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  Refugee policy in Europe

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Twelve months after the boat tragedy off the south-west coast of Greece many questions remain unanswered. What is clear is that on 14 June 2023 an overloaded fishing trawler capsized on its way from Libya to Italy. According to the UN it was carrying more than 750 migrants. Some 104 were rescued and 82 bodies were recovered. Serious accusations were levelled against the Greek coast guard in the aftermath. The press takes stock.

The EU plans to pay one billion euros in aid to Lebanon in exchange for its help in curbing the illegal immigration of Syrians to Europe, in particular via Cyprus. The agreement follows similar deals with Egypt, Tunisia and Mauritania. Commentators criticise the choice of partner and the timing, as well as this type of deal in general.

After much wrangling the two chambers of the British Parliament have voted in favour of the Conservative government's controversial Rwanda deal, which declares Rwanda a safe third country despite the Supreme Court's ruling that it is not. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants the first deportation flights to depart in ten to twelve weeks. Scepticism is rife among commentators.

After years of wrangling, the EU Parliament has approved a pact which tightens the regulations of the EU's common asylum system. All ten legislative proposals were adopted by a narrow majority. Under the new regulations asylum procedures will be processed on the EU's outer borders, deportation procedures accelerated and the burden on countries that take in higher numbers of migrants eased through a solidarity mechanism.

In Spain, around 500,000 undocumented migrants could be given the same legal status as Spanish citizens after a popular initiative was approved by an overwhelming majority in the lower house of the Spanish parliament on Tuesday. If the Senate also votes in favour, migrants who arrived before 1 November 2021 will receive residence and work permits and access to social benefits. Commentators praise the cross-party consensus.

The European Union has signed a new agreement with Egypt. The country will receive up to 6.8 billion euros in loans and investments between 2024 and 2027 to bolster its flagging economy and promote digitisation, as well as 600 million euros in direct grants, 200 million of which are to be used to stem illegal migration.

From the controversial British Rwanda deal and pushbacks caught on camera to the major new EU deal reached just before Christmas - alongside frequent reports of people drowning in the Mediterranean - migration and migration policy once again made headlines and fuelled debate across Europe in 2023. Commentators take stock.

The Greek Parliament passed a legislative amendment on Tuesday granting migrants who have entered the country illegally a three-year residence and work permit if they have a job and have lived in Greece for three years without committing any crimes. The move comes in response to labour shortages, particularly in the agricultural sector. Approximately 30,000 migrants are eligible.

France's National Assembly has passed a law that tightens the country's immigration law. To secure the required majority for the amendments, the government made significant concessions to the demands of conservative MPs. This left the government camp divided, with some refusing to vote in favour and Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau resigning in protest. Europe's press is dismayed.

After months of wrangling the EU institutions have agreed on a reform of the asylum system, the result of which will be a tightening in many areas. Arrivals with little chance of being accepted are to be processed at the EU's external border and swiftly deported if their application is rejected. The burden on the main countries of entry such as Italy and Greece is to be relieved by means of a mandatory solidarity mechanism. Europe's press is divided.

Last week the French National Assembly rejected a bill with which the government aimed to restrict irregular immigration and improve integration. The bill is now being discussed in a joint committee of MPs and senators. The Macron camp is seeking the votes of the conservative Les Républicains who, however, insist on restrictions to social benefits for foreigners.

Finland's Prime Minister Petteri Orpo has announced that seven of the country's eight border crossing points with Russia will be closed. The Deputy Chancellor of Justice Mikko Puumalainen had so far prevented a complete closure of the borders. In November alone, several hundred migrants - mostly from the Middle East, Africa, Iraq and Yemen - have already crossed the Russian border into Finland without valid documents.

The UK's Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that London's plan to deport refugees to Rwanda without an asylum procedure are unlawful. There were grounds to believe that asylum seekers would be deported from there to their home countries without due process, the court concluded. In a bid to push through the plan despite the ruling, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to introduce "emergency legislation" classifying Rwanda as a safe third country. Divided reactions in the media.

Finland has registered a rise in the number of individuals arriving at its border with Russia without a visa since August. Although this figure is only around 100 so far, as Russia has previously turned back such persons at its own checkpoints, Finnish commentators believe the increase is no coincidence. In fact they have been expecting such a development since last year.

The German government and the 16 state leaders have agreed on an asylum reform to reduce the number of refugees coming to Germany. Under the reform, the pace of bureaucratic procedures and deportations ist to be stepped up and refugees will receive a payment card instead of cash and reduced social benefits for a longer period. In addition the possibility of outsourcing asylum procedures will be examined. Does this mark another turning point for the country?

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Albanian counterpart Edi Rama have signed a deal aimed at reducing the number of refugees arriving in Italy. Under the agreement two reception centres managed by Italy will be set up in Albania and house up to 3,000 migrants rescued at sea. Refugees who arrive by land will not be sent there. Commentators examine the motives behind the pact.

