Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe
Operational information on the Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe subregion is presented below. A summary of this can also be downloaded in PDF format. This subregion covers the following countries:
By clicking on the icons on the map, additional information is displayed.
The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.
Budgets and Expenditure in Subregion Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe
People of Concern - 2020[["Refugees",2955849],["Asylum-seekers",797188],["Stateless",351111],["Others of concern",19312]]
Response in 2020As States put in place containment measures and adapted asylum processes in response to the public health crisis, UNHCR sought to share good practice across the region and provided direct support to front-line workers and people of concern.
First-time asylum applications received in 32 European countries declined 31% in 2020. All countries in Western Europe saw a drop in asylum applications. New arrivals to Southern Europe decreased by almost 23%, with sea arrivals in Greece down 84% from 2019. In contrast, Italy and Spain saw an increase in sea arrivals, with 34,000 individuals arriving in Italy (up threefold from 2019) and 42,000 in Spain (a 29% increase). The Canary Islands saw nearly nine times as many arrivals as in 2019. Asylum claims in the Nordic and Baltic countries reached a historic low, mainly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, with an overall 39% compared to last year. In Central Europe, the overall number of applications slightly decreased, except for a 138% jump in Romania. Hungary’s particularly restrictive COVID-19 measures reduced asylum applications by 77% when compared with 2019.
UNHCR welcomed the release of the European Union’s proposed Pact on Migration and Asylum in September 2020, which sought to foster greater solidarity and responsibility-sharing. UNHCR urged EU Member States and institutions to adopt effective, protection-sensitive, border procedures and a predictable solidarity mechanism and issued recommendations and technical advice to inform the negotiations.
UNHCR worked with countries to ensure access to asylum in the region despite COVID-19, and to strengthen asylum systems and reception capacity. UNHCR worked closely with partners and civil society to identify needs, employ innovative protection and assistance measures, and support people of concern throughout the pandemic. UNHCR advocated for the inclusion of people of concern in national health responses, vaccination campaigns and social protection schemes.
UNHCR ensured that people of concern had timely updates in appropriate languages and formats to inform them about COVID-19 mitigation measures, government regulations and changes in service provision. While circumstances curtailed UNHCR’s access to local authorities and monitoring activities in remote areas, refugee communities and volunteers were mobilized to keep people of concern informed.
UNHCR provided operational support to States faced with increased arrivals or overwhelmed reception structures, supporting and the improvement of living conditions at reception centres in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain.
In Cyprus, UNHCR advocated strongly, together with relevant partners, for improved reception conditions, and intervened to improve hygiene facilities, electricity coverage and medical assistance and to create safe zones for the most vulnerable. UNHCR provided refugee housing units, tents, beds, blankets and sanitary materials. Through advocacy and technical advice, UNHCR supported the improvement of the identification of vulnerabilities within the asylum process and initial steps towards establishing a best interest determination procedure. Regional organizations, intergovernmental bodies.
In Italy UNHCR informed people of concern about access to services and asylum procedures through the Juma website and a helpline. UNHCR provided comments to authorities on new legal provisions on residence registration, the exclusion of persons with specific needs from the application of accelerated procedures, and the adoption of standard operating procedures for early identification of persons with specific needs. UNHCR progressed with the planned phasing out of direct engagement in the refugee status determination, while enhancing its quality monitoring role. UNHCR monitored reception conditions and conducted outreach in formal and informal settlements and rolled out a standard methodology for intervention with gender-based violence survivors. UNHCR launched child-friendly information and expanded the Welcome project, which aims to increase refugee employment in private companies. In partnerships with universities, UNHCR developed two additional education pathways.
High numbers of sea arrivals in Malta led to overcrowding of detention and reception facilities. UNHCR focused on ensuring access to territory and procedure and improving law and policy by offering expertise and enhanced engagement with asylum authorities. UNHCR monitored reception conditions and identified the most imminent needs, addressing COVID-19 health necessities, gender-based violence and the specific needs of unaccompanied children. UNHCR developed a communication with communities’ strategy, provided psychological and legal support to people of concern, and strengthened relations with stakeholders on employment, social services, health and education to ensure people of concern were included in the national preparedness and action strategy.
