2015 in review: timeline of major incidences and policy responses

This year was marked by heated debates over responsibility-sharing and the distribution of asylum seekers in Europe. We have put together a timeline with a chronological overview of major incidences and policy responses by the EU and its member states, listing what happened in each month. 

Due to the volume of information available and the fast-paced development, we were forced to be selective. We make no claim of exhaustive coverage.

2015 in review -  how Europe reacted to the refugee crisis

Policy responses by country

2015 in review - how Europe reacted to the refugee crisis


At sea

19 April

800 persons drown in the Mediterranean as their vessel sinks on its way from Libya to Italy.


24 April

EU leaders hold a special meeting on the situation in the Mediterranean.



13 May


The EC presents the ‘European Agenda on Migration’ a 10-point plan to face the crisis in the Mediterranean.



17 June


Hungary unveils its plans to build a fence at its 175km border with Serbia.


26 June

EU member states agree to relocation of refugees in Europe, but fail to reach consensus on distribution quotas. They commit to resettlement of 20.000 refugees from outside of Europe.



1 July


Serbia opens two temporary reception/registration centres near its borders to Macedonia and Hungary.



20-23 August


To cut off the flow of migrants crossing from Greece, Macedonia deploys riot police and calls for the state of emergency. Around 3.000 migrants spend the night out in the open. On 23 August the Macedonian army eventually allows migrants to move on to Serbia.



24 August


Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees publicly announces not to return Syrian refugees under the Dublin Regulation.


24 August

Some 7.000 migrants cross the border to Serbia over the weekend. More than 90.000 people have entered Serbia so far this year, 23.000 of them within 2 weeks.


27 August

The bodies of 71 dead personsare found inside an abandoned lorry on a motorway in eastern Austria.


27 August

The Western Balkans Summit in Vienna is overshadowed by the tragic incident the same day of the meeting.



30-31 August


Refugees protest at the Budapest train station as authorities deny them to board trains without valid Schengen documents, which they do not possess. The next day, the migrants are allowed to take trains to Austria without visa checks.



31 August

The Greek coast guard announces it has rescued almost 2.500 people off its eastern islands, including Lesbos and Kos, during one weekend.




1-6 September

Around 20.000 migrants arrive at Vienna from Hungary. Police desist from apprehending and registering persons without valid Schengen documents. Most migrants board trains toward Germany.


2 September


The heart-breaking photo of a drowned Syrian boy washed up on a beach in Turkey makes the headlines around the world.

Middle East

5 September

The cash-strapped World Food Programme announces it has had to drop one-third of Syrian refugees from its food voucher program in Middle Eastern host countries this year.


8 September

The EU Delegation provided approximately € 400.000 to help prepare temporary accommodation for refugees, bringing emergency EU funding for Serbia to nearly €2,5 million.


9 September

EC President Juncker admits that “policy makers have been neglecting the Balkans route” and presents a plan to relocate 120.000 refugees from GR, IT and HU via a mandatory distribution quota. He also presents a common list of Safe Countries of Origin which includes all Western Balkan countries and Turkey.


14 September


EU ministers agree on this list of safe countries of origin proposed by the EC. Though, only a fraction of the places for relocation can be assured, as Eastern European states are not willing to accept mandatory relocation quota.

Germany and Austria

14 September

Germany introduces temporary border controls with Austria to cope with the influx of people. Austria does so as well, sending army troops to support border police at the Hungarian border.


15 September

Construction of a 175 km fence along Hungary’s border with Serbia is completed. On the same day, a new asylum system comes into force setting up strict sanctions on illegal border crossing.


16-17 September

The route travelled by migrants shifts from Hungary to Croatia


18 September

Hungary begins to construct a fence along its border to Croatia.


19 September

Around 2.500 migrants cross from Croatia into Slovenia, despite Slovenia initially trying to block their passage.


22 September

EU Ministers change the proposed relocation plans: Hungary would not take part in the mechanism. The 54.000 places envisaged will instead be distributed between Italy and Greece.


29 September

Germany includes Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro in a list of safe Countries of Origin.



5 October

President Erdogan meets with EU leaders to discuss a plan which includes the establishment of six additional refugee camps in Turkey, with places for up to two million persons. EU would as a quid pro quo accept the resettlement of half a million refugees from Turkey.


9 October

Opening of first hotspot in Lampedusa. Also, the EU relocation programme starts: 19 asylum seekers are relocated by plane from Italy to Sweden.


15 October

In a Eurobarometer poll, 66% of respondents from across Europe said that decisions on migration issues should be taken at EU level rather than by national governments alone.


15 October

EU and Turkey agree a joint action plan to stem migration flows to the EU. Also, changes of border management system shall give Frontex a more proactive role in protecting the external borders. Hundreds more border guards are promised to secure the hotspot areas in Italy and Greece.


16 October

The first Greek hotspot centre opens its doors in Lesbos.


18-21 October

In only 24 hours, 12.000 refugees enter Slovenia and the government announces to restrict its intake to 2.500 arrivals a day. Slovenia calls in army to help patrol its border to Croatia.


23 October

The Swedish government agrees upon a stricter asylum law. Sweden is expected to receive 190.000 asylum applications in 2015, the highest per-capita rate in EU.



2 November

UNHCR announces that the number of refugees entering Europe by sea in October was roughly the same as for the whole of 2014: almost 220.000 persons. Syrians accounted for 53% of arrivals, followed by Afghans with 18%.


3 November

The Austrian government proposed stricter asylum laws.


5 November


Sweden notifies the EC that it is confronted with an emergency situation and thus cannot fulfil its relocation commitments of 4.358 persons from Greece and Italy.


11 November

Slovenia begins erecting a razor wire fence along parts of its border with Croatia to control migrant flows.


14 November

Poland cannot accept migrants under EU quotas after the attacks in Paris, the newly-elected Polish government announces.

Several countries

18 November

Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia announce that they would only allow people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to pass through their borders.

Macedonia and Greece

23 November

After this announcement, 1.500 migrants from Pakistan, Iran and Morocco are stuck near the Greek-Macedonian border town of Idomeni. Some of the migrants withdraw back to inland Greece.


27 November

Austria starts constructing a 3.7km fence along its southern border with Slovenia.


28 November

Macedonia starts constructing a fence on its southern border with Greece.


29 November

The EU and Turkey finalise their agreement negotiated over the past weeks. A key element is 3 billion EUR in EU aid for the 2.2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.


30 November

Updated figures are published: Only 14 EU member states have made available 3.346 places for relocation, out of 160.000 planned places. 159 persons were effectively relocated from Greece or Italy. EU member states’ financial pledges for the Africa Trust Fund, Syria Trust Fund, World Food Programme, UNHCR and other humanitarian aid programmes amount to EUR 572 million. Together with EU funding of EUR 2,8 billion, this falls short by 40% of the required amount or EUR 5,6 billion in total.


Slovakia and Hungary

2-3 December

Slovakia files a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice against the European Union decision to redistribute 160.000 asylum seekers among member countries. Hungary files a lawsuit the day after.


8 December

The number of asylum applications filed in Germany in 2015 reaches 1 million.


10 December

According to Eurostat, 413.800 persons applied for asylum in the EU in the 3rd quarter of 2015. This number almost doubled since the second quarter.


15 December

The EC proposes lifting Sweden’s obligation to relocate 4.358 persons from Greece and Italy.


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