For weeks, EU member states have been negotiating a reform of the bloc's asylum system which primarily foresees more stringent measures. Now the states have agreed on a common stance on the EU Commission's proposals for a Crisis Regulation. Under the new rules, in the event of sudden increases in the number of arrivals migrants can be detained for longer periods under conditions similar to detention. Europe's press focuses on national interests.

Once Germany gave up its reservations it looked very much like an agreement would be reached on the proposed European Migration and Asylum Crisis Regulation at the meeting of EU interior ministers on Thursday. The regulation foresees the possibility of detaining refugees for longer periods on the EU's external borders in the event of mass influxes of migrants. But at the last minute Italy, which wants new rules for dealing with private rescue ships, raised objections. Commentators see a deeply divided Europe.

Last week, 10,000 refugees arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa within three days. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had visited the island shortly before and presented a ten-point plan for tackling migration at the European level including a better system for distributing new arrivals as well as more effective surveillance of the EU's external borders. Europe's commentators discuss which measures could work.

Germany stopped taking in refugees from Italy at the end of August citing Italy's refusal to take back migrants who arrived in Europe via Italy and then travelled on to other countries, as it is obliged to do under EU law. Rome counters that it already has too many refugees: more than 7,000 people arrived on Lampedusa on Tuesday and Wednesday alone. Commentators are concerned by several aspects of the issue.

Belgium's State Secretary for Asylum Nicole de Moor has announced that male asylum seekers without relatives in Belgium will no longer be allowed to live in state-run accommodation for asylum seekers. The rare places in such accommodation will be reserved for families with children, she explained, adding that the men must find their own accommodation or use emergency shelters for the homeless. The move has triggered outrage in the national press.

The EU has signed a pact with Tunisia to curb migration across the Mediterranean. In exchange for financial aid of up to 900 million euros, Tunisia has pledged to crack down on smugglers and illegal crossings headed for Europe. Commentators ask whether such a deal with a repressive president can work - and what it means for human rights in the country.

The row over Europe's migration policy continues: Poland and Hungary refused to sign a final declaration at the EU summit, which was broken off on Friday. The two countries argued that the obligation to admit refugees or pay penalties under the new rules would be an encroachment on their sovereignty. However they cannot prevent the new regulations that were agreed at the beginning of June from coming into effect.

A Court of Appeals has ruled that the UK is not allowed to outsource asylum procedures to Rwanda, as had been decided in 2022. It judged that Rwanda cannot be considered a safe third country because deficiencies in the asylum procedure there could lead to legitimate asylum seekers being deported to their countries of origin. The decision can still be appealed to the UK's Supreme Court.

According to the latest figures from the UNHCR, the global number of refugees increased by 19 million in 2022 compared to the previous year, 11.6 million of whom were Ukrainians. The EU has just introduced tighter asylum laws, while Europeans are discussing the latest boat tragedy in the Mediterranean, in which hundreds of migrants are reported to have drowned. Commentators question whether the debate about migration is focusing on the right aspects.

After the shipwreck off the southwest coast of Greece in which hundreds of people are presumed to have died, the Greek coast guard is under fire. According to media reports, survivors claim that the boat capsized because attempts were made to drag it towards Italy. The Greek side denies this, saying that its offers to help were rejected. Commentators voice shock and dismay.

The plans for a reform of the European asylum system could take concrete form at a meeting of EU interior ministers today. The proposals under discussion are, however, highly contentious: they envisage even stricter rules on migrants without real prospects of staying and mandatory solidarity with the overstretched states on the EU's external borders - either through refugee admissions or financial compensation.

The New York Times has published a video showing the forcible expulsion or "pushback" of asylum seekers by Hellenic coast guard officers. The footage, provided by a humanitarian worker, shows asylum seekers - including women and children - being transferred from the shore to a boat on the sea and then being abandoned on a raft. What does this say about Greece and Europe?

The Italian government has declared a six-month national state of emergency, citing an increase in the number of migrants arriving in the country. During this period Giorgia Meloni's government will be able to push through measures without involving parliament, including her initiative aimed at increasing the number and capacity of reception and deportation centres. Rome is also demanding more support from the EU. Europe's press discusses how to proceed.

Greece wants to expand the fortifications on its border with Turkey on its own initiative. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reaffirmed the plan last week, explaining that the 37.5-kilometre-long fence on the Evros River is to be extended by another 35 kilometres. Brussels had repeatedly rejected Athens' demands to provide EU funds for this. The opposition accuses Mitsotakis of fishing for right-wing votes.

The British government has presented a plan for drastic changes to UK asylum laws aimed at deterring people from crossing the English Channel in small boats to enter the country. Under the planned legislation, migrants arriving via this route would be deported to their country of origin or a third country without judicial review. Because the law contradicts the international right to asylum, commentators are sceptical about whether the plan is at all realistic.

