Skip to main content
European Commission logo
Representation in Ireland

EU migration policy and Ireland

Migration is a complex issue that needs to be handled humanely, fairly and with great sensitivity.

Europe needs migrants to tackle its demographic decline, but disorderly migration often leads to exploitation, human trafficking and tragedy.

During times of crisis, when war or famine has forced large numbers of people to seek refuge in Europe, Member States at the EU's external borders have experienced migratory pressures beyond their capacities.

This has resulted in many migrants left waiting in substandard conditions for lengthy periods before having their applications processed.

Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 that forced millions of people to flee their homes showed just how quickly a humanitarian crisis can develop.

It also highlighted the need to have systems in place that can rapidly deploy efficient help to those in need of assistance and avoid chaos at European Union borders.

The European Commission has adopted a new Pact on Migration and Asylum that is helping create a humane, comprehensive European approach to migration that can help those in clear need of protection while also attract migrants with the skills needed to contribute to Europe’s growth, innovation and social dynamism.

Ireland, with its own history of migration, will play its part in implementing the new pact and acting in solidarity with other Member States.

Pact on Migration and Asylum

The refugee crisis of 2015-2016 and the following years exposed shortcomings in the EU’s migration system. Member States on the EU’s external borders struggled to cope with large migrant flows while the different asylum systems across Europe lacked proper coordination.

Illustrative image about the EU Migration and Asylum Pact

The Pact on Migration and Asylum proposes a predictable, reliable migration management system that will provide common European solutions for this European challenge.

Ireland has repeatedly urged the need for greater solidarity and burden-sharing among Member States in dealing with the issue of migration. We need to find more sustainable solutions involving consensus among Member States, based on a balance of solidarity and responsibility.

Irish Minister for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne

The Pact falls under the European Commission’s Promoting our European way of life priority that’s aimed at protecting European citizens and values. It will strengthen borders, modernise the EU’s asylum system and enhance cooperation with partner countries to tackle the root causes of disorderly migration.

As part of the migration approach set out in the pact, the Commission has proposed a policy aimed at attracting skills and talent to Member States through legal migration, which will help address labour shortages in a number of sectors across the EU.

An EU Strategy on voluntary return and reintegration for migrants with no right to stay has also been adopted, as has a renewed EU action plan against migrant smuggling that aims to prevent organised exploitation of migrants.

Other benefits of the Pact on Migration and Asylum include:

Stronger trust: Fast, integrated procedures will help foster trust between Member States.

Better managed borders: The Pact will result in well-managed Schengen and external EU borders.

Effective solidarity: The Commission will set out what Member States need to do to help another Member State facing a crisis migrant situation.

Skills and Talent: Developing legal pathways for migrants will attract global talent and help make Europe an open, connected continent and reduce irregular migration.

International partnerships: Developing partnerships with key countries of origin and transit will help stem irregular migrant flows.

Flexibility and resilience: Instruments in the new Pact will help ensure fast and effective common responses to a migrant crisis when it begins to emerge.

Promoting our European way of life

Pact on Migration and Asylum

EU Strategy on voluntary return and reintegration

Attracting skills and talent to the EU

Actions on asylum and migration

Solidarity and sharing responsibility is at the heart of EU policies on migration and asylum. Because of EU unity, the European Commission was able to act swiftly when Russia invaded Ukraine and forced millions of people to seek refuge.

A Solidarity Platform was established to allow Member States and EU agencies coordinate support and organise transfers of people to countries with reception capacity.

Financial support for Member States hosting Ukrainian refugees was quickly mobilised and the Temporary Protection Directive, which was adopted following the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, was triggered to offer fast, effective assistance to people fleeing the war.

Refugees from Ukraine arriving in the EU

Within weeks of the invasion, measures were taken to help Member States provide Ukrainians fleeing their homes with special protection for children, accommodation, and access to education, healthcare and jobs.

Work on implementing the Pact on Migration and Asylum is ongoing, but there has already been progress that can be built on.

The European Union has been working on a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) since 1999 and in May 2015, the Commission presented a comprehensive European Agenda on Migration in response to the migrant crisis of the time.

This allowed for immediate action to be taken to tackle the human tragedy across the whole of the Mediterranean, including emergency schemes to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary to other Member States.

An EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling was also introduced to protect those fleeing desperate situations from being exploited by criminals.

The European Commission also transformed Frontex into a new, stronger European Border and Coast Guard Agency and in 2020 presented new proposals to reform the Common European Asylum System.

