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:
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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 - 2019[["Refugees",2876687],["Refugee-like situation",12249],["Asylum-seekers",906243],["Stateless",399728],["Others of concern",4413]]
Response in 2019The overall number of refugees and asylum-seekers arriving in Europe through the Mediterranean routes continued to decrease in 2019, while arrivals to Greece through the Aegean Sea nearly doubled and represented approximately 60% of all new arrivals. More than one third of new arrivals in Greece were children, of which 3,852 were unaccompanied and separated children. While the number of people who lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea decreased by more than 30% compared to 2018, the estimated 1,300 deaths reported indicated an increased mortality rate in proportion to the number of arrivals. Mediterranean search and rescue operations saw their operating capacity decrease further in 2019, while only limited progress was made in ensuring predictable disembarkation arrangements. The conditions on the Aegean islands deteriorated due to the slow pace of transfers from the islands resulting in overcrowding and leading to serious protection concerns.
The number of asylum applications received by the 32 European countries in the sub-region in 2019 remained relatively constant compared to 2018, although some countries – including Croatia, Malta, Spain, and Slovakia – experienced a notable increase. In Northern Europe, the number of asylum claims decreased by 3% in 2019. In Western Europe, asylum applications increased slightly in some countries (Belgium and Ireland), while decreasing in others (Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Switzerland). Control measures in the Mediterranean, Turkey and North Africa remained the main factors in the continued reduction of the number of asylum applications. In Southern Europe, all countries except Italy registered significant increases in asylum applications. Physical and legal barriers continued to deter onward movements through much of Central Europe.
UNHCR continued to work with countries to ensure access to asylum in the region, to strengthen asylum systems and improve reception capacity, while simultaneously advocating for an environment conducive to refugee inclusion and eventual integration. Investments in the socio-economic integration of refugees and migrants showed significant progress and potential. Examples of good practices, particularly at municipal level, were reported in many parts of Europe. Reception capacities and standards stabilized or improved in some parts of Europe, but remained inadequate in other areas, particularly with regard to child protection and the identification of people with specific needs and those at risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
Operations in Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe in 2019Western Europe
In Western Europe (Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland/Liechtenstein), UNHCR focused on the following regional priorities: improved reception; strengthened SGBV prevention and response; child protection; improved quality of national asylum procedures; expansion of legal pathways for admission, including access to family reunification; integration; as well as the eradication of statelessness. A proactive, targeted and integrated approach to communications was adopted to inform and influence discussions and reporting, and to gather information to support advocacy work, including to garner support for the GRF.
France continued to support refugees at the global and European levels. There was an increase of 7% in asylum applications compared to 2018, including a sharp increase (98%) in asylum applications lodged in French-overseas territories. UNHCR supported France in meeting its pledge to resettle 10,000 refugees in 2018-2019.
UNHCR provided technical recommendations aimed at strengthening the asylum system in France, particularly regarding the identification and referral of vulnerable individuals and the improvement of reception conditions. UNHCR promoted the integration of refugees through access to language training, as well as a range of other activities in line with the Global Compact on Refugees and pledges made at the 2019 GRF.
The number of asylum-seekers arriving in Germany continued to decrease in 2019. UNHCR worked with authorities to ensure access to efficient and fair asylum procedures.
Germany admitted over 10,200 refugees in 2018-2019 through resettlement, humanitarian admission or community sponsorship. A number of challenges in the area of family reunification were resolved in cooperation with the Federal Foreign Office through bilateral negotiations and expert roundtables co-organized by UNHCR.
In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (United Kingdom), asylum applications increased by 22%, however a number of political developments, including the United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union, resulted in a reduced focus on refugee and statelessness issues. UNHCR focused advocacy efforts on resettlement and asylum policy - particularly quality assurance to uphold efficient and fair decision making. Progress was made towards alternatives to detention, with the development of a pilot project, as well as on child protection through the implementation of three EU-funded projects.
Anti-foreigner sentiment remained prevalent in many parts of Central and South-East Europe in 2019 despite only a slight increase in the number of asylum-seekers compared to 2018. Physical and legal barriers continued to deter onward movements through Central Europe, including Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Strict border control measures led to instances of exploitation and abuse of asylum-seekers by smugglers. Reports of denial of access to territory and asylum were commonplace, in particular at the borders between Poland and Belarus, Hungary and Serbia, as well as Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In Croatia, UNHCR strengthened its protection monitoring and advocacy with authorities to investigate reports of mistreatment of people of concern at borders, while in Hungary and Poland, UNHCR continued to advocate for access to territory and procedures. Czechia, Moldova and Slovakia remained generally open to people in need of international protection while Romania increased its focus on control and security at its external borders.
UNHCR continued to engage with authorities, media and civil society to advocate for the right to seek asylum, access to territory, fair procedures, appropriate reception conditions, and integration efforts (especially in relation to health care, education, employment and housing). UNHCR supported the establishment of a working group on detention in Romania, to promote alternatives to detention. Regular monitoring, capacity-building and training was conducted in Bulgaria, Moldova, Poland and Romania to reduce the risks related to detention of people of concern – especially those with specific needs.