Italy is still shaken by the deaths of 67 refugees who drowned off the coast of Calabria last weekend. According to the port authority they could have been rescued. The Italian press criticises both the authorities and the government in Rome, in particular Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi and Matteo Salvini, Minister for Infrastructure. Europe's press points to an EU-wide failure.

The High Court in London on Monday upheld the policy for deportations of asylum seekers to Rwanda sought by the British government. The court, however, also said that each individual case must be carefully examined. Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the government would now move to implement the asylum policy as quickly as possible. The press reacts ambivalently.

Spain's Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska is under fire over a new investigation into the events at the Moroccan-Spanish border crossing in Melilla on 24 June. At least 23 people died and dozens went missing when migrants attempted to storm the border fence and cross into the Spanish exclave. The Minister of the Interior insisted at the time that the Spanish police had acted according to the law.

The governments of France and Britain have signed a cooperation agreement aimed at reducing the number of refugees crossing the English Channel to the UK. France will increase the number of patrolling officers it deploys from 200 to 300, while Britain will boost its payments to France from 55 million to 63 million pounds (around 72 million euros) per year. Commentators criticise the deal.

After a tug of war over responsibilities, France has allowed the migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking to dock in Toulon. Paris had insisted that Italy comply with maritime and international laws according to which it must allow the refugees to disembark, and suspended plans to take in 3,500 migrants from Italy by next summer. But despite the pressure, Italy refused to allow the ship into its ports.

The number of migrants heading towards Central Europe via Serbia and Hungary has spiked again now that the Covid pandemic has ebbed. Austria and the Czech Republic have introduced controls at their borders with Slovakia because smugglers are increasingly using the country as a transit route. Commentaries reflect disagreement over the measures.

The Dutch Council for Refugees VluchtelingenWerk has sued the Netherlands over inhumane conditions in asylum centres. For weeks, hundreds of people have had to sleep outside because the main reception centre in Ter Apel is overcrowded. Now for the first time the government wants to open an emergency shelter - against the will of the municipality concerned. Right-wing and conservative parties, meanwhile, are calling for a halt to asylum in the country.

Eight years after a boat accident involving migrants, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Greece for failing to provide assistance. In January 2014, a fishing boat carrying asylum seekers capsized near the island of Farmakonisi in the presence of the Greek coast guard. Eleven people were killed in the accident. The Greek press welcomes the ruling.

The departure of the first deportation flight from the UK to Rwanda has been stopped at the last minute by the European Court of Human Rights. British Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Tuesday evening that she was disappointed by the court's decision and vowed to continue pursuing her controversial refugee policy. Looking at the commentaries, it seems clear that the ruling will not put a stop to such practices.

The EU border agency and its long-time director Fabrice Leggeri have long been under attack for covering up human rights violations. Just under a fortnight ago, Leggeri resigned amid investigations by the EU's anti-fraud agency Olaf. Europe's press discusses how the current structures serve to conceal responsibility.

Around three and a half million refugees, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, are currently in Turkey. Many live in precarious conditions as a result of the country's fragmentary integration policy. In view of rising inflation and the economic crisis, the vast majority of political camps have adopted a harsher tone. Commentators criticise the rise of xenophobia.

The situation in Cyprus' largest refugee camp Pournara has further deteriorated. President Nikos Anastasiadis talked of "tragic conditions" on Monday. Built to house 1,000 people, the camp now holds twice as many. In an act of protest, 36 underage refugees slept on the streets of Nicosia last week. The national press voices outrage.

The United Nations estimates that up to four million people may flee the war in Ukraine. More than three million refugees have already reached the borders of neighbouring Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary. Commentators urge people to make the necessary preparations to receive the refugees - and also to think of those fleeing Russia.

The EU interior ministers have agreed on the non-bureaucratic admission of refugees from Ukraine. The protection status, initially valid for one year and renewable for up to three years, has yet to be approved by the Council of the European Union. Commentators see a change in European refugee policy and ask what status non-Ukrainians fleeing Ukraine will be granted.

Representatives from more than 20 European countries have met in Vienna to discuss migration. Among the main topics were repatriations and the fight against traffickers. Oliver Varhelyi, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, announced 355 million euros in funding for the Western Balkan countries to help them provide for stranded asylum seekers. Commentators stress that increasing funds is not enough.

Pope Francis has travelled to the Republic of Cyprus and Greece for four days, where he visited the island of Lesbos for the second time. While there he sharply criticised the treatment of refugees in Europe, describing it as a shipwreck of civilisation. In Nicosia, he called the reception camps places of torture and slavery. He also pledged to bring 50 asylum seekers from Cyprus to Italy.

The EU Commission has proposed that the migrants at the Polish border with Belarus be temporarily accommodated in reception centres. It also wants to allow Poland, Latvia and Lithuania to extend the asylum process and apply simplified rules for deportations. What do commentators in Europe make of this?

