The European Commission last week published its annual report into immigration and asylum in the EU. This is the third year the Commission has reported on this area, responding to a request from the European Council to track the main developments at EU and national levels.
To be welcomed are the positive public attitudes towards the protection of asylum seekers and internal migration within the EU and the overall conclusion of the report that migration is essential for the enhancement of the EU, despite current economic recessionary pressures.
With respect of asylum, in the year 2011, the EU experienced an increase of 16.2% in asylum applications. The report notes that this increase reflected the dramatic events of the Arab Spring. In terms of public attitudes towards those seeking asylum, a sizeable 80% of those polled believe that EU Member States should offer protection and asylum to those in need.
The report identifies the achievement of a Common European Asylum System in 2012 as a key aim of the EU. However, to the outside observer, conflicting political priorities and standards across EU Member States appear to make fulfilment of that goal a long way off. Indeed, a recent opinion piece in the Irish Times by Sue Conlon of the Irish Refugee Council notes the serious shortcomings and disparities in our own asylum appeals system.
With respect of migration within the EU, 67% of those polled for the report that travelling within the EU without internal border controls is important to them. The report highlights that Schengen, as an area without internal border controls, is one of the principal pillars of the EU and has facilitated travel for over 400 million Europeans in 26 countries.
The report is careful to place the EU's migratory situation in the wider global context, noting that just 9.4% (around 20.2 million) of the world's migrants are third-country nationals residing in the EU.
Overall, the report reflects our own view that migration can be an enriching experience for EU Member States. Indeed, the report found that public attitudes towards migration and asylum are generally positive. As the report concludes: “Migration is and will continue to be an essential enhancement for the EU, not only in economic terms, but also in respect to the social and cultural aspects of our societies. Understandably, it has also contributed to certain perceptions which need to be aired through open and balanced debates, not dominated solely by anti-immigration rhetoric. Whilst the downsides of migration are often widely reported, one should not forget the positive contributions that migration brings and will need to bring in order for the EU to grow and continue to thrive.”