Acknowledging failure along with success

A year of returning inadmissible asylum seekers under the EU-Turkey Statement

“The Statement is producing tangible results, despite the challenging circumstances,” according to the European Commission’s Fifth Report on the Progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, published on 2 March 2017. The third and fourth reports, dated September and December 2016 respectively, first “chartered” and then “confirmed” the “trend of a steady delivery of results, albeit in the face of many challenges.” Initial March and April 2016 reports pinpointed the Statement as a “decisive” moment, and claimed that “the sharp decrease in the number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing from Turkey into Greece is proof of the Statement’s effectiveness.”

The rhetoric of success is consistent and unmistakable. Satisfied that the implementation of the Statement is correlated, if not causally linked, with a reduction in arrivals by and fatalities at sea, the EU has heralded the Statement as its solution to the migration “crisis” in Europe.

Less vocal, however, has been the Commission’s recognition of the Statement’s failures, in particular the return of inadmissible asylum seekers. As of 2 March 2017, the number of people returned to Turkey “under the EU-Turkey Statement” is reported to be 916, well below target and disproportionate to the 3,622 people resettled to the EU from Turkey under what was envisaged as a 1:1 return-to-resettlement ratio. While the slow pace of returns is acknowledged as a challenge, the specific failure of the admissibility procedures – a key reason why returns have been so limited – has been inadequately addressed.

Returns “under” the EU-Turkey Statement

Returns carried out “under” or “in the framework of” the EU-Turkey Statement, as they are repeatedly referred to, should describe those returns that would not have otherwise occurred but for the Statement. Since returns were ongoing before and after the Statement under the Greece-Turkey bilateral readmission agreement, something, by definition, should be unique about returns “under” the Statement.

As announced in March 2016 and reiterated in each subsequent implementation report, “the Statement provides for the return of all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers, whose applications have been declared inadmissible or unfounded, crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands after 20 March.” An unfounded application is one that has been rejected on its merits; that is, because the applicant is not deemed to be in need of international protection. But this is not unique or new because of the Statement: under pre-existing EU and Greek rules and obligations, all asylum seekers were entitled to a first instance decision on the merits of their application, and liable to be returned if their claims were proven unfounded.

What is new because of the Statement is the possibility to return an asylum seeker to Turkey even before hearing the merits of their asylum claim, on the grounds that their application is “inadmissible.” An inadmissible application for asylum in Greece would, for example, be one made by an applicant who had arrived in Greece from a first country of asylum or a safe third country, such as Turkey. Whether or not Turkey is in fact a safe third country has been argued extensively. In practice, however, the question of admissibility, including whether or not Turkey can be deemed a safe third country, has been assessed on an individual basis, with very few cases been deemed inadmissible.

On the Greek Islands, admissibility procedures had, at least until January 2017, only been applied to Syrians, with asylum claims by other nationalities being assessed on their merits. Since January, other nationalities with asylum recognition rates above 25% have also been subjected to admissibility procedures, but it is not reported whether any have actually been returned due to a negative admissibility decision.

Similarly, it is not officially reported whether or not inadmissible Syrians have actually been returned, although rights groups claim none have been sent back to Turkey for this specific reason. Of the 916 people returned “under” the Statement, only 159 are Syrian. Logically, this means that, at most, 159 people could have been returned before having the merits of their applications heard, on the grounds that their applications were found to be inadmissible. Instead, most of the 916 people, including Syrians and non-Syrians, have returned because they:

  • received a negative asylum decision (first or second instance);
  • had withdrawn their asylum applications; or,
  • had not applied for asylum in the first place.

Looking more closely at the 159 Syrians who have returned to Turkey from Greece, only a fraction have actually have had their applications deemed inadmissible. Between 20 March 2016 and 19 February 2017, of the 8,378 first-instance, and 439 second-instance admissibility decisions by Greek Asylum Committees, only 24 had been upheld as inadmissible. As such, the highest possible number of returns of inadmissible asylum seekers is 24. However, even these returns have been prevented by ongoing judicial challenges that argue against the safety of Turkey as a third country, and the constitutionality of the Greek Independent Appeals Committees. Far from a success, this indicates a clear failure of the Statement to meet its specific aim of returning inadmissible asylum seekers.