In Portugal, UNHCR supported the Government’s work on improving reception, efficient asylum procedures for vulnerable individuals and integration, including in education. UNHCR provided technical support to the authorities and capacity-building to organizations involved in the reception of unaccompanied children relocated from Greece, as well as on statelessness. Participatory assessments enhanced refugee participation in institutional decision-making.
UNHCR Spain increased its capacity in the Canary Islands to support the authorities with the reception of new arrivals. In southern Spain, UNHCR aimed at improving local actors’ understanding and identification of protection needs among mixed population flows. UNHCR engaged at central, regional and local level with civil society and academia to improve the identification of specific needs including persons with disabilities, gender-based violence prevention and response, child protection and education, and integration opportunities. UNHCR was particularly influential in enhancing the authorities’ capacity to identify the international protection needs of children. Refugee volunteers, hotlines and improved connectivity in reception centres improved communication with people of concern. UNHCR used various digital media to counter negative public attitudes towards refugees. The positive experiences in community sponsorship programmes provided a ramp to expand to new regions and initiate opportunities for education pathways and integration.
In Belgium, UNHCR’s advocacy helped mitigate the adverse effects of COVID-19 measures, counter restrictions on family reunification, and support the resumption of resettlement and relocation of unaccompanied and separated children from Greece. The creation of five refugee committees and an umbrella organization helped promote integration of refugees, following a UNHCR campaign to encourage “buddying” with refugees. UNHCR’s digital engagement was significantly strengthened, new ways of influencing explored through various digital platforms and targeted content. Teaching about refugee project was expanded with additional material, with the completion of three additional video exercises, and further translation.
UNHCR continued to build on Ireland’s significant commitments at the Global Refugee Forum on sustainable funding for UNHCR, education, peace building, the involvement of the private sector and a four-year commitment to increase resettlement, notably facilitating exchanges between UNHCR field operations and Irish Refugee protection programme. UNHCR made significant contributions to the Day Advisory Group which reported in 2020 on the provision of support and accommodation to people of concern.
In Luxembourg, UNHCR published a report on the quality of the asylum procedure and discussed recommendations with the authorities. Public attention was drawn to the importance of family reunification as well as on the Rohingya crisis during the Festival des Migrations.
In the Netherlands, UNHCR provided support for remote interviews when COVID-19 reduced embassies’ capacity. UNHCR commented on a proposed amendment to the Aliens Decree and Draft Decree on Naturalization and engaged with asylum authorities in support of improved quality and efficient procedures. In line with the Global Refugee Forum, a mapping of refugee-led organizations was conducted and cooperation with them strengthened to offer a platform for key policymakers.
In France, UNHCR engaged in multi-faceted advocacy on access to the territory, asylum procedures, reception conditions and accommodation and integration. The Office worked towards improving the public perception of refugees and increasing participation of people of concern in policy design. UNHCR promoted the reinforcement of complementary pathways, notably through education and private sponsorship mechanisms. UNHCR created innovative partnerships and synergies to develop education about refugees and promote social inclusion, fight against discrimination and encourage access to employment. Refugees with medical knowledge were mobilized to contribute to the national COVID-19 response. A comprehensive strategy was developed to foster integration through sport, including partnerships with cities, institutions, sport clubs, national federations in rugby and football and civil society organizations.
In Germany, UNHCR expanded its cooperation with government counterparts on global refugee policy and on specific refugee situations of interest. UNHCR engaged in consultations with the German EU Presidency on border procedures and their links to solidarity mechanisms, with increased attention on issues related to the quality of asylum procedures, such as cases in which the status had been revoked without cause, and the need for asylum-seekers to be better informed about their obligations under the asylum procedure. Bilateral negotiations with the authorities and expert roundtables co-organized by UNHCR resolved a number of challenges in the area of family reunification.
In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, UNHCR worked with civil society, host communities and the private sector in providing reception, inclusion and solutions to refugees and stateless persons. UNHCR actively advocated for the development of a post-Dublin mechanism, support for the arrival of unaccompanied minors, an expansive approach to family reunion and development of complementary pathways.
