Timeline: The European Union and migration in 2021 | Migration


Shipwrecks, fences and internal disagreements have marked the European Union’s efforts this year to prevent further arrivals of refugees while trying to forge a humane migration policy in accordance with international law.

Al Jazeera takes a look at some of the important 2021 developments on the matter.


March 20 – The ministers of migration or the interior of Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Italy and Spain meet in Athens. They call for a strengthening of the external borders and a European mechanism for the return of migrants and refugees to their countries of origin.

March 29-30 – European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson visits the reception and identification centers in Samos and Lesbos for the first time. It announces the approval of 155 million euros ($ 175 million) for the construction of new camps in Lesvos and Chios, in addition to the 121 million euros ($ 137 million) approved in 2020 for the construction of new camps in Samos, Leros and Kos, and 22 million euros ($ 25 million) to expand the reception center in Fylakio, near the Turkish border.


April 22 – A shipwreck off the Libyan coast kills 130. The search and rescue vessel Ocean Viking finds dozens of bodies in the water.

April 24 – Greece closes the Kara Tepe refugee camp on Lesvos, bringing its hundreds of residents together in a tent town in Mavrovounio. After the Moria camp fire in September 2020, Mavrovounio is the only large-scale refugee center on the island. A new camp is to replace it in 2022.


May 11 – Greece proposes to allow Frontex – the EU’s collective coast guard and coastguard agency – to operate outside EU waters in order to better prevent the flow of migrants to the EU. Europe. In the context of the Mediterranean, this might involve patrolling international waters, but in the Aegean Sea, it would almost certainly mean patrolling Turkish territorial waters.

May 18 – Thousands of migrants and refugees from African countries attempt to swim to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from Morocco, threatening to overwhelm security forces. Video recordings show authorities throwing people overboard, but the European Commission remains silent on the incident. Dozens of migrants and refugees are also trying to enter the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

May 24 – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis receives Frontex leader Fabrice Leggeri in Athens, offering much-needed political support amid a European Parliament effort to remove the Frenchman from his post for allegedly turning a blind eye to the pushbacks illegal at EU borders.

May 26 – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatens to let “migrants and drugs” flow into neighboring countries. In September, the number of Iraqi refugees entering Lithuania from Belarus was 4,100 in September, 55 times the flow of the previous year.


June 7 – A Greek ministerial decision comes into effect, deeming Turkey a safe third country for Afghans, Syrians, Somalis, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. These nationalities represent 67% of asylum seekers in Greece. They are now rarely treated for asylum. Instead, they are asked if there is a reason why they should not apply next door in Turkey.

June 29 – The European Asylum Support Office welcomes an agreement to re-establish the body as a full-fledged European Union asylum agency, with more autonomy and funding. It will ultimately be responsible for redistributing asylum requests across the EU according to the economic and social capacity of the Member States to absorb them. A quota system first proposed in 2015 was rejected by a core of anti-immigration states.

At least 6,000 migrants and refugees tried to swim to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from Morocco in May [File: Jon Nazca/Reuters]


July 11 – Authorities in Havana, Cuba crack down on a large protest sparked by food shortages. In the weeks that followed, the police went door-to-door, arresting participants who had been filmed. The crackdown leads to a secret exodus of thousands of Cubans to Moscow, Minsk, Istanbul and Belgrade, from where they travel to EU member states to seek asylum.

July 15 – The European Parliament publishes a report indicating that Frontex has witnessed push-backs it did not prevent. The report does not find any direct involvement of Frontex in the refoulements. Members of the European Parliament or MEPs had called on the head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, to resign following the deportations of December 2020.

July 19 – Lesvos police hold a press conference to announce that they are indicting 10 people in four non-governmental organizations or NGOs with suspected espionage and trafficking activities. The NGOs in question are all active in search and rescue operations and have accused the Hellenic Coast Guard of having abandoned them at sea.

July 21 – Greece and Germany issue a joint statement in Berlin, calling for a fair distribution of asylum seekers among member states.

July 25 – The worst tragedy of the year is probably unfolding off the coast of Libya, with 150 people reportedly drowned in a shipwreck. Filippo Grandi, the head of the United Nations refugee agency, urges countries to shoulder their responsibilities in rescuing those in distress.

July – The Greek government assembles thousands of homeless refugees and moves them to camps across the continent.


August 15 – The Taliban enter Kabul as then-President Ashraf Ghani flees, sealing their control over almost the entire country after a three-and-a-half-month campaign. Panicked residents are rushing to Kabul airport to flee Afghanistan, which has led to an international campaign to secretly rescue as many as possible. Greece received 819 Afghans evacuated at the end of November.

August 19 – Forty-five people, including children, drown in northern Libya when the engine of their boat exploded.

August 25 – Greece submits a bill to parliament extending police powers to order evictions, toughening appeals and shortening windows for voluntary departure.


September 20 – The Closed Center of Controlled Access of Samos begins to receive the refugee population of the city of Vathy.

September 22 – Greece receives its first Afghan evacuees since the fall of Kabul – seven women parliamentarians and their families.

September 28-29 – Some 300 African migrants and refugees try to enter Ceuta, after false rumors that border security has been relaxed.


October 1 – Greece’s Migration Ministry takes over the management of cash assistance to refugees, but payments are subsequently delayed, causing hunger and displacement difficulties.

October – Lithuania continues work on a 500 kilometer (311 mile) long fence along its border with Belarus. At that time, refugees were also flocking to Belarus’ borders with Latvia and Poland. The EU accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of trying to destabilize neighboring countries.

October 31 – The Hellenic Coast Guard rescues 380 refugees aboard a stricken ship in southern Crete, in the biggest refugee transport of the year. The satellite navigation system or GPS information provided by NGOs suggests that the authorities attempted to return him to Turkey before returning the passengers to land in Kos.

Greece is one of the main access routes to the EU for migrants and refugees fleeing conflict and poverty in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and beyond [File: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters]


November 12 – A boat full of refugees sinks off the Libyan coast. Forty-six people are rescued and 30 bodies recovered, but it is feared that 74 others have drowned.

November 24 – Twenty-seven refugees drown in the English Channel as they attempt to cross France to Britain in what has been billed as the worst such tragedy in the waters of northern Europe.

November 27 – The Closed Controlled Access Centers of Leros and Kos are inaugurated.

November – The European Commission stops flights carrying refugees to Belarus and persuades Iraq to repatriate some of its nationals.


December 1 – The European Commission proposes a set of temporary asylum procedures at the borders of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland with Belarus, which allow them to extend asylum registration and apply “Simplified and faster national procedures” to expel people whose asylum applications are rejected.

December 20 – Albania and North Macedonia are added to the official list of safe third countries by the Greek Migration Ministry.

December 23-25 ​​- Three sailboats overloaded with refugees capsize in relatively mild weather in three different parts of the Aegean Sea, killing at least 31 and leaving dozens missing. This is the worst Aegean record since October 2015, when a boat sank off Lesbos.


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