Policy Implications

The difference between zero, 24 and 916 might seem trivial – ultimately, all figures are well below target. However, the policy implications of shrouding the Statement’s failure to return inadmissible asylum seekers behind misleading numbers and phrasing are significant in several ways:

  • Admissibility procedures divert resources from overstretched Greek and European asylum processing officials. They add another administrative layer of first and second instance decision making, despite the fact that most applications have been found admissible. Eliminating admissibility procedures would allow asylum processing officials to focus on the merits of asylum applications, improving the thoroughness of asylum determinations, reducing the overall administrative burden and easing the backlog of claims.
  • Admissibility procedures increase the duration of the asylum application process, during which asylum seekers face long waits on the islands marked by legal uncertainty, overcrowding, and inadequate food, shelter and sanitation. Improving the asylum determination process by removing admissibility procedures could expedite movement onto the mainland, reduce waiting times and decongest facilities, thereby alleviating the humanitarian situation.
  • The ineffectiveness of admissibility procedures on the Greek Islands should be recognised when considering application of the admissibility concept in wider EU asylum policies. According to European Council on Refugees and Exiles, mandatory inadmissibility grounds such as “safe third country” and “first country of asylum” are concepts that figure among the key objectives of the Commission’s proposal for the reform of asylum procedures in the EU. If these concepts have been proven ineffective in improving asylum procedures in Greece, their potential to be applied effectively EU-wide should be questioned, not covered up.

This is the second in MMP’s ongoing series of blogs on the theme ‘Numbers Matter’.

Please note an earlier version of this blog implied that some Syrians could have returned because their claims were deemed inadmissible. In fact, as of March, appeals were ongoing for the inadmissible Syrians liable to be returned, with decisions expected in April.

What to read on mixed migration: January 2017

Our monthly round up of new resources provides an overview of new research and reports about mixed migration to, from and within the Middle East.

  • A new briefing paper from Mixed Migration Platform, Turning Back focuses on return from the EU. Released in January, it outlines the legal and policy frameworks governing the return of refugees and other migrants from Europe, with a particular focus on Iraqis.
  • ACAPS and the Mixed Migration Platform have produced a new set of Middle East-EU migration scenarios, outlining possible developments in migration via Turkey and Greece over the next six months.
  • Stand and Deliver is a new report from the Danish Refugee Council and 27 other NGOs. It highlights the need for urgent action on commitments made at the London conference in February 2016.
  • A new guidebook entitled Europa: An Illustrated Introduction to Europe for Migrants and Refugees aims to provide practical information in four languages for newcomers to the continent.
  • In a new briefing note on Syrian refugees’ right to legal identity, the Norwegian Refugee Council presents findings of interviews with nearly 600 Syrian households in Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, to highlight the number of children lacking identity and civil documents and the implications for return.
  • Desperate Journeys is a new UNHCR report offering a detailed overview of major migration flows to Europe in 2016 in comparison with those of 2015.
  • Refugee Voices is a new report from the TENT Foundation, which presents the findings of interviews conducted with more than 1,500 refugees in Germany, Greece, and Jordan in 2016 looking at drivers of migration, the journey, and experiences of resettlement.
  • Don’t Forget Us: Voices of Young Refugees and Migrants in Greece is a new report by Mercy Corps and the Norwegian Refugee Council based on focus groups conducted with young refugees and migrants of various nationalities in Greece.
  • A new report from Human Rights Watch, Refugees with Disabilities Overlooked, Underserved, argues that refugees with disabilities are not identified and struggle to access services in Greece.
  • The Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion has released its World’s Stateless: 2017 report with a focus on childhood statelessness, an issue that, the institute says, is entirely preventable.
  • RMMS monthly summaries of mixed migration issues and news in the Horn of Africa and Yemen region are accessible here. Summaries from West Africa are available here, and 4mi reports from the Central Asia and Southwest Asia region are available here.

This reading list is an excerpt from our Monthly Migration Summary for January 2017. If you have a report you’d like to see on this list, or would like to be added to the mailing list, let us know.