In Central Europe, UNHCR engaged with authorities, media and civil society to defend the right to seek asylum, advocate for access to territory and fair procedures, promote appropriate reception conditions, and encourage integration efforts through support for health care and education, employment and housing. In particular, in light of the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, UNHCR advocated for inclusion of people of concern in social protection measures.
UNHCR supported coherence and consistency in addressing statelessness in the region by facilitating the exchange of good practices and by reviewing draft documents, including legislative comments and statelessness studies.
In Bulgaria, improvements in integration partnerships with municipalities on integration included the creation of the Association of Teachers of Bulgarian as a Foreign Language. UNHCR's advocacy secured access to social services for asylum-seekers and stateless persons. UNHCR set up the Refugee Advisory Board, enabling refugee participation in policymaking and training them on leadership skills. To respond to the needs arising in the COVID context. Given the exceptional circumstances, livelihood support was provided to the most vulnerable people of concern.
In the Czech Republic, UNHCR supported people of concern through the established volunteer network. Capacity-building continued mainly through online platforms. The “Hello the Czech Republic” campaign encouraged dialogue between refugees and the local population.
In Croatia, UNHCR continued to share reports of pushbacks with the authorities and advocated for the establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism. UNHCR operated a 24/7 hotline, an especially important channel of information after the earthquakes and during the pandemic. Monitoring focused on access to health care for women, children, pregnant women, and persons with disabilities. Partners operated mobile teams providing legal counselling, information and interpretation support during lockdown and in the aftermath of the earthquake. UNHCR advocated for the inclusion of asylum-seeker children in distance-learning programmes.
In Hungary, a new procedure virtually blocked access to territory in June 2020. UNHCR shared its observations on the new asylum legislation and related restrictive measures and challenged the systematic denial of access to asylum through strategic litigation. UNHCR opposed the detention of asylum-seekers—especially children—and promoted the use of alternatives to detention. After a decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union which prompted the transfer of asylum-seekers from detention in border zones to open centres, UNHCR continued its support in the areas of gender-based violence, child protection and sexual exploitation and abuse. UNHCR built on a pilot community outreach project that was set up to promote two-way communication between refugees and organizations.
In Moldova, UNHCR delivered online training related to refugee status determination, both for decision-makers and for the judiciary. UNHCR participated in UN country team discussions to ensure people of concerns were included in projects to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
In Poland, UNHCR’s comments on legislation resulted in a wider scope of coverage under the law on social assistance, while regular dialogue with authorities preserved access to asylum during the pandemic and adapted it to include written requests for asylum. UNHCR worked with universities on potential scholarships for refugee students. UNHCR delivered tailor-made training sessions on refugees for first-line responders.
In Romania, UNHCR’s engagement led to positive changes on integration, in particular with regard to the education legislation, amended to facilitate the enrollment of people of concern in language courses and formal schooling. In the COVID-19 context, UNHCR provided hygiene items and PPE. A pilot “matching and mentoring programme” to foster youth refugee participation together with local volunteers was launched. Women were encouraged to become community representatives in the Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) and standard operating procedures were developed on identification and referral of vulnerable individuals, including gender-based violence survivors, while partners received yearly training. A new partnership on gender-based violence was established with a local NGO.
In Slovenia, UNHCR implemented a project on psychosocial counselling for gender-based violence survivors and initiated the development of standard operating procedures for legal representatives of unaccompanied and separated children. UNHCR developed its country-level plans for community-based protection and for protection against sexual exploitation and abuse.
In Slovakia, UNHCR initiated innovative partnerships with education institutions and cultural organizations to promote positive attitudes towards refugees. UNHCR also coordinated with an NGO-led initiative and IOM on advocacy for relocation of unaccompanied children to Slovakia.
In Northern Europe, UNHCR conducted interventions with authorities, capacity-building and judicial engagement.
UNHCR advocated for the Nordic countries to maintain or increase their resettlement quotas and laid the ground for development community sponsorship programmes to scrap restrictions on family reunification for resettled refugees, and to reduce family reunification fees.
