Home > Where We Work > Europe


2015 UNHCR regional operations profile - Europe


UNHCR 2015 Europe regional operations map

  • The number of people seeking refugee status has continued to climb in the first half of 2014, driven by the wars in Syria and Iraq, as well as conflict and instability in Afghanistan, Eritrea and elsewhere.

  • Thirty-eight European countries recorded 264,000 asylum applications, an increase of 24 per cent compared to the same period of 2013 (see UNHCR Asylum Trends 2013): 216,300 of these applications were made in the 28 European Union (EU) Member States. The top five EU countries to receive asylum applications were Germany, France, Sweden, Italy and the United Kingdom. In comparison, the Russian Federation registered an additional 168,000 people seeking protection from conflict in Ukraine; and Turkey has received more than half a million asylum-seekers and refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries.

  • Large-scale displacements in Ukraine have called for urgent responses to growing humanitarian needs. As of mid-September, the number of IDPs in Ukraine stood at over 275,000. External displacement is also on the rise. In addition to over 168,000 people who are applying for asylum in the Russian Federation, a further 148,847 have applied for other forms of legal stay. More than 6,000 Ukrainians have sought asylum in other European countries.

  • Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Turkey has responded to the influx of refugees by declaring a temporary protection regime for Syrian asylum-seekers and setting up 22 camps, with two more under construction. It is estimated that over 1 million Syrian refugees were being hosted in Turkey as of August 2014, some 217,000 of whom are accommodated in the camps. Growing numbers of Syrians are also fleeing to other countries in the region, many risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean. In addition to Syrian refugees, there are increasing arrivals in Europe from Afghanistan and Iraq. In Turkey alone, over 81,000 people from Iraq had arrived by the end of August 2014, as well as some 10,000 asylum-seekers from other countries.

  • Since 2013, the region has witnessed a sharp increase in the numbers of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean. In the first seven months of 2014, over 87,000 people arrived in Italy by sea, with the two largest groups coming from Eritrea and Syria. In an effort to reduce the risks of such journeys, in October 2013 the Italian Government launched the Mare Nostrum Operation, which has rescued over 100,000 people. Increases in arrivals have also been recorded in Greece and Spain.

  • UNHCR continues to be greatly concerned by forcible returns or barriers placed by some countries preventing the entry of asylum-seekers and refugees, as well as cases of abduction and extradition involving asylum-seekers and refugees. Among those seeking protection in Europe are large numbers of unaccompanied and separated children. In Italy and Malta alone, some 10,000 unaccompanied and separated children have arrived this year during the first nine months of the year. Asylum systems in many countries are still not fully in conformity with international standards: poor reception conditions, status determination procedures, low recognition rates, as well as lack of access to durable solutions, are particular challenges.

  • Implementation of the Regional Housing Programme continues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, in an attempt to provide sustainable housing for all 74,000 vulnerable refugees, returnees and IDPs from the 1991-1995 conflicts, many of whom continue to reside in inadequate, temporary accommodation or collective centres. In parallel, UNHCR has recommended the cessation of refugee status for Croatian refugees by December 2014. In cases where local integration or repatriation processes are still underway, this deadline may be extended until 2017.

  • The number of European States parties to the two UN Statelessness Conventions has continued to rise, with the accessions of Montenegro, Belgium and Georgia to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. However, the lack of adequate identification and protection mechanisms in the region means that many of the estimated 670,000 stateless people in Europe remain undocumented, and are deprived of basic rights while awaiting the acquisition or confirmation of a nationality.


Preventing loss of life at sea

UNHCR will continue to work with States in the region for more concerted European action to prevent the loss of lives at sea. This work will be guided by the Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative (CMSI) it has developed, which includes actions within the European Union, in transit or first asylum countries, and in countries of origin. The CMSI seeks to strengthen cooperation with relevant stakeholders, including the European Commission, the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex, EU Member States, the International Maritime Organization, the International Organization for Migration, civil society and other partners.