The EU is already the world’s leading humanitarian aid donor and develops partnerships with non-EU countries where large numbers of migrants originate.

Common European Asylum System

Frontex (European Border and Coast Guard Agency)

EU Action on Migrant Smuggling

EU solidarity with Ukraine

Temporary Protection Directive

Ireland's role

By May 2022, over 27,000 Ukrainians fleeing from war had arrived in Ireland, with 18,000 of those requiring accommodation.

The European Commission proposed changes to the 2022 EU Budget that would increase the amount of funding available for migration and border management to €400 million, which can be used by Member States to help meet the reception and registration costs of people fleeing Ukraine.

Ireland supported the European Peace Facility’s €1 billion military assistance package for Ukraine, but as a neutral Member State the Irish contribution of €22 million is spent only on non-lethal aid.

Ireland currently has no European Union obligation to take in refugees as it has an opt-in or opt-out clause on individual proposals in the areas of freedom, security and justice through the EU Treaty of Lisbon.

However, Ireland has chosen to participate in EU relocation and resettlement schemes and established the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) as part of its response to the 2015-16 migrant crisis.

Under this programme, Ireland committed to accept up to 4,000 people into the State through EU and UNHCR Refugee Resettlement Programmes.

In December 2019, plans were unveiled for Ireland to welcome up to a further 2,900 refugees between 2020 and 2023 through a combination of resettlement programmes and a new Community Sponsorship Ireland initiative.

Ireland benefited from €68.6 million of EU funding to help manage migration from 2015 to 2020. The funding was made up of €58.1 million from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and €10.5 million from the Internal Security Fund (ISF).

The AMIF supports Member States in managing migration flows while funding under the ISF supports efforts to protect the security of citizens and manage the EU’s external borders. The total EU AMIF allocation for 2021-2027 will amount to €9.9 billion. The overall ISF budget for the period will be around €1.9 billion.

Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund

Internal Security Fund

Community Sponsorship Ireland

Irish Refugee Protection Programme

Irish sea rescues

One of the most heart-wrenching aspects of irregular migration in recent years is the huge numbers of refugees who have tragically lost their lives at sea.

The European Union responded when the 2015/16 migrant crisis first emerged by tripling the budget for search and rescue operations carried out by the EU’s border protection agency, Frontex.

Ireland played its part in these humanitarian rescue operations by deploying Irish Navy ships to help rescue migrants from illegally overcrowded boats.

Between 2015 and 2017 Irish Defence Forces rescued over 17,500 migrants and apprehended many suspected smugglers and traffickers.

Migration - migrants being rescued at sea

Óglaigh na hÉireann was recognised with an Irish People of the Year Award in December 2015 for the work of the Naval Service’s humanitarian missions in the Mediterranean.

The following year, the Defence Forces received the European Movement Ireland European of the Year award for its contribution to international peacekeeping and humanitarian work.

Fact to consider

In 2020

The EU population shrunk by about 100 thousand people (from 447.3 million on 1 January 2020 to 447.2 million on 1 January 2021), due to a combination of fewer births, more deaths and lower net migration.

More generally

In mid-2021 less than 10% of all the world’s refugees and only a fraction of internally displaced persons were living in the EU.

The majority of refugees from Africa and Asia do not come to Europe, but rather move to neighbouring countries.

Migration facts

  • Across the EU, 199,900 illegal border crossings were detected in 2021, representing a 60% increase compared to 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its height.
  • In 2020 around 9,100 people in need of international protection were resettled from non-EU countries to EU Member States.
  • Under joint EU resettlement schemes, more than 96,000 persons have found protection in the EU since 2015. Member States receive support from the EU budget for these resettlements.
  • In 2020, 396,400 non-EU citizens were ordered to leave the EU, a decrease of 19% compared to 2019.
  • At the end of 2020, there were 19.6 million valid residence permits granted to non-EU citizens in the EU. Family reunification accounted for 39% of permits granted.
  • In 2021, 183,600 people seeking asylum in the EU were under 18 years old – nearly 13% of them (23,200) were unaccompanied children.
  • On January 1, 2021, there were 447.2 million inhabitants living in the EU. Of those, 23.7 million (5.3%) were non-EU citizens while 37.5 million (8.4%) were born outside the EU.

Latest news on migration

EU and Ukrainian flags
  • News article

Ukraine: EU steps up solidarity with those fleeing war

European solidarity in action is helping people fleeing war in Ukraine through direct humanitarian aid, emergency civil protection assistance, support at the border, as well as a clear legal status allowing them to receive immediate protection in the EU.