Fortress Europe: Where will the migration flashpoints be in 2024?

After record arrivals in parts of Europe in 2023, efforts to deter migration will be high on the agenda from the UK to Italy.

Britain's illegal migration act - passed in 2023 to pave the way for third-country asylum processing - will leave up to 257,000 people in limbo and have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible, according to Britain's Refugee Council charity. Image: , CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

As governments across Europe pursue policies aimed at deterring growing migration from Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries, rights campaigners say some measures could shut out or even criminalise refugees.

With polls pointing to a swing to the far-right in June’s European parliament elections, and migration dominating debate ahead of Britain’s 2024 general election, the issue is set to stay high on the political agenda.

The EU aims to overhaul its asylum procedures with its new asylum and migration pact before June’s election, boosting support to countries like Italy that receive many seaborne arrivals and scrapping the Temporary Protection Directive, the mechanism which allowed EU countries to welcome millions of Ukrainian refugees.

Rights groups say the new pact could increase arbitrary detention, racial profiling, and repatriations to countries where they are at risk of torture or imprisonment.

Legal experts say that as government policies increasingly test the limits of international human rights law there could be an increase in court challenges by aid groups and lawyers.

Where will Europe’s migration flashpoints be in 2024?


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government announced plans in December to cut the number of legal migrants arriving after annual net migration hit a record of 745,000 in 2022.

As part of his broader strategy to deter illegal migration, Sunak’s government pushed through emergency legislation to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. The bill, which sought to override a ruling by the Supreme Court against the plan, still faces parliamentary hurdles.

If passed, Sunak says flights to Rwanda will begin early next year.

In its first three years, Britain’s illegal migration act - passed in 2023 to pave the way for third-country asylum processing - will leave up to 257,000 people in limbo and have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible, according to Britain’s Refugee Council charity.


Lawmakers passed a bill in December that significantly toughens rules for migrants, in a compromise between President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party and the conservative opposition.

After the government’s immigration bill failed to pass a first vote, it agreed to water down plans to ease residency permit rules,and introduce measures including migration quotas and a delay on migrants’ access to benefits.

The deal came as the country’s conservatives increasingly push to reserve welfare benefits for French citizens. It could also boost Marine Le Pen, who said the final bill was “a great ideological victory” for her far-right party.


Germany - which received the largest numbers of asylum applications in 2023, is seeking to stem migration with a new tougher migration policy, with rules to cut benefits by doubling the amount of time until asylum seekers receive full social benefits.

Along with Austria, Germany has also expressed interest in the possibility of processing asylum seekers abroad.


This year was the deadliest since 2017 for the Central Mediterranean crossing used by migrants to reach Italy, with Tunisia overtaking Libya as the main departure point, according to medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières.

Striving to deter the flow of seaborne migrants to its shores, Italy said in November it would build two centres in Albania to host up to 36,000 migrants per year.

The centres, one on the coast for identification and another inland for detention, would be paid in full by Italy and operate under its jurisdiction, meaning they would be covered by European

Union asylum rules but the plan could face bureaucratic hurdles and court challenges.


The EU’s border agency documented a record 13,000 migrants attempting the perilous Western African route to Spain’s Canary Islands in October alone, as political turmoil drives African migrants to head north.

The archipelago’s seven islands have become the main destination for migrants from Senegal and other African countries trying to reach Spain.

Aiming to reduce arrivals on its southern borders, the EU hopes to station EU Frontex border guards in Senegal and Mauritania.

The bloc also wants to reach more deals with North African and Middle Eastern nations to reduce the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.


Belgium, which heads to the polls in June for a general election, has seen its current ruling coalition clamp down on migration, with elections likely to sharpen focus on migration.

Citing security concerns, the government wants to step up repatriations after a failed asylum seeker from Tunisia shot dead two Swedish football fans in Brussels in October.

A failure to house asylum seekers has led to thousands of court penalties over the past two years. Rights group Amnesty International is leading calls for authorities to find shelter for more than 2,000 people who end up sleeping on the streets.


Far-right populist leader Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) are seeking to form a coalition government after a shock election win in November.

The anti-Islam Wilders has frequently called for a total ban on immigration, and would likely join forces with Hungary in demanding a much tougher EU stance on irregular migration if he were to become prime minister.


Amid wider tensions with Moscow, Finland temporarily closed its entire border with Russia at the end of 2023 to stop the flow of asylum seekers.

Helsinki has said a recent rise in asylum seekers arriving via Russia was an orchestrated move by Moscow in retaliation for the Nordic country’s decision to increase defence cooperation with the United States, a charge the Kremlin denies.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit

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