In Denmark, UNHCR published advocacy papers on national, EU and international protection. Child-friendly asylum procedures were adopted and a mapping on statelessness published. In Finland, UNHCR conducted a feasibility study on community sponsorship, and its advocacy helped improve the law on legal aid. In Iceland, UNHCR monitored relocated unaccompanied minors from Greece. In Norway, UNHCR helped the authorities develop new guidance on asylum credibility assessment. In Sweden, UNHCR focused on child protection and supported a parliamentary inquiry on nationality.
In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, UNHCR improved the authorities’ ability to identify potential asylum-seekers and vulnerabilities, and to assess reception and detention conditions. UNHCR mobilized the support of Western embassies to advocate for the Baltic States’ continued participation in resettlement and other responsibility-sharing mechanisms, as well as for integration measures and addressing secondary movements. UNHCR worked closely with partners to collect data and analyse legal developments, provide counselling to people of concern and offer legal counselling and representation.
Cooperation on integration was prioritised through the provision of a variety of integration related services and programmes, closer cooperation with regional entities and municipalities, capacity-building initiatives, research contributing to development of integration strategies and integration indicators, as well as promoting inclusion and participation of all persons of concern to UNHCR. In Lithuania, rollout of the Global Detention Strategy helped improve detention practices and conditions.
UNHCR capitalized on the High-Level Segment pledges with advice, legal comments, capacity-building and awareness raising to improve safeguards for stateless children.
Working environment and response in 2020In recent years, many people have sought protection in Europe. Some refugees from beyond the immediate region – such as Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Iraq – are seeking safety from conflicts and violence in other parts of the world, which have sparked large-scale and protracted displacement.
With a limited number of safe pathways and lengthy process for accessing people, many fleeing persecution have few choices, including those trying to reunite with family members in Europe.
By the end of 2019, the number of people of concern in Europe is expected to have stabilized, with some 11.2 million refugees and migrants continuing to cross the Mediterranean Sea, although in decreasing numbers. In Southern Europe, Italy will continue to witness a decline in sea arrivals in 2020, while Spain will witness a growing number of arrivals from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Despite population figures stabilizing, UNHCR’s focus will remain on creating or strengthening States’ capacities to process asylum claims and protect the large number of children arriving in Europe, often unaccompanied.
UNHCR will continue to strengthen its external relations and communication to: steer political and public discussions on refugee and migration issues; ensure people of concern’s access to territory and asylum; stop push-backs at borders in the region to neighbouring countries; support the reinforcement and development of well-functioning asylum systems; improve reception conditions; reinforce access to effective protection systems and durable solutions, in particular integration; strengthen partnerships; and lead interagency efforts to improve Europe’s response to its refugee and displacement situations.
UNHCR will continue to implement its multi-year, multi-partner planning in Northern Europe, which comprises better access to territory and quality asylum procedures; greater focus on the integration of people of concern into host communities; the establishment of child-sensitive systems for refugee and migrant children; and finding solutions beyond Europe for people of concern, such as increased resettlement and use of legal pathways. UNHCR will also capitalize on the Nordic countries’ strong engagement with the Global Compact on Refugees and Global Refugee Forum to generate political and financial support to its global activities and mandate, and to increase awareness about refugee situations and their causes.
In Western Europe, UNHCR will strengthen its focus on EU engagement and advocacy at the highest political and strategic levels. Its aims will be to ensure enhanced political and policy partnership with the EU; continue and increase EU funding; in the context of the GCR, ensure the interests of people of concern are reflected in EU policies.
A large number of refugees remain in need of solutions in many European countries, but popular support for political parties with an anti-migration stance is on the rise. In this context, UNHCR will use proactive, timely and targeted media engagement to counter negative political rhetoric. The protection and solutions strategy will focus on improving the quality of national asylum procedures and reception conditions; strengthening the prevention of, and response to, sexual and gender-based violence; protecting unaccompanied and separated children; and expanding legal pathways, including access to family reunification, integration and the eradication of statelessness.