France and Britain are still unable to agree on how to prevent migrant deaths in the English Channel. A meeting of interior ministers was cancelled by Macron after Johnson posted a Twitter message calling on France to take back all migrants. The situation has escalated after the drowning of 27 migrants in the English Channel last week.

The trial of 24 aid workers in Greece who worked for a humanitarian NGO on Lesbos has been adjourned only shortly after it began on Thursday. The aid workers are facing charges of human trafficking, money laundering and espionage. The climate in the country has also worsened for other activists such as sea rescue coordinator Iasonas Apostolopoulos.

The dramatic situation on the Belarusian-Polish border appears to be easing somewhat. Belarus has provided shelter for some of the migrants suffering from hunger and freezing temperatures. Precisely what role phone calls between Chancellor Merkel and Belarusian ruler Lukashenka and between French President Macron and his Russian counterpart Putin played in this is unclear. Europe's press is divided over the merits of this telephone diplomacy.

Two migrants from Syria were found dead in a minibus in Burgenland, Austria, on Tuesday. Twenty-seven other men who had been crammed into the vehicle were apprehended. The case harks back to the Parndorf tragedy in 2015, when 71 people died in a refrigerated lorry. Austria and Europe as a whole still haven't found an effective way to deal with migration, commentators lament.

Warsaw is cracking down: after twelve states demanded more "physical barriers" on the EU's external borders, Poland's parliament has now approved 366 million euros for the reinforcement of its border with Belarus. Belarusian President Lukashenka has been accused of deliberately funneling migrants into the EU across its eastern border. Commentators discuss what this means for Poland, Belarus and the EU.

An international team of reporters has filmed migrants trying to cross the Bosnian-Croatian border into the EU and being physically pushed back with beatings by men using Croatian police equipment. Such pushbacks are illegal, and the EU has announced an investigation. Europe's media - spearheaded by Croatia - are incensed.

President Katerina Sakellaropoulou had officially announced that sea rescuer and government critic Iasonas Apostolopoulos was to be awarded an Order of the Phoenix for his humanitarian work on 24 July, the day marking the restoration of democracy in Greece. Now, however, he has been removed from the list of honourees without explanation. What's behind the move?

The UK plans to drastically tighten its asylum law. British Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke of the "most radical changes in decades". The plans include life imprisonment for smugglers, the interception of boats on the open sea and reception centres in third countries. Anyone entering the country illegally will have fewer rights from the outset. Not only aid organisations are appalled.

The Greek government has designated Turkey as a "safe third country" for people from Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh who enter Greece via the Turkish border. This means that, like the Syrians, they will now to be sent back to Turkey without any examination of their asylum applications. NGOs have denounced the move saying it means that almost all refugees arriving in Greece will be denied the right to asylum - regardless of the circumstances that prompted them to leave their countries of origin.

After the European border management agency Frontex has come under fire several times in recent months for its involvement in illegal pushbacks, a report by the European Court of Auditors has once again cast the institution in a very unfavourable light. The report concludes that the agency is performing its tasks so inadequately that one should examine whether it should continue to exist at all. Commentators are divided.

The Danish parliament has approved a new law proposed by the country's Social Democratic-Green government which would allow asylum seekers to be moved to countries outside the EU and kept there in asylum centres while their applications are processed. According to media reports, talks with Rwanda are already underway. The legislation is drawing fierce criticism far beyond Denmark's borders.

Michel Barnier, until recently the EU's chief Brexit negotiator and a former minister in France, has made headlines with a migration policy proposal. He wants to suspend all immigration to France from outside the EU for several years - including family reunions. There are commentators who say the proposal crosses a red line and there are others who say it shows courage.

As the weather grows milder, the number of people fleeing across the Mediterranean to southern Europe to escape political instability and poverty in North Africa is increasing. On Tuesday, more than 2,000 people reached the Italian island of Lampedusa, but many others drowned during the crossing. Although this dynamic has been repeated for years, the EU still hasn't found a solution, European media complain.

A group of experts from the University of Nijmegen has sharply criticised the Dutch asylum system. In its report, which was commissioned by the state, it concludes that people have been falsely portrayed as fraudsters and lost their residence permits as a result. It also says that the legislation of recent years has increasingly weakened the position of asylum seekers. Commentators call for solutions.

Millions of refugees in camps spread across northern Syria, Turkey, the Greek Aegean islands and Bosnia are forced to live in appalling conditions and freezing temperatures in the winter months in the midst of the pandemic. Journalists level harsh accusations at the EU and urge readers to show solidarity.

A few weeks ago media reports revealed that the EU border agency Frontex had not only covered up illegal pushbacks of refugees by Greek border guards, but was also actively involved in the practice. MEPs are now calling for the resignation of Frontex director Fabrice Leggeri. But commentators say the scandal goes far beyond misconduct by individuals.

Like other islands on the EU's external border, the Canary Islands are now also turning into a migration hotspot. More and more people are arriving there from the coast of Africa, and the islands' authorities are having a hard time coping. Commentators call on policymakers to look beyond border security and also focus on diplomacy and integration.

