The European Commission developed the Hotspot Approach in May 2015. Also known as the EU Hotspot System, this initiative is part of an immediate action plan geared toward supporting EU member nations facing extraordinary migratory pressure at the EU external borders.

The European Commission (EC) first presented the European Agenda on Migration in April 2015 with the objective of addressing immediate migratory challenges and providing member states with the means to handle irregular migration. The Hotspot System is one of the initiatives to manage migration responsibly and fairly in the medium and long term.

The situation at the EU’s external border is different in each member nation, with certain states such as Italy and Greece facing much larger migratory affluence than the rest of Europe —and, hence, in need of different solutions.

What is the EU’s Hotspot Approach or Hotspot System?

To understand the EU’s Hotspot System, it is necessary to first comprehend what a hotspot is.

Under ordinary circumstances, member states are able to efficiently manage their external EU borders. Nevertheless, certain countries face much larger challenges that require additional support from EU agencies. The sections along the borders of these nations that have significantly higher migratory pressure are known as hotspots.

The reinforcement of border control in European hotspots is implemented via the EU Regional Task Force (EURTF), while the system followed by these agencies to address migratory difficulties is known as the Hotspot Approach.

Other agencies that assist EU member states with specific border control tasks in hotspots are Europol and Eurojust, which help investigations geared toward dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks.

How Does the Hotspot System Work?

Under EU law, member nations are obliged to complete the following actions with incoming migrants:

  • Identify
  • Register
  • Fingerprint

The Hotspot Approach aims to provide the necessary operational support for these actions to be promptly addressed. Furthermore, the Hotspot System also concentrates on the debriefing of asylum seekers and return operations.

The following European agencies are deployed to the hotspots, where they support each member state’s authorities in the necessary tasks:

  • European Asylum Support Office (EASO)
  • Europol
  • European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex)
  • Eurojust
  • eu-LISA

Through the Hotspot System, people claiming asylum are immediately channelled into appropriate asylum procedures.

Next, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) support teams assist in the processing of asylum applications. This is done by providing information on procedures and relocation and matching the asylum seekers to the appropriate EU member nation for relocation.

Furthermore, the Hotspot System also contributes to the temporary relocation schemes proposed by the EC.

Migrants who are not in need of protection are directed through a different path. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) is in charge of coordinating the return operations of these irregular migrants.

FRONTEX also supports EU member nations by deploying Joint Screening Teams to assist with registration and identification procedures.

When an irregular migrant is refused asylum, or determined not to have the right to remain in the European Union, Frontex provides support to national authorities coordinating the migrant’s return.

The eu-LISA agency is currently in charge of the development of ETIAS, and of the operational management of the Eurodac system. The eu-LISA is also providing ICT expertise for fingerprinting of asylum-seekers.

EU Member States Using the Hotspot Approach

The Hotspot Approach is already operational in Greece and Italy. Nevertheless, other EU member states may also request assistance through the system when deemed necessary. Additional assistance can also be provided after a joint assessment by Frontex and EASO.

The Hotspot System is also in charge of aiding with the implementation of emergency relocation mechanisms adopted by the Council of the European Union. The procedures were organised by member nations to transfer 160,000 asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU states.

The goal of these relocation mechanisms is to reinforce European solidarity by sharing the responsibility for asylum-seekers among all member nations in order to relieve some of the pressure on the hotspots.

While most European Union member states have fulfilled their pledges on relocations, other nations have failed to do so. In consequence, infringement procedures were launched against the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.

Migration continues to be one of the European Union’s largest challenges. Hotspot management is a vital element of the EU’s support towards Greece and Italy whilst they face the difficulties of the humanitarian and border management crisis.

Nevertheless, the conditions in which vulnerable migrants and asylum-seekers are received at European Union borders continues to raise concern in relation to:

  • Overcrowding
  • Conditions of camp facilities
  • Living conditions

In consequence, the European Parliament has reiterated its request for actions on behalf of member states to ensure that the fundamental rights of asylum-seekers and migrants are not violated.

Hotspot Regions in the European Union

Hotspot regions were first identified in the European Union when record numbers of refugees, asylum-seekers and other migrants flocked to the external borders. These initial reception facilities are currently only located in 2 EU member states: Greece and Italy.

Hotspots in Italy

There are currently 5 hotspots set up by Italian authorities, which can be found in the following locations:

  • Lampedusa
  • Trapani
  • Pozzallo
  • Taranto
  • Messina

    Hotspots in Greece

    The Greek authorities have also set up 5 hotspots, which are located on the following islands:

  • Lesbos
  • Samos
  • Chios
  • Kos
  • Leros

    ETIAS’ Role in Facing Disproportionate Migratory Pressures

    The European Travel Information and Authorisation System was first approved in 2016 and has been under development since. With an estimated launch date of the last trimester of 2022, ETIAS aims to address and diminish migratory irregularities in the Schengen Area.

By requiring visa-exempt travellers to register online for an ETIAS prior to departure, the European Union will prevent individuals who may pose a risk from legally entering Europe.

ETIAS will become a mandatory entry requirement for travellers holding passports from 60 eligible countries. The European travel authorisation will be obtained by filling out a simple online form with the visitor’s personal, passport, contact and travel details.

The IT system will then cross-check the applicants’ data against multiple security databases to ensure that the traveller does not pose a risk towards the wellbeing and safety of the EU member nations.

A majority of applicants will have their travel document approved within the first 24 hours. However, should their data produce a hit in the system, determining that they have violated Europe’s migratory laws in the past, may result in their ETIAS being denied.