Building and maintaining effective asylum and protection systems

Following national and regional initiatives, UNHCR and key stakeholders will continue to promote protection-sensitive asylum systems that are consistent with European and international standards, and offer technical advice to governments. Adequate reception conditions and procedures that are capable of responding to the specific needs of asylum-seekers are essential components of a quality asylum system, including for separated and unaccompanied children arriving in large numbers. UNHCR will continue to work to ensure dignified reception standards, and promote the Safe&Sound guidance, developed jointly with UNICEF, on how States can ensure respect for the best interests of unaccompanied and separated children in Europe.

Comments on national draft legislation, notably the transposition into national laws within the European Union of the asylum acquis, comparative analyses and engagement in judicial processes will allow UNHCR to contribute to setting legal standards at national and regional levels. This will also include the implementation of quality mechanisms, such as the Asylum Systems Quality Initiative in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus, as well as participation in some asylum procedures. In 2015, UNHCR will pursue its efforts to identify cases for judicial engagement with national and European courts, and will continue to support capacity-building initiatives for judges and other legal practitioners. Close cooperation with national authorities will continue for this purpose.

A forthcoming review of the protection situation of Afghans in Europe, which UNHCR is undertaking together with concerned Governments, will be the basis for a more coherent protection strategy for this group.

Securing durable solutions

Even though 22 out of 48 countries contribute to UNHCR's resettlement efforts in some capacity, the number of resettlement places in the region remains limited, with quotas and reception and integration capacity varying widely. Special attention will be devoted to the resettlement and humanitarian admission of Syrian refugees.

UNHCR will continue managing the Emergency Transit Centres in Timisoara (Romania) and Humenné (Slovakia). The search for durable solutions for displaced people in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe will continue, with a focus on return and local integration, including through the Regional Housing Programme.

In Eastern Europe, UNHCR will work in close partnership with Governments, humanitarian actors and other stakeholders on addressing protracted internal displacement situations. These activities will include assisting in the revision of relevant national legislation, technical assistance, capacity building, protection monitoring, provision of legal aid and limited direct assistance to particularly vulnerable people of concern. A special focus will be placed on supporting local integration, self-reliance and voluntary returns for IDPs.

Preventing and resolving statelessness

UNHCR's newly introduced 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness will serve to advocate for further accessions to the two Statelessness Conventions, and to encourage the adoption of action plans at national level to end statelessness. These plans should include amending and implementing legislation to prevent statelessness at birth or later in life. States will also be urged to confirm or ensure the acquisition of nationality by people known to be stateless or whose nationality is undetermined, for example through improved civil registration practices. UNHCR will advocate for the establishment of a formal mechanism to identify and protect stateless people among migrant populations, and conduct outreach and public awareness-raising activities. Collaboration throughout the region with civil society organizations and the European Network on Statelessness will be essential. Among the European countries that have not acceded to either of the two Statelessness Conventions are Belarus, Cyprus, Estonia, Malta, Poland and the Russian Federation.


The economic situation in the region is having an impact on the capacity and readiness of many countries to strengthen their protection systems. Austerity measures have also hit civil-society organizations that provide services to asylum-seekers and refugees. Xenophobia and intolerance have led to incidents of discrimination and violence. States have responded by curbing irregular movements, including tighter border controls and detention and penalization of those entering illegally.

In some countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, lack of adequate attention to the national asylum systems can leave them dysfunctional or below international standards. Recognition rates often remain low and some countries increasingly resort to complementary forms of protection instead of according Convention status.

The impact of the conflict in Syria, and increasingly in Iraq, will continue to be felt in the region, first and foremost in Turkey but also in terms of irregular movements to other European countries. There is a considerable risk that more lives will be lost as countries intensify their border control measures, forcing refugees and asylum-seekers to resort increasingly to irregular means in their search for safety.

The lack of awareness of issues of statelessness among stakeholders, and the inadequacy of data on the number of stateless people in the region will continue to impede efforts to address the situation of these people effectively.