Despite the challenging environment, UNHCR advocated with national and local authorities, as well as civil society for the development of sustainable national integration frameworks. Several States in Central Europe made positive statements and a series of pledges in the context of the GRF, including for increased funding, increased resettlement places and a range of improved services for asylum-seekers.
In 2019, close to 11,500 migrants and refugees originating from 48 different countries arrived in Italy by sea, a 50% decrease compared to 2018. The top three nationalities were from Tunisia, Pakistan and Côte d’Ivoire. UNHCR strengthened its protection outreach and strategy in Italy, with emphasis on community-based protection. With limited integration prospects for refugees, UNHCR promoted job placements, vocational training and education.
Cyprus faced an unprecedented increase in first-time asylum-applications, with some 12,800 applications lodged - the highest number of applications per capita among EU Member States. The majority of applications were from Syrian, Georgian, Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals. The increase in arrivals saturated the country’s reception capacity, leading to a sharp increase in homelessness and poverty among people of concern. UNHCR enhanced its response through public information, advocacy and capacity-building.
In Malta, the number of boat arrivals increased by 136%, to 3,400, putting strain on the national system. To support the authorities, UNHCR strengthened its operational activities and shifted resources to help address protection gaps, particularly in relation to reception conditions, psychosocial support and the needs of unaccompanied and separated children.
Portugal maintained a welcoming environment for refugees in 2019, recording some 1,800 asylum-seeker arrivals (a 26% increase compared to 2018). Nearly 400 refugees were resettled and some 100 asylum-seekers and migrants were relocated to the country. The provision of legal assistance for asylum-seekers by a UNHCR partner continued, as did language, employment and integration services.
75% of the 118,300 asylum applications in Spain originated from visa-free Latin American countries, followed by Morocco and the Syrian Arab Republic. Despite political uncertainties in Spain, the Government made significant pledges at the GRF to reinforce responses to protection and integration challenges, as well as to increase responsibility-sharing. UNHCR continued its engagement in support of strengthened asylum procedures, while the provision of information to those arriving by sea was consolidated and outreach to refugees increased. Due to limited resources, UNHCR’s information campaigns could not reach all locations in Spain, including the Canary Islands.
As reception conditions improved, UNHCR carried out visits to reception centres on a needs basis in 2019, rather than systematically across the region. UNHCR advocated for “fast and fair” procedures and worked through quality assessments, capacity building and judicial engagement to improve refugee status determination in all countries. UNHCR continued its advocacy and technical support to ensure the sustainability of the protection environment in the region. Activities in the Nordic countries focused specifically on partnerships and labour market inclusion.
While numbers remained small, an increase of asylum applications was nevertheless observed in the Baltic States, with a 50% increase in Lithuania. UNHCR continued to engage with civil society, the private sector, municipalities and other new partners. UNHCR advocated for continued participation in resettlement, as well as for implementation of integration measures. A review of the study on policies and practices with respect to unaccompanied and separated children in Baltic States was completed.
In Denmark UNHCR focused on integration and solutions, including complementary pathways to admission such as community sponsorship. Denmark made substantial pledges at the GRF, including announcing the resumption of resettlement and increased funding. Also in the context of the GRF, Denmark led a pledge announced by Nordic countries committing to ensure sexual and reproductive health rights and protection against SGBV, including prioritizing the rights of women and girls in responses to forced displacement.
With the objective of reaching a young audience and garnering youth support for the refugee cause, UNHCR’s educational material was translated and disseminated in Finland. Work with the authorities on child-friendly procedures was strengthened. Discussions on and interest in complementary pathways and community sponsorship also increased during the year. Finland pledged to increase resettlement to at least 850 refugees in 2020.
The operation in Iceland focused on improving reception conditions, as well as supporting increased engagement in resettlement and complementary pathways for admission.
In Norway, UNHCR also advocated for improved reception conditions for children, including child-friendly information and mental health services. UNHCR cooperated with partners on good integration practices and policies and carried out consultations with refugees. At the GRF, Norway pledged to enhance its resettlement capacity and funding, as well as to address low rates of employment of refugees, and women specifically.
In Sweden, UNHCR advocated for greater attention to the initial reception of unaccompanied and separated children and conducted a mapping of actors dealing with SGBV issues to support future advocacy efforts. Sweden continued to be a key resettlement country in Europe, with a stable 5,000 persons per year quota, and provided constant support to the development of the “Three-year strategy on resettlement and complementary pathways”. UNHCR continued to engage with employers to promote refugee integration.
Operational EnvironmentBy the end of 2018, the number of people of concern in Europe is expected to reach some 11.4 million with refugees and migrants continuing to cross the Mediterranean Sea, although in decreasing numbers. Between January and July, the arrivals to Europe via Greece, Italy and Spain dropped by 41 per cent compared to last year. While new measures targeting mixed movements in the central Mediterranean led to fewer arrivals in Italy, the number of new arrivals increased in Spain by 130 per cent in the first seven month of 2018 compared to the same period last year.