Left behind, but not at home: the hidden migration stories of the women who stay

Nour’s husband and 10-year-old daughter left Jordan for Europe in October 2015, just a month after she gave birth to their youngest child. They wanted to travel together but Nour was still weak following the delivery and they decided that the journey was too dangerous to risk leaving with four small children. In any case, they assumed that family reunification would be quick and they would soon be able to travel in a safe and legal way.

A year and a half later, Nour remains a refugee in Jordan with her three youngest children, while her husband and daughter are in Sweden. Both have been granted asylum, but the family reunification process has been much slower and more difficult than they imagined. “The journey was very hard” she explained, “After arriving in Sweden, my daughter didn’t speak for three months due to the shock.” Time spent apart under challenging circumstances has caused her relationship with her husband to suffer, and the high volume of applications means that family reunification is unlikely before 2018. “I still think it’s viable to come to Europe, but now I realise it might take years”.

When families decide to migrate, women and girls are much more likely to be left behind. In 2016, just under a third of asylum applicants to European countries were female[1], underlining this imbalance. Far away from the media on Greek and Italian shores, we know much less about the experiences of the women and girls who stay than we do about those who make the journey.

This International Women’s Day, Nour’s story is an example of the challenges faced by some of the mothers, sisters and daughters who do not, or cannot travel. Her story was one of many collected by REACH as part of ongoing research for the Mixed Migration Platform into the experiences of separated families in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The project sought to answer several questions – what makes some family members travel while others stay? To what extent are migration decisions made individually or jointly? And how are those left behind affected by migration?

The research found that those who remain often face considerable challenges due to debt, reduced income and interrupted access to humanitarian assistance. Displaced families like Nour’s are among the most vulnerable, especially when the main breadwinner or head of household leaves.

For those who hope to reunify, the situation can be harder still, since changing policies, slow processing times and limited information mean that even families who qualify for such schemes often fail to adequately prepare for the time it takes. Of the 90 families interviewed for the study, only half made any contingency plans at all to look after those left behind. Nour’s family was one of the few that did, but like many, their meagre preparations – paying a month’s rent up front before her husband left – were nowhere near enough. Eighteen months later, reunification is still long way off and Nour has no work and three small children to care for. Her only source of income is humanitarian aid, and even this was problematic at first, since both food vouchers and cash payments were registered in her husband’s name. At first, she was cut off from assistance for five months – two before she realised that she needed to re-register as the household head, and another three while the change was being processed.

In some ways, Nour was lucky – despite being a refugee, she had other family members in Jordan that she could turn to for support. After selling her furniture to pay the bills, she had nothing left and eventually moved in with her brother. The separation has been incredibly tough for the whole family, but she insists that they made a joint decision, taking into consideration the risks to their children. “I encouraged him to migrate, hoping it would get us a better life” she explained. “Until now it’s been a very negative experience – I would not recommend to anyone to take this gamble…Currently there have been no positive changes. Only later, when we reunify will it be positive”.

Our study on Separated Families: who stays, who goes and why, will be published in the coming weeks. If you would like more information, or are interested in republishing this blog, please contact:

[1] According to Eurostat data [migr_asyappctza], women and girls accounted for 32% of first-time asylum applicants to EU countries in 2016.
Image: A Syrian refugee woman in  Za’atari camp prepares her son for school. Credit: UNWomen/Christopher Herwig

Alternative routes from the Middle East to Europe: an animation

MMP’s first animation looks into some of the alternative routes taken by refugees and other migrants coming from the Middle East and trying to reach Europe over the last few years.

Watch it, share it!

The animation transcript can be downloaded here.

Subtitles in English are available activating the “CC” option on the Youtube player.



Frontex (2017) Detections of illegal border crossings statistics.

IOM (2016) Migrant Presence Monitoring Situation Report, October 2016.

IOM (2016) Migrant Presence Monitoring Situation Report, November 2016.

IOM (2016) Migrant Presence Monitoring Situation Report, December 2016.

Frontex (2015) Annual Risk Analysis 2015.