Just over two weeks after the fire that destroyed the Moria refugee camp, the EU Commission presented a new Pact on Migration and Asylum on Wednesday. Among other changes it foresees that member states would no longer be obliged to take in a certain number of refugees but could instead opt to take on tasks such as repatriation of those whose applications are rejected. Few commentators believe the proposed package is a viable solution.

In the aftermath of the fire in Moria, apart from 400 unaccompanied minors, Athens has not taken any refugees off the island of Lesbos but instead set up a temporary tent camp. Germany has announced it would take in more than 1,600 refugees from Greece, and France has also said it will take several hundred.

A huge fire has destroyed most of the Moria refugee camp in Greece, leaving thousands of inhabitants homeless. More than 12,000 asylum seekers were living in the camp, which was designed to accommodate 2,800 people and had recently recorded its first cases of coronavirus.

The British government plans to take steps to ensure that fewer migrants enter the country via the English Channel. Around 4,000 people have already made the crossing this year - twice as many as in the whole of 2019. Home Secretary Priti Patel has complained that France was doing too little to stop the crossings. Royal Navy ships are to be deployed to force small boats carrying migrants to turn back. The national press is divided on the issue.

In reaction to a ruling by the European Court of Justice, Hungary has closed its migrant transit zones and transferred the asylum seekers to other locations. This comes after the court ruled last week that the fenced-off camps on the border with Serbia were not compatible with EU law. But commentators don't believe the closures are indictative of real changes in Hungary's refugee policy.

Germany and Luxembourg took in minors from refugee camps on the Greek islands over the weekend: 47 children landed in Hanover and 12 in Luxembourg. Seven other EU countries have said they will follow suit. The EU Commission has announced plans for European countries to take in a total of 1,600 youths. The German-language press is divided in its opinions on the move.

With their refusal to take in asylum seekers from Italy and Greece during the 2015 refugee crisis Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic broke European law, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday. Back then the EU's interior ministers had decided to impose mandatory quotas for redistributing the refugees among all member states in order to ease the burden on the countries of arrival. What can the ruling achieve now - almost five years after the crisis?

For more than a week now Greek police have been using tear gas and water cannons against refugees and migrants who have gathered on the Greek-Turkish border in the hope of entering the EU after Turkey opened its border. Voices in Europe's press call on Brussels and the individual EU member states to come up with sensible strategies.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Finland violated the human rights convention by deporting an Iraqi who was shot shortly after his return to his home country in 2017. The man's family is entitled to 20,000 euros in compensation. Deportations to Iraq have now been temporarily halted. Finland's commentators are pleased with the ruling.

France's government plans to realign its migration policy. The envisaged measures include immigration quotas for skilled workers and tougher policies for asylum seekers regarding deportation and access to health care. Most commentators take a dim view of the measures, although some praise it.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer warned on the weekend that Europe could be facing an even larger wave of migration than in 2015. During visits to Ankara and Athens together with EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos he promised support in dealing with refugees and protecting the countries' borders. Commentators stress the need for new solutions in refugee policy.

At least one woman has perished in a fire that broke out during riots at the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Human rights organisations have been decrying the conditions at this so-called "hotspot" as unbearable for some time. Now the Greek government has reacted by tightening the country's asylum policy. Is this the right response?

At their Malta mini-summit at the start of the week the interior ministers of France, Germany, Italy and Malta reached an agreement on a provisional solution for migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea. Commentators discuss whether this offers a first glimmer of hope for joint action on migration policy.

After almost three weeks in limbo the rescue ship Open Arms has docked in Italy. The Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was set on preventing this even though six EU states had offered to take the migrants. On Tuesday a state attorney issued an order to allow the boat to dock on Lampedusa. This latest controversy over a rescue ship prompts concern among Europe's media.

Last summer the newly elected Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made headlines when he allowed the Aquarius to dock in Spain with hundreds of refugees on board. Now, with the rescue ship Open Arms trying in vain to find a safe port for 121 migrants, Sánchez is keeping very quiet. The press reaction in Spain is divided.

Under a new security decree approved by the Italian Senate anyone who brings migrants into Italian waters without permission will face fines of up to a million euros, and rescue ships can be confiscated. According to commentators this latest victory for Lega leader Matteo Salvini shows above all two things.

There is finally some movement in the stalled negotiations over a European refugee policy: Fourteen EU states are backing a German-French proposal for compromise on how to distribute migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, with eight of them even promising active engagement. But Italy is refusing to agree to the solution. Commentators see this as a huge stumbling block.

Carola Rackete, captain of the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, has been released. She was arrested after docking a ship carrying 40 migrants in Lampedusa despite a ban. Politicians and prominent public figures harshly criticised Rome for her arrest. Observers say the episode highlights Europe's division and failures in migration policy.

