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MAY 2017


Changes in the Brussels-Washington equation may affect the European Union’s

refugee resettlement efforts.

The Migrant Crisis in Europe

and the U.S.-E.U. Relationship

Kathleen Sheehan, a Foreign Service officer from 1993

to 2007, served in Shenyang and Washington, D.C., in

the Bureaus of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, European

Affairs, and Population, Refugees and Migration. She

lives in Washington, D.C. The opinions and characterizations in this

piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent official

positions of the U.S. government.


s the European Union continues

to take stock of its relationship

with the new Donald J. Trump

administration, the refugee and

migration crisis that has over-

whelmed the continent in recent

years is subsiding. The annual

number of individuals crossing

into Europe dropped from more

than a million in 2015 to about 300,000 in 2016, and stands at

just over 12,000 as of February.

Despite a decrease in the number of people arriving,

however, European countries must nonetheless ensure that all

migrants have access to safe reception and accommodation

sites while they wait for their asylum claims to be adjudicated.

To date, the United States has worked cooperatively with

Europeans to deal with the crisis, and the European Union has

counted on American moral and financial advocacy on behalf

of refugees and migrants. Whether Washington will continue to

play this role under the new administration is uncertain.


State of the Crisis

The number of refugees crossing from Turkey to Greece has

dropped considerably since the wave began in 2015. According

to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, just 264

people arrived in Greece in January 2017, a fraction of the 67,000

who arrived in January 2016. The dramatic reduction is due in

large measure to the deal the European Union struck with the

government of Turkey in March 2016.

Under that arrangement, for every migrant Turkey accepts

back from Greece, the E.U. has agreed to resettle one migrant

from Turkey. The E.U. also disbursed 3 billion euros to Turkey

for migrant assistance. This deal, criticized by many humanitar-

ian organizations for threatening to forcibly return refugees to

countries where they are liable to be persecuted, effectively sent

a message to people fleeing the Middle East that the Turkish

route to Europe was closed.

Meanwhile, the flow of migrants from Africa to Italy has con-

tinued unabated, with no end in sight. According to the UNHCR,

170,973 people made the treacherous journey from Libya to Italy

in 2016, and the agency predicts another 190,000 will arrive this


Given the perceived success of the E.U.-Turkey deal in halt-

ing migration from that country, E.U. member-states are now

looking to countries in North Africa to play a more active role

in stemming the flow of people to southern Europe. At the 2017

summit, where Malta assumed the presidency of the European

Union, member states proposed more training for and a greater

exchange of information with the Libyan Coast Guard, as well as