 people respectively (International Organization for Migration (IOM), The UN Migration Agency 2017). The following table shows the countries accepting refugees from Italy and Greece and their total number. Numbers once again prove that not all Member States have joined this mechanism and even though some states, such as Germany, Switzerland, France have already been receiving a huge number of refugees, they share the burden of Greece and Italy as well (Table 1.).










































Table 1.Number of relocated migrants from Greece and Italy as of 8 February 2017

(International Organization for Migration (IOM), The UN Migration Agency 2017)


The abovementioned facts show that there is no unique approach about the solution of migration crisis, and EU Member States mainly take individual steps to prevent negative effects of the crisis and provide stability in their country. However, this increases divisions within the Union and challenges the Member States’ commitment to the EU rules and values, as well as questions the future of the EU. Current gaps in migration policy of the EU and differences in the Asylum Policies of individual member states threaten solidarity within the Union and impede their attempts to find a common solution to the problem.




1. Kampmark, B. (January 2016 г.). Denmark's Hardline on Refugees: The New Danish Immigration Law.Retrieved from Centre for Research on Globalization:

2. The Daily Star Lebanon. (2015, September). Denmark advert in Lebanon newspapers warns off migrants. Retrieved from

3. Gotev, G. (2015, September). Member states want to be less attractive to migrants. Retrieved from EURACTIV:

4. Katsiaficas, C. (2014). Seeking Refuge: Asylum Seekers in Germany. Bridging Europe. Retrieved from

5. About Hungary. (2016, September). Quotes on Quotas: Prime Minister Orbán on the referendum, migration, the EU and more. Retrieved from

6. Jacobs, L., Lamphere-Englund, G., Steuer, M., Sudetic, S., & Vogl, S. (2015). Open Borders, Closed Minds: EU Asylum Policy in Crisis.

7. Broomfield, M. (2016, May). Poland refuses to take a single refugee because of 'security' fears. INDEPENDENT. Retrieved from

8. Squires, N. (2016, October). Italy calls for EU funding to be cut to Eastern European countries that refuse to accept refugees. The Telegraph. Retrieved from

9. International Organization for Migration (IOM), The UN Migration Agency (2017). MIXED MIGRATION FLOWS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. Retrieved from


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Rashad Alakbarov

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