UNHCR will continue to engage in advocacy and capacity building activities with governments and civil society in Central Europe. More effort will be made to monitor and increase interventions at sensitive borders where push-back to neighouring countries occurs, such as Croatia. Through judicial engagement and strategic litigation, UNHCR will seek to address protection gaps in international and national legal frameworks. Strategic partnerships with the EC, EASO/EUAA, FRONTEX, FRA, CoE, OSCE/ OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human rights, IOM, other UN agencies and other protection actors will be pursued at regional and national levels. UNHCR’s active engagement with the public and policy makers to foster attitudes and policies that are favourable to refugees and asylum-seekers remains a priority.
In Southern Europe, where there are fewer arrivals in Italy but more in Spain, UNHCR will focus on litigation and the quality assurance of refugee status determination; supporting the integration of refugees in host communities; prevention of sexual and gender-based violence; and access to special care and services for unaccompanied and separated children. The Office will gradually adjust its role in Italy and upgrade monitoring to support the multi-year transition of the eligibility system. It will support quality monitoring of reception standards; facilitate access to information and services for people of concern; and boost local and national stakeholders’ knowledge of community-based protection. UNHCR will continue to influence legislation and policy to ensure higher standards of protection and access to territory in Cyprus, and it will promote the integration of refugees and asylum-seekers in the sub-region.
2020 Budget and Expenditure in Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe | USD
|Belgium Multi-Country Office||Budget|
|Hungary Regional Office||Budget|
|Italy Multi-Country Office||Budget|
|Spain Multi-Country Office||Budget|
|Sweden Multi-Country Office||Budget|
2020 Voluntary Contributions to Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe | USD
|Earmarking / Donor||Pillar 1
|Belgium Multi-Country Office|
|United States of America||5,350||0||0||5,350|
|Belgium Multi-Country Office subtotal||335,274||0||10,044||345,318|
|Private donors in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland||5,175||0||0||5,175|
|United States of America||0||0||500,000||500,000|
|Private donors in France||52,304||0||0||52,304|
|Education Cannot Wait||2,166,695||0||0||2,166,695|
|European Economic Area||608,767||0||0||608,767|
|Private donors in Austria||0||0||4,743||4,743|
|Private donors in Belgium||0||0||22,236||22,236|
|Private donors in Brazil||0||0||1,552||1,552|
|Private donors in Canada||0||0||30,712||30,712|
|Private donors in Denmark||0||0||9,037||9,037|
|Private donors in France||112,233||0||60,766||173,000|
|Private donors in Germany||871,584||0||337,532||1,209,116|
|Private donors in Italy||0||0||28,570||28,570|
|Private donors in Liechtenstein||0||0||134,656||134,656|
|Private donors in Mexico||0||0||1,701||1,701|
|Private donors in Singapore||0||0||466||466|
|Private donors in Spain||0||0||398,926||398,926|
|Private donors in Sweden||125,000||0||920||125,920|
|Private donors in Switzerland||16,322||0||271,062||287,384|
|Private donors in the Netherlands||0||0||193,572||193,572|
|Private donors in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland||124,024||0||168,364||292,388|
|Private donors in the United States of America||340,000||0||640,400||980,400|
|United States of America||1,750,464||0||2,700,000||4,450,464|
|Hungary Regional Office|
|Private donors in the Netherlands||38,721||0||0||38,721|
|Private donors in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland||5,175||0||0||5,175|
|United States of America||0||0||1,000,000||1,000,000|
|Hungary Regional Office subtotal||43,896||0||1,493,733||1,537,629|
|Private donors in France||112,233||0||0||112,233|
|Private donors in Italy||5,580||0||119||5,700|
|Private donors in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland||18,665||0||0||18,665|
|Italy MCO subtotal||4,979,449||0||55,307||5,034,756|
|Private donors in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland||2,815||0||0||2,815|
|United States of America||21,400||0||0||21,400|
|Spain Multi-Country Office|
|Spain Multi-Country Office subtotal||449,986||0||356,751||806,737|
|Sweden Multi-Country Office|
|Sweden Multi-Country Office subtotal||0||200,000||0||200,000|
|United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland||250,983||0||0||250,983|
|United Kingdom subtotal||250,983||0||0||250,983|