UNHCR will continue to support states in the sub-region in strengthening asylum procedures, including the use of accelerated procedures, enhance the quality of reception conditions, strengthen the response to people with specific needs, in particular unaccompanied and separated children, and ensure a consistent and predictable approach to rescue at sea and disembarkation in the Mediterranean. UNHCR also continues to advocate for an expansion of resettlement programmes and the introduction of other complementary pathways for people of concern.
Response and ImplementationIn Central Europe, to counter the increasing xenophobia and growing racial discrimination including towards asylum-seekers and refugees, UNHCR will engage in various advocacy and capacity-building activities with government counterparts as well as with civil society, and will promote engagement by countries in the region in the CRRF and the Global Compacts. UNHCR will strengthen strategic partnerships with the EC, EASO/EUAA, FRONTEX, FRA, CoE, OSCE/ODIHR, IOM and other protection actors at regional and national levels, including with other agencies within the UN system.
UNHCR will work to ensure access to territories, promote protection-sensitive border management and prompt identification of people in need of international protection and those with special needs. UNHCR will also advocate for swifter family reunion under the Dublin Regulation. It will further offer support to governments through advocacy and training efforts to develop the capacity and quality of national reception and refugee status determination systems. UNHCR will also advocate for the development of mechanisms to identify and support refugees with specific needs, including UASC, women and girls, victims of torture or trafficking, LGBTI and SGBV survivors.
Being a UNHCR pilot for the multi-year multi-partner planning, UNHCR in Northern Europe developed a five-year strategy together with partners and (new) stakeholders, which focuses on access to territory; lean quality asylum procedures, including reception; child-sensitive processes; ending statelessness and supporting solutions beyond Europe, including funding, resettlement and legal pathways. Implementation of the joint planned is underway with excellent participation of external stakeholders particularly in the area of integration.
In Southern Europe UNHCR continues to work closely with the authorities to enhance first-line reception capacity including at disembarkation points; reinforce the identification and referral of people with specific needs; and develop practical work methodologies adapted to the mixed and onward movement context. UNHCR and IOM presented a joint proposal on regional disembarkation mechanism appealing to all European Union member States to establish predictable arrangements in the Mediterranean region for the disembarkation of people rescued at sea and support EU Member States receiving disproportionate numbers of asylum claims. Simultaneously these measures will ensure that asylum-seekers disembarked in the EU can access fair and effective asylum procedures. Following the increased sea arrivals and the strong interest by the government to address existing gaps in a collaborative manner, UNHCR is strengthening its operational involvement in Spain to ensure appropriate support. UNHCR will continue to be a convener for integration of refugees in the sub region and will engage in the implementation of national integration plans in Italy and Malta.
In Western Europe, UNHCR will continue to pursue efforts to ensure access to asylum through an enhanced and systematized monitoring and data collection capacity, as well as interventions regarding national legislative developments and through strategic judicial engagement. UNHCR will also provide technical expertise, training, coordination with authorities and partners to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence and other protection risks in reception centres, and to ensure effective protection to unaccompanied and separated children.
UNHCR’s advocacy will focus on the promotion of safe access to territory and fair and efficient asylum procedures, refugee integration and other durable solutions. Positive momentum has developed on community-based sponsorship approaches, including through the activities of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI), with a pilot programme established in the United Kingdom and a commitment to pilot or implement programmes in other countries.
2019 Budget and Expenditure in Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe | USD
|Belgium Regional Office||Budget|
|Hungary Regional Office||Budget|
|Italy Regional Office||Budget|
|Sweden Regional Office||Budget|
|Regional activities for Europe||Budget|
2019 Voluntary Contributions to Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe | USD
|Earmarking / Donor||Pillar 1
|Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe overall|
|Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe overall subtotal||131,645||0||0||131,645|
|Belgium Regional Office|
|Belgium Regional Office subtotal||373,906||0||336,556||710,463|
|Private donors in France||28,409||0||0||28,409|
|Education Cannot Wait||1,403,422||0||0||1,403,422|
|European Economic Area||2,739,448||0||0||2,739,448|
|Private donors in Austria||0||0||5,593||5,593|
|Private donors in France||112,233||0||0||112,233|
|Private donors in Sweden||125,000||0||0||125,000|
|Private donors in Switzerland||100,000||0||0||100,000|
|Private donors in the Netherlands||0||0||7||7|
|Private donors in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland||58,824||0||0||58,824|
|Private donors in the United States of America||0||0||99,600||99,600|
|Republic of Korea||0||0||500,000||500,000|
|United States of America||0||0||1,200,000||1,200,000|
|Hungary Regional Office|
|United States of America||32,100||0||500,000||532,100|
|Hungary Regional Office subtotal||32,100||0||990,954||1,023,054|
|Italy Regional Office|
|Private donors in France||112,233||0||0||112,233|
|Private donors in Italy||90,495||0||5,688||96,184|
|United States of America||0||0||1,000,000||1,000,000|
|Italy Regional Office subtotal||8,663,782||0||1,469,898||10,133,680|
|Sweden Regional Office|
|Sweden Regional Office subtotal||0||200,000||0||200,000|
|United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland||387,585||0||0||387,585|
|United Kingdom subtotal||387,585||0||0||387,585|