The United Nations has released a shocking report to mark World Refugee Day on July 20. For the first time, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR counted over 70 million refugees worldwide in 2018. At the same time the EU is increasingly sealing itself off, observers criticise. Commentators present constructive ideas for the refugee debate.

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio has accused France of pursuing a "colonial policy" in Africa and blamed it for the "mass exodus" to Europe. Paris reacted by summoning the Italian ambassador. But this only prompted Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to mock Macron, saying that he talked a lot but achieved little.

Matteo Salvini has remained firm after two shipwrecks in the Mediterranean left 170 dead last week. Italy's Interior Minister stressed once again that his country will not open its ports to rescue ships carrying migrants, and blamed aid organisations for the tragedy. NGO ships are only encouraging the traffickers, he said. Commentators have harsh words for the minister.

According to official reports around 230 refugees tried to cross the Channel to get to Britain from France in December. On 25 December alone, 40 migrants in a dinghy were rescued. Home Secretary Sajid Javid assigned more ships to the waters to patrol the border. Concern for human lives does not seem to be a primary concern in the view of commentators.

The international community will meet in Marrakesh on December 10 and 11 to ratify the UN migration pact. But as the conference draws closer more and more countries are saying they won't sign it - in addition to several Eastern European countries and Austria now Italy has followed suit. The non-binding agreement is meant to help control the flow of refugees and migrants. What makes the pact so contentious?

Migration was the second big topic alongside Brexit at the summit in Salzburg. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz proposed seeking a similar deal with Cairo to the one with Ankara. There was a general consensus on the need to boost the resources for Frontex. Some commentators believe the EU is on the right path. Others predict that the devil will be in the details.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán want to do more to "protect Europe" against the influx of migrants. At their meeting in Milan they announced the formation of an anti-migration alliance. Commentators express concern about the future of the EU and cite reasons for the rise of sovereigntism in Europe.

After a week of delay an Italian coastguard ship carrying 177 migrants has been given permission to dock in Sicily. Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini had initially threatened to have the migrants brought back to Libya if other EU member states refused to take them in. Commentators find Salvini's approach reprehensible but sympathise with his cause.

Angela Merkel and her Spanish counterpart Pedro Sánchez have agreed to collaborate more closely on the issue of migrants from North Africa. Morocco is to receive more money for border control measures while Spain will take back individual refugees heading for Germany. Can Berlin and Madrid give the starting signal for a new refugee policy with the deal?

More refugees are now arriving in Spain than in the past twelve years, and the number has for the first time exceeded those arriving in Italy. The new head of Spain's conservative Popular Party, Pablo Casado, has accused the Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of luring millions of African refugees to the country with his do-gooder policy. Commentators rake Casado over the coals.

The European Commission has upped the pressure on the conservative nationalist government in Budapest over its asylum policy. The Commission is suing Hungary at the European Court of Justice as a final step in its ongoing breach of contract proceedings. In addition it is launching a lawsuit over new legislation against people who help refugees known as the "Stop Soros package". What does the press have to say?

A maritime rescue team discovered on Tuesday a woman clinging to the remains of a rubber dinghy, flanked by two corpses. Rescue organisations accuse the Libyan coastguard of failing to render assistance and leaving migrants to die in the Mediterranean. How can the EU rely on cooperation with a failed state like Libya, commentators ask.

Only after the intervention of Italian President Sergio Mattarella has Interior Minister Matteo Salvini allowed 67 refugees who had been rescued by the Italian coast guard to set foot on Italian soil. Salvini had initially blocked the ship's access to a port in Sicily and then prevented the men on board from leaving the vessel. What is Salvini trying to achieve?

German Interior Minister Seehofer (CSU) has paid a visit to Austrian Chancellor Kurz in a bid to push through his plans for stopping asylum seekers on the German border. Kurz, however, has rejected the idea that refugees to whom the Dublin Regulation applies should be sent back to Austria. The politics of national egotisms have reached their limit, media in both countries comment gleefully.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) and Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) have buried the hatchet in their row over asylum: "Transit centres" are to be set up on the German-Austrian border to prevent asylum seekers already registered in other countries from entering Germany and send them back to the responsible country. Europe's press sees the crisis as having done grave harm despite ending in an agreement.

The 28 EU heads of state and government want to strengthen the border control agency Frontex and establish processing centres for boat refugees, who are then to be distributed to EU member states that are willing to take them in. Commentators of left-wing and centre-left media focus on the fate of refugees who suffer under the policy of isolation.

The EU summit that begins today is supposed to bring a breakthrough in the row over asylum and migration policy. It will focus on the reform of the Dublin regulations and the policy on refugees arriving in boats. European media outlets put forward their proposals.

With immediate effect people in Hungary can be sent to prison if they "assist illegal migration" by, for example, helping migrants who do not have refugee status to apply for asylum. In addition, a constitutional amendment stipulating that in future no "foreign populations" should be allowed to settle in Hungary was passed with only five votes against. Commentators, not only in Hungary, are appalled.

