Advisory report: Increasing onward migration of asylum seekers in the EU

That is one of the main conclusions in the advisory report ‘Secondary movements of asylum seekers in the EU’.

Asylum seekers from third countries, who enter the EU in an irregular manner, often do not remain in the Member State where they first arrive. Although the number of asylum applications in the EU has decreased since the end of 2016, the number of asylum seekers moving on after arrival in the EU has increased substantially since then. Onward migration is generally reffered to as ‘secondary movements’. During the ‘refugee crisis’in 2015 most asylum seekers moved on from South to North Europe and from Eastern to Western Europe. Since 2016, there is increased transit of asylum seekers between the Member States of Northwestern Europe.

Measures to combat secondary movements only have a partial effect

Member States try to counter secondary movements of asylum seekers, among others by reintroducing or intensifying border controls and mobile surveillance of third country nationals, cutting-back reception facilities, introducing residence status restrictions and, where possible, applying detention measures. National policy restrictions can actually deter asylum seekers from going to or encourage them to leave a particular Member State. At the same time, this leads to secondary movements to other Member States. For the EU as a whole this is clearly not a solution.

The implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement and the closure of the Balkan route have led to a decrease of secondary movements by asylum seekers immediately after arrival in the EU. At the same time, secondary movements of rejected asylum seekers (including onward migration in anticipation of a negative decision) have increased. The Dublin system, implemented to determine which Member State is responsible for processing an asylum application, is not functioning efficiently to combat secondary movements. Especially the way Member States deal with manifestly unfounded applications from asylum seekers coming from so-called safe countries of origin is problematic. Besides that, Member States are not very successful in returning rejected asylum seekers to their country of origin.

Call for a more comprehensive approach

Secondary movements cannot be entirely prevented. However, they can be better managed. This requires:

  • A more convincing focus on addressing the root causes of asylum-related migration, both outside and within the EU
  • A fundamental reform of the Dublin system by introducing positive incentives to encourage both asylum seekers and Member States to abide by the rules and differentiate between types of asylum seekers, i.e. those who already have social, economic or cultural ties with Member States, those from safe countries of origin who submit manifestly unfounded applications and other asylum seekers
  • Continue to focus on improving the return policy at the EU level, among others by not solely focusing on countering irregular migration in the relationship with countries of origin.

The advisory report is based on an extensive research report, for which the ACVZ has conducted a case file research at the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND), made an analysis of various EU data collections and interviewed government officials, employees of non-governmental organisations, lawyers and academics in nine EU(+) member States.


Further information please contact our advisors: Sander Vergeer of Lambert Obermann