Laruelle, M. and S. Hohmann “From the Mediterranean to the Far North: A Refugees Corridor at the Russian-Norwegian Border”. The Arctic Institute, August 2016.

Doyle, A. “To deter refugees, Norway readies fence on ex-Cold War border“. Reuters, August 2016.

Gerdziunas, B. “An unknown migrant route into EU runs through Lithuania”. Al Jazeera, January 2016.

ODI (2016) Europe’s refugees and migrants: Hidden flows, tightened borders and spiralling costs.


Scenario-building one year after the EU-Turkey Statement

What is on the horizon for migration between the Middle East and the EU over the next six months?

In January and February 2017, ACAPS conducted a scenario-building exercise to support the work of the Mixed Migration Platform (MMP). The exercise focused on migration between the Middle East and EU, exploring possible developments in migration via Greece and Turkey over the next six months. Following two workshops and meetings with government, UN, NGO, and Red Cross staff in Brussels, Ankara, and Antakya, five scenarios were identified in the report, accessible here.

  • Continued restricted migration
  • Number of asylum-seekers in Greece falls
  • Number of asylum-seekers in Greece increases
  • Increased returns to Syria
  • Increased movement into Turkey

To build these scenarios, ACAPS used a ‘chain of plausibility’ methodology, outlined in more detail here. In the workshops, participants first agreed on the research question, reviewed relevant information on the current situation, and defined the geographical scope and time frame. Participants then brainstormed the relevant variables, mapped relationships between them, and identified assumptions about the directions these variables could take. The result was a set of ‘triggers’, which were grouped under each scenario.

For example, conflict in northern Syria is a variable that is related to displacement towards Turkey, which could increase, decrease or remain stable. Combined with a decision by Turkey to re-open its borders to Syrian refugees, an increase in conflict in northern Syrian could trigger, or drive, the scenario of increased movement into Turkey. The final step is to quantify the impact and likelihood of each scenario, and expand on the details, humanitarian consequences, and operational constraints expected in each scenario.

Example of Probability/Impact scale – Scenario 1 “Continued restricted migration”

While some scenarios are more or less likely than others, and each has a varying degree of impact on the humanitarian situation, all represent plausible situations that could emerge over the next six months if one or more of the triggers identified occurs. In the exercise, the scenario of continued restricted migration was deemed to be the most likely, while a significant increase or decrease in the number of asylum seekers in Greece was found to be the least likely scenario. However, if it were to occur, a large increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Greece would have the most negative impact on the humanitarian situation of the five scenarios identified.

Not all the scenarios are mutually exclusive, and more than one could emerge at the same time. For example, a spike in conflict in Syria could lead to increased movement into Turkey, but not necessarily into Greece. Meanwhile, the number of asylum-seekers in Greece could fall if EU member states fulfil their commitment to relocate 66,400 people throughout the EU, and Turkey continues to restrict population movement within and from its borders.

Scenario-building does not try to predict the future, but it does help humanitarian responders to think broadly about what lies on the horizon, and assess whether or not they are flexible enough to adapt their approaches, if necessary. Organisations might also take a certain scenario and its humanitarian consequences, and advocate for policies that lead towards, or away from, that scenario.

Over the coming months MMP will closely monitor the triggers and scenarios identified in the exercise, to better understand how the current migration situation is evolving, to identify new and emerging scenarios, to address information needs and gaps, and to advocate for improved migration policies.

Numbers Matter: The Challenges of Inconsistent Data on Displacement and Migration

At the end of 2015, some 65.3 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide, 39% of them from the Middle East or North Africa. With numbers likely higher in 2016, protecting the displaced remains an important and ongoing issue. Why then are accurate and consistent figures regarding refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants often so difficult to find?

In a recent opinion piece, Paul Currion, a former aid worker, argues that “without knowing the numbers, it is impossible to make the right decisions about how to respond, with policy or in practice”. Understanding the scale of displacement, and those affected by it, is imperative to the provision of appropriate aid and policy responses. Yet “the numbers” are not always accurate, when they are available to policy makers and humanitarian groups at all.

