EUROPEAN FOREIGN POLICY SCORECARD 2016

Refugee crisis

1 - Response to the Mediterranean sea crisis

Grade: C+
Unity 4/5
Resources 2/5
Strategy 2/5
Impact 2/5
Total 10/20
Scorecard 2015: D+ (5/20)

Frontline states and EU institutions increased resources to prevent deaths in the Mediterranean, but migrant flows grew and shifted routes 

Throughout 2015, the EU used naval and coast guard operations in the Mediterranean to attempt to discourage illegal crossings to Europe and prevent migrant deaths. At the year’s beginning, the emphasis was squarely on the former, after the Italian navy and air force’s Operation Mare Nostrum was replaced in October 2014 by the EU border patrol’s Operation Triton, which has a far smaller search-and-rescue capacity. However, the deaths of up to 900 people when a migrant ship went down in April 2015 triggered a recognition of the need to scale up search-and-rescue operations again. Even the UK government adjusted its position, after sticking firmly to the view that rescue operations acted as a pull factor. Italy and Greece continued to make significant contributions to search-and-rescue efforts throughout the year.

The EU Joint Foreign and Home Affairs Council approved a 10-point plan in April which boosted Triton with more funds and a wider area of operations; approved operation EU Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED) – now renamed Operation Sophia – which is tasked with seizing and destroying smugglers’ boats, though its impact has been limited; and established a new programme for the rapid return of irregular migrants coordinated by the EU border agency, Frontex.

The numbers coming across the central Mediterranean route to Italy reduced in 2015, but this was cancelled out by hugely increased pressure on routes through the Western Balkans, with arrivals in Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia growing sharply in late summer and autumn. In November, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it expected the year’s refugee inflows to the EU to top one million. Meanwhile, smugglers adapted to search-and-rescue operations, reducing prices and the quality of their vessels, resulting in boats sinking closer to the point of departure rather than reaching European waters. Lower prices made the trip affordable to more individuals, but no less risky: the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that over 3,400 lives were lost in the Mediterranean in 2015.