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Operations Cell (Updated April 29, 2016 3:58 PM)

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Arrivals and Departures

In April, there were an average of 119 daily arrivals to the Greek shores. This figure represents an 86% decrease as compared to the average arrivals in March of 870 people daily.

In Italy, the number of refugees and migrants who arrived in April was noted to be 8,490. As compared to the same month in 2015 (16,063), the total number of arrivals has dropped by more than half.

Critical Developments

During the past few weeks, debates took place regarding the closure of the refugee route from Turkey to Greece, noting concerns that this may result in a surge of refugees and migrants through North African countries towards Italy.

Though arrival levels from Libya are no higher than they were last year, European governments have discussed and announced measures of border controls as a response to this possibility.

Last week, during the European Union Justice & Home Affairs (JHA) Council on 21 April, EU Interior Ministers reached agreement on a position regarding the proposed EU Border and Coastguard Agency, to support ‘the future management of the EU's external borders’. The Council and European Parliament, however, must agree on a common text before it can enter into force. The European Parliament should reach its initial position by the end of May before beginning negotiations with the Council. The European Council and Commission hope to conclude this process before the end of the Netherlands presidency in June to allow the new force to be operational by the end of the summer.

Last week, on 21-22 April, the Interior and Foreign Ministers of Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Macedonia met to discuss possible measures regarding border controls in case of a refugee and migrant inflow into Europe. During their meeting on Monday, Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolay Nenchev and his Croatian counterpart Josip Buljevic agreed to consolidate the regional and trans-border cooperation between the two countries.

The number of refugees and migrants found passing between Turkey and Bulgaria has fallen despite the closure of other routes to Europe. In the first quarter of 2016, detected crossings fell by 20% compared to last year. Bulgarian officials detected just over 2,800 irregular crossings in the first three months of 2016 as cited in the media; compared to about 3,500 for the equivalent period in 2015.

Austria outlined plans on Wednesday, 27 April, to erect a short fence at a border crossing with Italy escalating the debate between the two countries over how to handle the refugee and migration crisis. Austrian authorities have requested their Italian counterparts to implement measures to reduce the number of refugees and migrants traveling towards northern Europe or they will introduce further border controls at the Brenner Pass in the Alps. The Austrian government also announced similar border management measures at its border with Hungary.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi last week insisted Italy is not facing a surge in arrivals by boat from Libya stating that fears are being exacerbated by rumors that Italy is becoming the main entry point into Europe . Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, however, highlighted Austria's deep concerns as Austria received 90,000 asylum applications and hundreds of thousands were transiting through the country last year whilst 154,000 had arrived in Italy in 2015.