A case in point came in 2015 when Nando Sigona, Deputy Director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham, noted major discrepancies in the EU’s migrant arrival figures for the first nine months of 2015. FRONTEX claimed that as of September, some 710,000 refugees and other migrants had crossed the EU’s external borders in 2015, an “unprecedented inflow of people”. These figures were significantly higher than those reported by the UN (588,247 arrivals from January to October) and IOM (593,432 through 12 October), a fact later explained by FRONTEX’s admission that people had been double counted if they crossed multiple EU borders.

Similar issues abound when it comes to collecting data on children and young people on the move in Europe. Differing definitions of children travelling alone in Europe, and diverse methods of counting those who fall under particular definitions, have led to inconsistencies when comparing the number of unaccompanied minors in various countries. EU member states differ in their national definitions of ‘unaccompanied minor’ especially with respect to age and what it means to be ‘unaccompanied’. Additionally, some countries include all people who claim to be unaccompanied minors (without age assessments) in their statistics, while others only include those whose age has been confirmed. In Spain, data is provided in distinct formats in various regions, while the four nations of the UK all collect and publish statistics in different ways. Double counting of unaccompanied minors is reportedly common in Italy, where children may be recorded by more than one local authority at the same time as the pass through various cities and regions, mainly a result of limited coordination between databases.

The impetus for this blog came from difficulties faced by MMP when collecting data for the December Monthly Migration Summary (available here). Escalating violence in Mosul and the surrounding areas in October, November, and December has forced some thousands of Iraqis to flee across the Syrian border, and in particular to the Al-Hol refugee camp in Al-Hasakeh governorate. Available figures for people affected by this displacement, however, vary considerably and paint an unclear picture of the situation. According to UNHCR, as of 31 December, 6,204 Iraqis have fled to Syria from Mosul since 17 October, while WFP figures indicate the number is closer to 12,000. Al Jazeera goes further still, reporting that 14,000 Iraqis crossed the Syrian border from Mosul in the span of a month. At worst, these inconsistencies may have profound implications for policy and aid decisions concerning the protection of vulnerable and displaced people, while at best they make it difficult to understand the precise magnitude of the situation, and to calculate the number of people fleeing.

The issue of data consistency and reliability is a difficult one that will require innovative approaches and collaborative efforts to address. Currion acknowledges that there are valid reasons for flawed data and inaccurate numbers including practical obstacles that accompany data collection on mobile populations, as well as methodological questions regarding exactly who to count and where. Data on displaced populations may also be highly politicised when, for example, it is in the interest of a government to downplay or exaggerate a crisis. These obstacles represent a unique opportunity for data sharing and collaboration between humanitarian organisations, governments, the media, and other relevant groups. With displacement in the Middle East as complex and protracted as it is, reliable and consistent information is imperative to creating policy and aid responses that meet the protection needs of all vulnerable people on the move.

This is the first in an ongoing series of blogs on the theme ‘Numbers Matter’. 


Migration to Europe: four myths about women and girls on the move

On a global scale, women and girls make up half of the world’s refugees and half of global migrants, but when it comes to those travelling to Europe, the story is quite different. According to the latest figures from Eurostat, females accounted for only 32% of all asylum applicants to EU countries in 2016 and have made up similarly low proportions for the past seven years.

Despite this, the proportion of women and girls among refugees and other migrants to Europe is increasing, especially among asylum seekers of certain nationalities. Compared to the year before, 2016 saw increased proportions of female applicants from all but one of the top ten nationalities of new arrivals to Europe – including a 47% increase in the proportion of women and girls from Iraq and 46% from Afghanistan.

So why is this happening? And will the gender balance continue to shift? We take a look at some myths and some facts to help explain what’s so remarkable about the migration of women and girls to Europe.

Myth 1: Cultural traditions mean that women are less likely to migrate than men

In the past two years, over 60% of all asylum seekers in the EU have originated from just five countries: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, all affected by war, ongoing conflict and chronic insecurity. Despite coming to Europe for the same main reasons – safety and security, followed by access to employment, education and healthcare – the proportion of women and girls among asylum seekers of each of these nationalities differs greatly. In 2016 for example, women and girls made up over a third of all Syrian asylum seekers – 36% – compared to 29% of those from Afghanistan and only 6% from Pakistan.

