Controversy over migration continues to upend European politics

This story appears in the Seeking Refuge feature series. View the full series.

Though the flow of refugees into Europe has slowed in the last two years, it has not stopped, and the controversy over migration continues to upend European politics.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government has been welcoming migrants into Germany, agreed last week to change policy and stop migrants without legal documentation at the border.

In Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of a right-wing political party, said next year's elections for the European Parliament should be a referendum on migration. His comments followed declarations by Italy's new government that it wants changes in the EU migration system, arguing that Italy and other first-arrival countries like Greece are bearing too much of the burden for the rest of the Europe.

Under European Union rules known as the Dublin regulation, asylum claims for European Union members are usually determined in the country where the migrants enter first.

Greece and Italy are, along with Germany and France, the countries with the highest number of asylum applications. In 2017, Germany had 198,255 claims; Italy had 126,550; France, 91,965; and Greece 56,940, according to EU figures. In all, a total of 650,970 persons sought asylum in the EU countries in 2017.

Italy played a prominent role in recent EU debates over migration. A new EU agreement approved late last month calls for greater shared responsibility for rescuing migrants on the sea, a demand strongly urged by the new Italian government, Reuters reported. "Italy is not alone anymore," said Giuseppe Conte, Italy's new prime minister.

The new agreement does not force any country "to do anything," The New York Times reported June 29, though EU members are contemplating new centers to screen migrants and finding ways to "distribute" refugees among a larger group of countries, the Times reported.

Some are not reacting well to the new agreement. "The plan is a muddle that leaves important details blank. Most important, it ducks the main challenge: to devise a common EU policy on refugees," said a July 4 editorial by the editors of the Bloomberg news service.

[Chris Herlinger is GSR international correspondent. His email address is]