Shortly before the EU summit this weekend - and after the mini-summit held at Angela Merkel's request - it remains unclear whether the EU member states will be able to agree on a common migration policy. And who will win out - the advocates of an open door policy or those who want a hard line against refugees. Journalists urge the politicians to deliver results.

There is still no sign of an agreement in the dispute over Germany's asylum policy. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) continues to insist that asylum seekers registered in another EU country should be turned back at Germany's borders. Chancellor Merkel (CDU) is calling for a pan-European solution. Commentators ask what consequences a victory for Seehofer would have, and why Merkel's position is so weak.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has reached an agreement with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on closer cooperation in refugee policy. Together with Rome, Berlin and Vienna are to form an "axis of the willing". Commentators are upset by the use of this historically-charged term for a cooperation that has yet to be clarified.

Spain's new government has offered to allow the rescue ship Aquarius carrying 629 refugees to dock in a Spanish port. However, the lack of supplies on board makes the journey to Spain a risky undertaking. Before Spain's decision Malta and Italy had spent days locked in a dispute over who would accept the ship. For commentators the Aquarius drama highlights the failure of Europe's asylum policy.

Asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected in Denmark are in future to be housed in a "not particularly attractive" location outside the country, according to Prime Minister Lars Lökke Rasmussen. The plans for the camp were developed together with other countries, including Austria. While some commentators applaud the decision others comment that Europe's asylum policy is increasingly focused on deterrence.

The heads of state and government were unable to overcome their differences regarding binding quotas for a fair distribution of refugees at their EU summit in Brussels. EU Council President Donald Tusk and several Eastern European states want to scrap the refugee quotas system, while receiving countries like Germany and the Netherlands call for solidarity. The deeply entrenched front lines are also reflected in Europe's commentaries.

The UN has sharply criticised the EU for cooperating with the Libyan coastguard service in the interception of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean. This had led to a marked rise in the number of people living in dreadful conditions in Libyan 'detention centres', the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said. Some commentators agree, while others praise Italy and the EU for adopting a mediating role.

The ECJ has rejected the complaint lodged by Hungary and Slovakia against the quotas established in 2015 for redistributing refugees. Bratislava plans to accept the ruling, while Budapest has announced that it won't comply. What consequences will the ruling have for refugee policy and the EU's conduct towards Hungary?

European and African leaders have met in Paris to discuss ways of stemming migration across the Mediterranean. Asylum applications could now be processed directly in African states. Some commentators welcome the move, but doubt it can be implemented. Others are aghast, and call the meeting the summit of disgrace.

Libya's coastguard has boosted its activities in the Mediterranean and banned NGOs from taking action in Libyan waters, while Italy and the EU had provided them with technical and logistical support. Far fewer migrants have made it to Italy as a result, but NGOs and left-leaning politicians have fiercely criticised the initiative. How should Europe position itself?

In the dispute over rescue operations for refugees on the Mediterranean the Italian police has impounded a ship, the Iuventa, operated by the German NGO Jugend Rettet. It suspects the NGO of aiding the activities of people smugglers. Like the majority of NGOs engaging in the rescue missions, the German organisation has refused to sign a code of conduct for these operations. Italian media voice their outrage.

The Balkan route is closed off, but the problem remains unsolved. More than 90,000 refugees have already reached Italy this year, while over 2,000 have drowned in the Mediterranean. Rome is becoming increasingly critical of the rescue missions out at sea and the Ministry of the Interior and NGOs are wrangling over a code of conduct meant to regulate these operations. Both the EU and the NGOs need to act now, commentators stress.

In view of rising migrant numbers in Italy, the government in Vienna has threatened to ramp up border controls and send troops to guard Brenner Pass. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz let it be known that the country's borders would be "protected" if necessary. Are these statements just campaign bluster or the logical consequence of the EU's failure to manage the refugee crisis?

France and Germany have promised to show "unflinching solidarity" with Italy in the refugee crisis. The two countries will do their best to honour their agreements regarding taking in refugees, France's interior ministry said on Sunday at the end of a three-way summit. The countries also presented a "code of conduct" for aid organisations. All just hot air, Europe's press concludes.

"Decisions that have been made are applicable law, even if one voted against them". With these words EU Commission President Juncker has defended the infringement procedures against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The three states refuse to comply with the quota system for the distribution of refugees decided in 2015. Are sanctions justified? And what should Brussels do next?

Hungary's government has passed even stricter laws for asylum seekers. The parliament has voted in favour of establishing "transit zones" at border areas where both refugees who arrive in the country and those already in Hungary are to be detained. Prime Minister Orbán has once again shown his country in a bad light, some journalists criticise. Others are thrilled to see that the country is finally safe.

The EU member states are not obliged to issue visas to refugees at their foreign missions so that they can travel to these countries and apply for asylum there, the European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday. Instead decisions regarding the issue of visas must be governed by national laws, it decided. Many governments are relieved at this ruling by the EU's highest court, but Europe's press is at odds.