While the figures above clearly show that nationality plays a role – influenced in part by social and cultural norms – women are often active rather than passive actors in the decision to migrate. One assessment from the Western Balkans found that married women frequently reported that the decision to travel was taken jointly with their husbands, while a small minority of women had deliberately left ahead of male family members, believing it would be easier for them to be granted asylum. With evidence from Syria suggesting that ongoing conflict is changing traditional gender roles and leaving some women with increased access to employment, greater autonomy and aspirations of continued independence, it is possible that evolving cultural norms may bring further tangible change to the composition of migration flows in the future.

Myth 2: Girls are just as likely to travel as boys

The UN refugee agency provides data on arrivals by sea for women, men and children, grouping all those aged under 18 into a single category and reinforcing the idea that girls are travelling as often as boys. Eurostat data, however, shows greater numbers of boys than girls applying for asylum – of the 291,665 minors for whom information was available in 2016, boys accounted for 58% and girls 42%.

Grouping girls and boys together as simply “children” also fails to take into account the difference between children travelling with family members, and unaccompanied minors, who are ten times more likely to be male than female. According to the latest available figures from Eurostat, girls made up only 9% of all asylum applications by unaccompanied minors in 2015. Girls and boys have different specific needs and face differing levels of risk along the journey – grouping them together as children fails to take this into account.

Myth 3: Women and girls on the move face greater risks than men and boys

Early last year, news about the growing numbers of women arriving in Europe led to numerous reports on the specific risks they faced along the journey, including health complications, sexual and gender based violence, exploitation and trafficking. While of significant cause for concern, available evidence suggests that women and girls on the move face different levels of risk relative to men and boys at different moments of their migration, leaving them both more and less vulnerable to different threats – a nuance that is often overlooked.

One IOM study of 1,545 refugees and other migrants along the Eastern Mediterranean route found that men were more likely than women to report exposure to a range of risks, including being forced to work, held against their will, or not having received payment for work completed. While the short surveys of this study are not exhaustive and it is possible that protection incidents – particularly of a more sensitive nature – may have been under-reported, these findings show how men can often be more vulnerable to certain threats, especially those travelling alone.

Myth 4: Women are as likely to be granted asylum as men

Despite generally being considered a more vulnerable group by humanitarian responders, women and girls are actually slightly less likely than men and boys to file a successful claim for asylum in the EU. According to figures from Eurostat, 51% of female asylum applicants were rejected by EU states in 2015, compared to 49% of male applicants. According to a study of reception and asylum in Germany, women frequently struggled to access female interviewers, interpreters and childcare, adding to their difficulties to file a successful claim. Ensuring a gender-sensitive asylum application process is vital to ensure all cases receive fair consideration, regardless of gender.

So what now?

Since the formal closure of the Western Balkans route and general tightening of borders across Europe, women, men, boys and girls have continued to leave conflict-affected countries in search of asylum in Europe. While a lower overall number of new arrivals, 2016 saw more people travelling through “covert means” due to a lack of legal alternatives – a situation likely to continue into 2017. Such covert means include overstaying visas, using the services of smugglers, or travelling through other irregular means. For those hoping to join existing family members already in Europe, access to family reunification schemes will also continue to be important. Tightening restrictions suggest the process is getting more difficult, however, leading to fears that it may be at best drawn-out and at worst unattainable, and raising the possibility of increasing reliance upon more dangerous alternatives.

More information is available in our latest briefing paper: Women and girls on the move: a gender analysis of migration to Europe.

Figures on asylum applications and decisions are based on Eurostat’s database on Asylum and managed migration. Unless otherwise stated, figures for 2016 are collated from monthly data covering the period from January to October. Photo credit: Noe Falk Nielsen/DRC.

People on the move in the Middle East vulnerable again this winter

As the sixth winter since the Syrian refugee crisis began sets in, the need for winterisation support to vulnerable people on the move has again come to the fore. As detailed in MMP’s latest Mixed Migration Monthly Summary, November saw local media report the weather-related deaths of two children fleeing Mosul at the Rajm Slebi border crossing between Iraq and Syria, warnings of expected hypothermia cases at the Berm between Jordan and Syria, deadly rough seas in the Mediterranean and relocations of refugees and other migrants to warmer accommodation in Greece.

