With the death count rising alarmingly in the world’s most dangerous sea crossing earlier this year, Brussels finally acted.
The European Commission (EC) launched a ten-point plan to deal with the migration crisis in the EU, which was centering on the Mediterranean.
There was also a desire to ease pressure on the worst-hit countries, Italy and Greece, the first port of call for many migrants arriving by sea.
It proposed to move 40,000 migrants already in these countries to elsewhere in the EU.
Brussels wanted to impose a certain number of migrants on each EU state, according to its size, wealth and unemployment level.
But member states refused, arguing relocation of migrants should be done on a voluntary basis.
It meant certain countries took many less than had been proposed by Brussels. Hungary didn’t take any migrants, despite the EC originally suggesting it should accept 828, while Spain, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Slovenia took half or less of what was proposed.
But do these countries have short memories? Here we look at each of the six to see if their citizens have benefited from migration in the past.
HUNGARYMigrants proposed: 828
Migrants taken: 0
“While I am prime minister, Hungary will definitely not become an immigration destination. We don’t want to see significantly-sized minorities with different cultural characteristics and backgrounds among us. We want to keep Hungary as Hungary.”
Those were the words of Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister.
Little surprise, then, that Hungary described the EC’s plan as ‘absurd’ and did not take any of the 828 migrants proposed.
Hungary, which joined the EU in 2004, has vowed to build a fence on its border with Serbia amid an influx of migrants in recent months, the majority of whom originally arrived by sea in Greece.
Amnesty International said the country has had 86,000 asylum applications this year. Not all are accepted. Last year Hungary gave the green light to just 10 percent of requests, according to Eurostat.
But the numbers of people coming in is rising. Net migration to Hungary has been growing by up to 20,000 a year since 2006.
In 2013 around 39,000 immigrants arrived, but around 17,000 of these were Hungarian nationals. This is perhaps linked to Budapest’s controversial national building project of handing out citizenships to ethnic Hungarians living in bordering countries such as Romania, Slovakia and Serbia.
Hungarians have used emigration to both improve their financial situation and to flee oppression. Around 1.4 million citizens emigrated between 1899 and 1913 – with many of them leaving for the US and Canada, due to economic pressures. Around 15,000 nationals left for the US in the 1930s because of increasing anti-Semitism. A further 200,000 Hungarians quit their country after the failed uprising against the Soviet Union in 1956.
In January 2014 it was estimated there was around 330,000 Hungarians living elsewhere in Europe.
Those working abroad sent 3.2 billion euros home to Hungary in 2013, representing around three percent of the country’s GDP, according to Eurostat.
SPAINMigrants proposed: 4,288
Migrants taken: 1,300
Spain rejected the EC’s plan, saying it was not fair that it had to take more than 10 percent of the 40,000 migrants.
The EC wanted Spain to take 4,288 migrants. Madrid agreed to 1,300. That figure, although a lot less than proposed, is still 3.25 percent of the 40,000.
Spain’s chronic unemployment levels may have played a part in its decision, although the EC would have taken this into account. Latest figures from Eurostat show unemployment in Spain in 2014 stood at 24.5 percent. Youth unemployment stood at 53.2 percent.
But it’s not likely to be linked to a general dislike of immigrants, if a report by the Migration Policy Institute is anything to go by. It said in 2013 that Spain, despite being one of the hardest hit by the economic crisis, has not seen a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment.
But Spain has benefited from migration. More than two million Spaniards left in the 1960s and early 1970s, during dictator Franco’s regime.
More recently, following the economic crisis, net migration to Spain has dropped heavily. A half a million more people have left than arrived in Spain between 2012 and 2014, according to Eurostat.
ESTONIAMigrants proposed: 740
Migrants taken: 130
It is no surprise that Estonia took so few migrants when you consider a report by the Estonian Refugee Council. It concluded earlier this year the underlying principles of Tallinn’s asylum policies was not to “take on any additional responsibilities and to apply intimidation”.
The country has a rule that immigrants from outside the EU cannot exceed one percent of Estonia’s 1.3 million population.
There were just 4,100 immigrants arriving in Estonia in 2013. Tallinn, meanwhile, had 155 asylum applications in 2014.
But more people have been leaving Estonia than arriving each year between 2006 and 2014, according to Eurostat.
