Migration to Europe falls but EU’s population still rises

More deaths than births in Europe, yet the population is still increasing.

Refugees behind a fence at the Hungarian border with Serbia near the town of Horgos  hoping to enter the European Union on September 16, 2015. Armend Nimani / AFP
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BERLIN // The population of the European Union increased by around two million last year to 510.1m, despite Europe recording more deaths than births for the first time. The increase was largely due to the influx of refugees and migrants into the 28-nation bloc, according to the Eurostat, the European statistics office.

Although 5.1m babies were born in Europe, 5.2 EU inhabitants died. But Europe also admitted almost two million migrants, mainly from war-torn countries in Middle East, in the biggest population move since the Second World War.

However the closure of the Balkan route into western Europe via Serbia dramatically reduced the number of migrants who reached the EU. Last year, there were nearly 1.2 asylum applications in the EU, which was double the number registered in 2014. More than half had crossed into western Europe from the Balkans before the route was officially closed in March.

Nearly 1.1m people were registered as asylum seekers in Germany, a favourite destination thanks to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open door” invitation. Last November, more than 206,000 asylum seekers were registered there in a single month, But the figures for this year so far show a dramatic fall to 222,264 asylum seeker registrations. In January there were around 91,000. By June the numbers had dropped to 16, 335. Syrians were the largest single group, followed by Afghans.

The reason is the almost complete closing off of the migrant route through the Balkans and also the EU’s deal with Turkey to cut arrivals by sea.

The numbers arriving via the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy have remained at roughly the same levels as 2015. However, the German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said the situation remained “unstable.”

He said, “The implementation of the agreement between the EU and Turkey is working so far, but I wouldn’t guarantee that this will also remain the case in the coming months, and developments on the Balkan route could worsen significantly.”

UN agencies have warned of dire conditions for migrants on the Serbia-Hungary border after Hungary this week adopted measures that severely restricting their flow. The new rules allow Hungarian police to return across the border to Serbia any migrants detained within 8 kilometres of the Hungarian border fences which are protected by razor wire.

After the measures were introduced, the number of refugees and migrants on the Serbian side doubled to more than 1, 300, the majority of them women and children, waiting in the open without shelter or sanitation.

However, small groups of migrants are still being smuggled across borders, especially from Italy and Switzerland. Germany has seen an increase in asylum seekers from Russia’s troubled Chechnya region, and refugee office chief Frank- Juergen Weise said there are still 500,000 applications awaiting processing. But Germany has also stepped up deportations of people from countries which are deemed to be safe, including the Balkans. .

* Associated Press