Photo: Serbia blankets – Info Park – Miodrag Cakic

Harsh conditions can be expected to bring further negative impacts this winter, as has happened in previous years. Winter storms have heavily affected refugee settlements in the past, and could easily recur again this season. Storms Alexia (December 2013) and Huda/Zeina (January 2015) swept across the Middle East damaging shelters and infrastructure and limiting the supply of emergency relief.

Fortunately winterisation response efforts are improving, with humanitarian responders learning year on year from past experience and establishing technical guidance. Organisations are increasingly ready to respond with the provision of emergency shelters and winter response packages, which include items such as sleeping bags, thermal blankets, raincoats, socks, clothes, and footwear. Cash too has become an important modality to respond to winter needs.

Refugees and other migrants, on the move or in protracted situations for multiple seasons, have slowly accumulated equipment and techniques to cope with the cold. Yet they also resort to negative coping mechanisms to survive the winter, reducing food consumption and taking on debt to pay for fuel, shelter and clothing.

Concerns are even greater for the newly displaced, numbers of whom have increased significantly in November. This winter coincides with major escalations in conflict in both Syria and Iraq. While plans to respond are in place and winter needs are clearly recognised, funding for winterisation programmes in the region remains well below what is necessary. As of mid-December, the largest funding gap for UNHCR’s Mosul response was for its winter programme.

Not only has the escalation in conflict caused new displacement, it has also facilitated returns, as control of areas changes and stability is restored in different places, particularly in Iraq. But with houses and infrastructure damaged and destroyed, and electricity and fuel in short supply, returnees too are likely to face a tough winter. It is a problem Afghan returnees are already facing as a major returns programme coincides with the onset of a harsh winter and inadequate shelter conditions.

Despite the fact that this winter brings new challenges, and preparedness is slowly improving, some problems remain the same: without the necessary funding commitments people on the move are likely to feel the consequences of the cold once again this year.



No way in, no way out: Apprehensions raise significant protection concerns along Turkey’s southern border

Up to 16,000 people have been displaced from Aleppo since government forces began a “renewed push” into the eastern part of the city on 15 November. Many have fled north towards the border with Turkey, and more can be expected as the fighting intensifies. They join an estimated 100,000 people already stranded on the Syrian side of the border. While international attention continues to focus on refugees and migrants entering, or attempting to enter, EU countries from Turkey, less consideration is given to the thousands of people trying to enter Turkey itself. Despite limited attention towards arrivals at the Turkish border, the number of people apprehended entering Turkey irregularly in October far exceeded the number who left in the same way.

Almost 100,000 people were reportedly apprehended along the Turkish borders with Syria and Iraq in September and October alone. By comparison, the Turkish Coast Guard reported only 2,437 ‘irregular migrants’ leaving Turkey and attempting the crossing to Europe in October, a figure 94.2% smaller than the number apprehended entering the country by land in the same month.

Disproportionate attention to refugees crossing to Greece and limited information about the number of people who manage to cross Turkey’s land borders undetected risks ignoring a large group of potentially vulnerable refugees and other migrants, who in many ways are invisible to the media and public eye. While Turkish officials claim that the country maintains an ‘open door’ policy for emergency situations, the land border has been effectively closed since March 2015, with strict visa requirements for Syrians entering Turkey by air or sea making it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to cross legally. While critical medical cases are being admitted through the two official border crossings that remain open with Syria, at most only 200 people are allowed entry per day – a fraction of the number apprehended by border guards when trying to cross irregularly.

Reports of violence, abuse, and deaths at the Turkey-Syria border only heighten concerns for the protection of people attempting to enter Turkey whilst fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq, although the Turkish government maintains that claims of violence “do not reflect the reality at the border.

Refugees and other migrants must also contend with the wall being constructed along Turkey’s 900km border with Syria – 200km of which has already been constructed. This project has a completion date of February 2017 and aims to fence off the entire border.