Yet that has not stopped Kristiina Ojuland, a former foreign minister of Estonia, calling for the country to reject Mediterranean refugees. She reportedly said on her Facebook page that being an EU member did not have to mean “accepting people who would squeeze Estonia’s social system”.
Estonia has arguably benefited from its citizens being able to move abroad. Money sent home by exiled Estonians rose from 282.6 million euros in 2008, the first year for which figures were available, to 323.4m in 2013, which represented more than 2 percent of the country’s GDP in that year.
LATVIAMigrants proposed: 516
Migrants taken: 200
Latvia took 316 fewer migrants than proposed. But that was not enough to appease hundreds of Latvians who protested on Tuesday (August 4) at the decision.
Raivis Dzintars, a parliamentarian from the National Alliance “All For Latvia!” party, told Reuters the country already had problems integrating immigrants. “Therefore,” he added. “It would be much harder for Latvia to carry additional load than any other European Union country.”
Latvia had 8,300 immigrants arrive in 2013. Last year the country had 375 applications for asylum, approving 25.
But Latvia’s population is falling. Riga signing up to the EU in 2004 sparked a 10 percent fall in citizens, as people went abroad for work. More people have left the country than arrived for each year from 2006-2014.
The people that have gone abroad have sent money home. In 2008, four years into EU membership, this income source was worth 1.3 billion euros, according to Eurostat. By 2013 the figure was 1.2 billion euros, which represents more than five percent of the country’s GDP, the highest proportion of EU countries for which figures were available.
POLANDMigrants proposed: 2,660
Migrants taken: 1,100
A study in 2013, from the Centre for Research on Prejudice at the University of Warsaw, claimed as many as 69% of Poles do not want non-white people living in their country.
Poland had 8,020 asylum applications from outside the EU in 2014. The previous year Warsaw made 4,080 decisions on whether to grant asylum – they approved just 740.
Immigration into Poland stood at 220,000 people in 2013, although 131,000 of those were Polish nationals. This could indicate more than half of immigrants were Poles returning home after working for a period abroad.
Despite the arrivals of 2013, latest Eurostat figures show the number of people leaving Poland has exceeded those arriving for every year since 2006, except 2010.
It is questionable whether Poland will become more generous to immigrants. The ruling Civic Platform already faces a fight to hold onto power in a parliamentary poll this autumn, after presidential elections earlier this year saw the Conservative Andrzej Duda installed into office.
Euroscepticism is on the rise in Poland, it’s been claimed, despite the country being the biggest beneficiary of EU funds. This is perhaps reflected in Warsaw’s attitude to EC’s request that it takes 2,660 migrants – it agreed to take 1,100.
This is despite Poland benefiting from migration in recent times. Poland’s Central Statistics Office estimated in 2013 that 2.1 million Poles were living abroad. The figure peaked at 2.3 million in 2007, three years after Poland joined the EU.
Polish people working abroad have sent home more than 54 billion euros since 2005. The country received 5.3 billion in 2013, just over one percent of the country’s GDP.
SLOVENIAMigrants proposed: 496
Migrants taken: 230
Slovenia prime minister Miro Cerar has said the country had shown solidarity over the Mediterranean migrant crisis – Ljubljana has committed to sending a military vessel to help the EU’s rescue mission.
Yet, despite this, Slovenia has agreed to take less than half the proposed number of migrants from Italy and Greece.
Slovenia, population two million, has not been inundated with immigrants: 13,900 arrived in 2013, the majority, 11,600, not Slovenian nationals.
Slovenia’s net migration has been steady for the last eight years, with more people arriving than leaving in most years, but not in any huge numbers.
There were 385 asylum applications last year in Slovenia. In the same year, Ljubljana, of 165 decisions on whether to grant asylum, gave the green light to just 45.
Slovenia only became an independent country in 1991, so it is difficult to quantify how many Slovenians have benefited from emigration during the 20th century.
Money sent home from Slovenians working abroad has more than doubled over the last six years, rising from 235 million euros in 2009, to 502 million euros in 2012. It was 477 million in 2013, just over one percent of the country’s GDP.
Story explanation: Denmark and the United Kingdom, under EU treaties, were able to opt out from taking migrants. Austria was not included in this article because while it did not take any of the 40,000 relocated refugees, it took nearly 10 percent (1,900) of 20,000 migrants from outside the EU.