Press Release

Migration Outlook report: 57% rise in 2021 irregular migration, growing crises at borders and key elections signal EU migration pivot in 2022

24 January 2022

Vienna, 24 January 2022: Last year saw a rebound to pre-pandemic levels of irregular migration to Europe, with almost 200,000 illegal crossings recorded at EU borders, a 57% rise compared to 2020 and 38% rise compared to 2019. The ICMPD Migration Outlook report 2022 charts what drove these spikes and predicts how and why they will continue into 2022.


Events in 2021 caused not only a large spike in irregular migration, but a shift in the routes irregular migrants are choosing to take to Europe. The closure of borders and tightening of controls in Greece continued the earlier trend towards the Central Mediterranean and Western Balkans routes. The former experienced an 84% increase in detections, totalling at 65,000, and the latter a 64% increase, totalling at 60,500. With Western Balkan borders overburdened by such high flows, migrant smuggling networks will continue to the region.

The main drivers behind the spike in overall numbers were conflict and economic imbalances. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan displaced over 670,000 Afghans, and initial estimates predict a further 500,000 will flee the country. Though a large share of the 73,000 asylum applications submitted by Afghans in the EU during the first ten months of the year referred to Afghans who had already resided on EU territory before, the EU and Turkey should expect a significant increase in arrivals in 2022.

Elsewhere in the region, the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Syria continues to drive migration towards Europe. The vast majority of the one million Syrian refugees located outside the region are hosted in Europe and the economic downturn in both Syria and Turkey is expected to significantly increase this number in 2022. Iraq is experiencing similar economic struggles after COVID-19-related contraction and vital resource scarcity that has caused 20% of the population to need humanitarian assistance.

Uneven recovery from the economic and social turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all main regions of origin of migration to Europe. Numbers of arrivals from North Africa, and from Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, continue to rise. While, the global economy is expected to grow by 4.9% in 2022, GDP growth in low-income countries is projected at 5.1%, an increase that is clearly below pre-pandemic forecasts and hardly sufficient to compensate for the adverse economic effects of COVID-19 – a factor that will fuel more irregular migration in 2022.

2022 will prove to be a significant year in carving out how Europe responds to increasing levels of migration. Pending parliamentary or presidential elections in Hungary, France, Malta, Italy, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia have already shown that stances on migration will play a significant role in campaigns and future government action.

The position of France, as the holder of the Presidency of the European Council during the first half of 2022 and the second most important destination for migrants in Europe after Germany, will be crucial in this regard. Many candidates have aligned themselves with a tougher stance on immigration and a wish to repatriate power from the EU to the Member States. This somewhat contrasts the new German coalition government’s calls for a greater solidarity and responsibility sharing in hosting refugees and asylum seekers.

Michael Spindelegger, Director General of ICMPD says: “While 2021 was quite a remarkable year in terms of increasing flows of irregular migration to Europe, 2022 shows signs that it will perhaps be even more critical in setting the path for years ahead.

Through the crisis in Belarus last year, Europe showed that it will not allow migration to be instrumentalised as a geopolitical pressure tool. The bloc’s swift, robust and unified reaction, that included sanctions and extended to cooperation with non-EU partners laid out a blueprint for future responses.“

The ICMPD Migration Outlook 2022 intends to look ahead and to project major developments for the upcoming year at the EU and national level. Although forecasts on migration are difficult to make, the 2022 Migration Outlook identified 12 main migration issues that will shape the migration year in Europe and beyond.

  1. The rise in irregular migration to the EU
  2. Shifting pressures on the main migration routes
  3. The migration effects of the Taliban takeover
  4. Growing tensions in Libya
  5. The flaring up of the Syrian conflict
  6. The reorientation of migration flows from Latin America
  7. The continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on migration
  8. The EU’s response to the instrumentalisation of irregular migrants
  9. The presidential elections in France and the French Presidency of the EU
  10. New accents in Germany’s migration policy
  11. Renewed attempts to address secondary movements
  12. Labour shortages and the discussion on legal migration channels

To read the full Migration Outlook 2022 report, please contact:

Bernhard Schragl

Spokesperson, Communication and Media Coordinator ICMPD Tel: +43 1 504 4677 2444

The International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) is an international organisation with 19 Member States and more than 460 staff members. Active in more than 90 countries worldwide, it takes a regional approach in its work to create efficient cooperation and partnerships along migration routes. Priority regions include Africa, Central and South Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Its three-pillar approach to migration management - structurally linking research, migration dialogues and capacity building – contributes to better migration policy development worldwide. The Vienna-based organisation has a mission in Brussels, a regional office in Malta and project offices in several countries. ICMPD receives funding from its Member States, the European Commission, the UN, and other multilateral institutions, as well as bilateral donors. Founded in 1993, ICMPD holds UN observer status and cooperates with more than 700 partners including EU institutions and UN agencies.