Figure 5: Individuals apprehended by Turkish authorities in October 2016

Syrians face physical and legal barriers to escape in other directions too. With an estimated 85,000 Syrians stuck at Syria’s border with Jordan, and strict visa requirements blocking the passage of refugees into Lebanon, exiting Syria has become an almost impossible task.

Nonetheless, it must be assumed that many do manage to flee into Turkey and onwards, with 2,970 refugees and other migrants arriving in Greece by sea in October alone. The 100,000 people apprehended by Turkish border guards throughout September and October make up just part of the total flow of refugees and other migrants entering Turkey irregularly.

Increased border restrictions often lead to irregular movements of people across borders, accompanied by increased risks for people on the move. IOM’s data shows that the number of people reporting experiences of trafficking or other exploitative practices along the Eastern Mediterranean route has increased from 6.5% in May, to 14% in September, a change likely tied to the closure of the Western Balkans route and the implementation of the EU-Turkey Agreement. Reported experiences include people being held against their will by non-governmental authorities (often smugglers), forced labour, and lack of payment for work throughout the journey to Europe.

In the same way, hidden, or ignored, people moving irregularly into Turkey likely face significant vulnerability and protection concerns, which need further and immediate attention.

For more information on this and other mixed migration issues in the Middle East, please access the Mixed Migration Platform’s October Mixed Migration Summary (accessible here).

Mixed Migration Platform: A new data and information resource on mixed migration flows in the Middle East

Migration is not a new phenomenon. Despite this, the recent movement of tens of thousands of people, primarily from Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries, to Europe has captured the public’s attention in new and staggering ways. This is particularly true of irregular migration. Given its unclear definition, a perceived lack of order marks it out as a ‘phenomenon’ that needs to be addressed.

The increase in the rate of migration of people to Europe over the course of the past three years has been a double-edged sword.

While it has shown that people on the move have critical needs, it has dominated the conversation, minimising the attention paid to other mixed migration movements in the Middle East, within different African regions and in Asia. As irregular migration to Europe has endured, attitudes towards people in mixed migration flows there, and further afield, have evolved. Initially people moving towards Europe – principally individuals in precarious protection situations – were welcomed and received with empathy; with continued arrivals, this compassionate reception shifted, and as borders became enforced the effects were felt all along the routes people travelled.

Mixed migration flows – which can be made up of refugees, asylum seekers, smugglers, traffickers, economic migrants, and other groups of displaced persons – are a reality of modern migration. They can be, and often are, non-linear and non-homogenous, and vary in size and composition (inclusive of race, nationality, religion, education and so on). In recent years the conflict in Syria has played a significant part in mixed migration flows to, within and from the Middle East; so too have conflict situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and countries in the Horn of Africa. The movements of people in the Middle East exist on a large and varied scale. With much of the attention focused specifically on Syrian nationals within these flows, information around the humanitarian, social, economic and political implications of the movement of other nationalities in the region has been less highlighted.

In relation to such large scale and enduring migration in the region, three things have become evident:

  1. Major information gaps exist and there is a need to undertake data gathering, research and analysis to address these.
  2. Advocacy around key issues relevant to mixed migration flows is needed.
  3. People moving irregularly often have acute and differing protection concerns, as well as key information needs.

In response to this, seven international NGOs (ACAPS, DRC, Ground Truth Solutions, IMPACT Initiatives, Internews, INTERSOS, and Translators with Borders) have come together to address these key issues regarding mixed migration in the Middle East and have created the Mixed Migration Platform (MMP). The platform’s work is divided into two pillars – the generation and dissemination of quality data, research and analysis to inform the policy, programming and advocacy work of relevant actors, and the provision of quality data to people within mixed migration flows moving to, within and from the Middle East. MMP will also strive to ensure the utility of the information generated through outreach including conferences, workshops, bilateral meetings and representation at key events.

As one MMP partner states, information changes lives, and with this in mind the platform will work to ensure the vulnerabilities of those within mixed migration flows, are addressed.

MMP has begun preliminary analysis and is in the process of developing a comprehensive website that will provide a repository for its work. While this development is in process, check back here for mixed migration related blog posts and content in the coming weeks.