A father stands with his daughter as refugees and migrants arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea.

How some European countries are tightening their refugee policies

A father stands with his daughter as refugees and migrants arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea.
CNN  — 

US President Donald Trump is expected to sign a new executive order this week that would temporarily halt travel from citizens of seven nations he says pose a high risk of terrorism.

Before it was halted in the courts, his initial order – which banned travel for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, barred all refugees for 120 days, and refugees from Syria indefinitely – caused chaos at airports and prompted outrage around the world.

German chancellor Angela Merkel warned against imposing a “general suspicion” on all Muslims; French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that welcoming refugees was “a duty of solidarity.”

But many European countries are beginning to curb their own refugee programs, after years of pressure caused by high levels of migration.

At least 12,472 refugees and migrants have arrived on Europe’s shores since the beginning of 2017, according to the UN refugee agency – only slightly less than the 12,587 Syrian refugees admitted by the US in all of last year.

Since the arrival of over one million migrants and refugees in Europe in 2015, governments across Europe have sought to fortify their countries’ borders with fences, walls and guards against future mass migrations.

The year 2015 must not be allowed to be repeated,” said Austria’s Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil.

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Patrolling the world's deadliest migration route
04:24 - Source: CNN

READ MORE: Europe ‘close to limit’ on refugees

This month, representatives from 15 countries met to discuss fortifying their borders to make it harder for migrants to reach central and western parts of Europe.

And earlier this year, EU leaders outlined plans to “stem the flow” of migrants traveling across the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy, and boost the ability of the EU to send people back.

“The key priority is reducing the flow without any consideration for the causes of migration,” Dr Nando Sigona, an expert in migration at Birmingham University’s School of Social Policy, told CNN.

“By closing down the routes they are making people even more vulnerable to danger and violence.”

Here’s how some European countries have been making changes:

UK: Child refugee program halted

Children protest their case to the UK government at the now-demolished Jungle camp in Calais in October 2016.

The UK government recently announced it was halting a program to resettle lone refugee children, after 350 had been brought to Britain. Campaigners had hoped that 3,000 children would benefit from the scheme, introduced last year.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the House of Commons the government did not want the so-called Dubs amendment to act as a “pull factor” encouraging unaccompanied minors to travel to Europe: “We do not want to incentivize perilous journeys to Europe, particularly by the most vulnerable children.”

Alfred Dubs, who came to the UK as a child refugee on the “Kindertransport” from the Czech Republic in 1939 and who designed the program, expressed his dismay at the decision. “It’s bitterly disappointing,” the Labour politician told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “I think they wanted to shut the thing down and found any excuse to do it.”

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UK 'just slammed the door' on refugee children
06:36 - Source: CNN

NGO Help Refugees is taking legal action against the government over their handling of the Dubs amendment. In a statement, they allege that the Home Secretary’s “failure to implement her Dubs duties towards unaccompanied children in Calais … contributed to [them] being exposed to serious human rights violations.” The case will be heard in June.

The government’s move is just the latest in a series of measures designed to reduce the number of child refugees eligible to come to the UK.

In November 2016, the Home Office issued new guidance barring unaccompanied refugees from Afghanistan, Yemen and Eritrea older than 12, who were living in the now-demolished “Jungle” camp at Calais in northern France, from entering the UK if they have no family there.

The following month the government ended the process of transferring children from France after resettling 750 of the 1,900 registered minors, according to Human Rights Watch. Rudd said she was “proud” of the UK government’s “active approach to helping and sheltering the most vulnerable.”

READ MORE: Three generations of refugees on the crisis

Germany: Asylum seekers returned

A Syrian refugee holds a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he and hundreds of others arrive in Munich.

More than 250,000 people were given refugee status in Germany in 2016, many of whom had arrived the previous year when Chancellor Angela Merkel threw the country’s doors open to refugees, but there are signs that attitudes are hardening.

In accordance with European Commission recommendations, from March, Germany will begin returning asylum seekers to Greece, if that was the first safe country in which they arrived, a spokeswoman for the German Ministry for the Interior told CNN. This process was halted in 2011 due to “systemic deficiencies in the Greek asylum system.”

Pro Asyl, a German organization that advocates for the rights of refugees criticized the decision to send “more people into the miserable conditions” in Greece and condemned the transfer system as “inhumane.”

A recent report by Amnesty International highlighted the “dire conditions” in Greek camps, citing “overcrowding, freezing temperatures, lack of hot water and heating, poor hygiene, bad nutrition, inadequate medical care, violence and hate-motivated attacks.”

In a further sign of changing views, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere recently announced that border controls with Austria – introduced as a short-term measure in September 2015 – would continue indefinitely.

If Europe cannot reliably protect its external borders, De Maiziere said in a speech, Germany will implement “appropriate national border controls against illegal immigration.”

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Many Germans no longer want migrants in their country
02:19 - Source: CNN

This month, Germany also deported a second tranche of asylum seekers to Afghanistan, despite the UNHCR’s insistence that “the entire state … is affected by an armed conflict.”

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) argues that “by carrying out these deportations, the Federal Ministry of the Interior is completely ignoring the security situation in Afghanistan.”

READ MORE: The migration crisis – a visual guide

Italy: Calls for deportation of migrants

Thousands of immigrants risk their lives trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa in rickety, overloaded boats.

Italy’s chief of police, Franco Gabrielli, has called for the detention and deportation of migrants, who he blames for “instability and threats” in the country. Gabrielli’s comments, published in a circular on December 30, 2016, align closely with the government’s position.

Italy’s Interior Minister, Marco Minniti, has announced that one new detention center will be opened in every region, that asylum assessments will be speeded up, and that the ministry will double the funds available for voluntary returns.

The Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI) has strongly criticized the proposals, expressing its “full opposition to the opening of new identification and expulsion centers … as well as any type of action … which results in an increase of automatic expulsion orders without adequate assessment of individual situations.”

READ MORE: ‘These crossings are nothing but fatal’

The Netherlands: Election sparks rethink

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to immigrants who are unwilling to sign up to the country’s way of life, telling those who “refuse to adapt and criticize our values” to “behave normally or go away.”

In the open letter, published on his VVD party’s website, Rutte talked of the “growing discomfort” felt by Dutch people when those who have recently arrived in the Netherlands abuse the freedom that the country offers.

“We must continue to make clear what is normal and what is not normal in this country,” he wrote. “We will have to actively defend our values.”

The letter echoes his party’s election manifesto, which argues that the current migration system is “untenable” and promises to speed up deportations. The party pledges to invest in caring for refugees in the Middle East in order to reduce the number traveling to Europe.

Center-right PM Rutte is facing a closely-fought election battle with far-right anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders. Wilders was recently convicted of inciting discrimination.

READ MORE: The rise of an anti-Islam opportunist

Serbia: Newcomers fear being sent back

Several hundred migrants and refugees are currently living in derelict – and freezing cold – warehouses in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.