The budget for Europe in 2015 is set at USD 480.5 million which represents a two-and-half fold increase compared to five years ago (2009).

After a significant rise of the budget in 2010, reflecting UNHCR's decision to bring the long-standing displacement chapter in South-Eastern Europe to a close, financial requirements declined in 2011, reflecting the progressive downscaling of operations in general. The Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe subregion has seen a budget increase as the numbers of asylum-seekers keep growing, particularly in Northern and Southern Europe. Eastern Europe is the subregion with the most dramatic budget fluctuation in the past five years: the regional budget increased from USD 125.7 million in 2010 to USD 365.7 million in 2015, mainly due to the impact in Turkey of the crisis in Syria. On the basis of current influxes of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, the number of people of concern is expected to reach 5.3 million in 2015.

In 2014, the ExCom-approved budget, set at USD 343.3 million, was insufficient for UNHCR and partners to respond to the ever-increasing needs of the refugees seeking asylum in Turkey. A supplementary budget was therefore established through the Syria Regional Response Plan (RRP6) amounting to USD 285 million. Supplementary budgets for 2014 were also established for the Iraqi refugees escaping into Turkey (USD 6.3 million) and for people displaced by the situation in Ukraine (USD 11.3 million).

With little prospect of a resolution of the situations in Iraq and Syria, it is likely that additional requirements for refugees from these countries arriving in Europe will be presented in 2015.

UNHCR 2015 budgets for Europe (USD)
Operation 2014
Revised budget
(as of 30 June 2014)
Total 466,764,340 430,501,253 10,704,276 6,984,469 32,282,972 480,472,970
1. Includes activities in Belarus and Republic of Moldova.
2. As from 2015 Croatia is reported under Hungary Regional Office.
3. Includes activities in Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, the Liaison Office in Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
4. Includes activities in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and as from 2015, also includes Croatia.
5. Includes activities in Albania, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Spain.
6. Includes activities in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania and Norway.
Armenia 5,255,334 6,122,127 102,341 0 0 6,224,468
Azerbaijan 5,851,001 4,324,490 328,525 0 1,196,986 5,850,001
Georgia 14,351,540 5,458,157 556,293 0 8,330,304 14,344,755
Russian Federation 7,092,269 5,722,246 358,406 0 0 6,080,652
Turkey 306,553,430 320,091,960 70,000 0 0 320,161,960
Ukraine Regional Office[1] 13,930,322 12,020,312 1,010,001 0 0 13,030,313
Subtotal 353,033,895 353,739,292 2,425,566 0 9,527,290 365,692,148
Bosnia and Herzegovina 9,507,353 2,312,335 799,029 0 9,738,635 12,850,000
Croatia[2] 3,659,377 0 0 0 0 0
Kosovo (S/RES/1244 (1999)) 7,624,823 1,944,161 1,230,293 5,793,306 215,612 9,183,372
Montenegro 4,620,706 4,330,016 192,020 0 0 4,522,036
Serbia 16,585,990 2,568,713 1,198,094 0 12,801,434 16,568,241
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 3,656,268 3,175,699 379,627 0 0 3,555,326
Subtotal 45,654,517 14,330,924 3,799,064 5,793,306 22,755,682 46,678,975
Belgium Regional Office[3] 14,521,916 14,603,538 1,431,980 0 0 16,035,518
Hungary Regional Office[4] 17,069,083 11,993,641 1,702,007 1,191,163 0 14,886,811
Italy Regional Office[5] 24,976,188 22,677,175 223,092 0 0 22,900,267
Sweden Regional Office 5,538,754 4,518,289 965,440 0 0 5,483,728
Regional activities 5,969,986 8,638,394 157,127 0 0 8,795,521
Subtotal 68,075,927 62,431,037 4,479,646 1,191,163 0 68,101,847

Source: UNHCR Global Appeal 2015 Update




Working with the European Union

EU law and practice affects creation of refugee protection mechanisms in other countries.