The EU wants to limit migration from Northern Africa by intensifying cooperation with Libya. Stepped-up controls of the Libyan coastline are to dissuade refugees from crossing the Mediterranean and encourage them to remain at reception centres in the country, the heads of state and government resolved at their meeting in Malta. An agreement with an unstable state will achieve nothing, commentators stress, and see Moscow taking a leading role.

As of March the European Commission wants to resume the policy of having refugees to the EU who first set foot in Greece transferred back there. This part of the Dublin Regulation was suspended in 2011 because Greek reception centres didn't conform with international standards. Athens is still not prepared for such a move, some commentators warn. Others believe there won't be any transfers even if the plan goes ahead.

A month after the referendum on refugee quotas the whole issue of refugees has disappeared from public discourse in Hungary. 98 percent of those who voted cast their ballot against the EU quota system, but only 44 percent of eligible voters took part. A 50 percent turnout was required for the referendum to be valid. Did Orbán fail with his refugee referendum?

In a referendum on October 2 the citizens of Hungary will vote on whether to accept mandatory quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán rejects the quota system already approved by Brussels. For some commentators the result is already clear. Others believe that a lack of voter participation may put Orbán in a tight spot.

Close borders, ramp up Frontex - at a refugee summit in Vienna eleven EU member states have agreed on measures aimed at stopping irregular migration along the Balkan route for good. Some journalists see the decisions as progress, while for others closing more doors is tantamount to capitulation.

Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have opposed EU refugee quotas and instead proposed the model of "flexible solidarity" at the EU summit in Bratislava. The concept aims to allow member states to decide for themselves how they will help ease the crisis, taking into account their respective experiences and capabilities. Will the Visegrád states' anti-refugee stance win out?

Austria's ÖVP and SPÖ coalition has agreed on an emergency asylum law according to which refugees may be turned away at the border if the number of migrants reaches an upper limit, set at 37,500 for 2016. The law is highly controversial in Austria, as the commentaries show.

The British government plans to build a big cement wall in Calais to prevent refugees from getting into the Eurotunnel. The wall would be part of a 20-million euro package with which London and Paris aim to boost border protection. Some commentators see the plans as proof of the EU's failure in the refugee crisis. Others see the barrier as a reasonable measure.

The EU Commission has firmed up its plans for a common European asylum system. A draft regulation foresees a revision of the Dublin Regulation. Under the new rules countries that refuse to take in refugees would pay into a fund while those taking in refugees would receive financial support. Some commentators see the plan as the long-awaited breakthrough; others are very sceptical.

Under pressure from Interior Minister Milan Chovanec the government in Prague has put an early end to a pilot project for resettling persecuted Christians from Iraq. The move came after 25 of the 90 Iraqis participating in the project tried to move on to Germany to apply for asylum there instead of staying in the Czech Republic. The Czech press discusses the interior minister's reaction.

More than 12,000 people are stranded in the village of Idomeni on the border between Greece and Macedonia. They are camping in ordinary tents which are sinking into the mud after days of heavy rain and risking their lives to cross the border. Who can help the people in Idomeni?

The Balkan states and Austria have agreed in Vienna on joint measures for reducing the number of refugees on the Balkan route. Some commentators see the cooperation as a step in the right direction. Others complain that such unilateral action undermines European solidarity.

Ahead of the EU summit at the end of the week resistance is growing to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's proposal of a quota system for distributing refugees. The fact that large and prosperous countries such as France have now stopped toeing the line leaves commentators increasingly sceptical about the future cohesion of the EU.

At the request of Berlin, Athens and Ankara, Nato will deploy ships to the Aegean under German command. Some commentators hope the mission will be more effective in fighting people smugglers and improve cooperation between Turkey and Greece. Others warn that just going after rubber boats won't solve the refugee crisis.

Faced with hundreds of thousands of refugees on the move, several Schengen countries have reintroduced temporary border controls. French experts estimate that the EU economy would lose around 100 billion euros if permanent border controls are introduced in the Schengen zone. Can the Europe without borders still be saved?

Austria has become the first European country to set an upper limit on the number of asylum seekers it will take in: this year it will accept a maximum of 37,500 migrants. What repercussions will this decision have?

After Sweden on Monday introduced passport checks for everyone entering the country from Denmark, Copenhagen has in turn introduced controls on its border with Germany. Both countries want to limit the number of refugees entering their territory with these measures. The much proclaimed end of the Schengen Area will become reality in 2016, some commentators predict. Others suspect that Northern Europe simply wants to exclude the weaker South from Schengen.

The EU Commission wants to expand Frontex and give it a stronger mandate. It presented its plans on Tuesday in Strasbourg. In future the agency will be able to deploy border protection forces even against the will of individual member states. Some commentators see the strengthening of this body as long overdue. For others the goal of sealing Europe off is an illusion.