The Temporary Protection Directive is unlikely to be activated for the current migration crisis in the central Mediterranean, EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Monday (21 November).

The EU directive, which was approved in 2001, provides immediate temporary access to a series of social services and free movement for those unable to go back to their country of origin in the event of a “mass influx”.

The number of arrivals through the Mediterranean Sea route has doubled since 2021, the Commission stated. The route is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world and the most targeted by human traffickers.

However, Johansson, who has been a key figure in developing the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum, said that the Temporary Protection Directive is “very special”.

“It is never been used until now. So, it is of course for very special situations like the one that we have right now in Ukraine. I cannot really see that this is used for all different kinds of situations,” the Commissioner said.

Not all EU officials agree with such stringency though. EU lawmaker Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar told EURACTIV in a video interview that the directive should have been activated for other emergencies, such as the 2015 refugee crisis and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021.


Commission’s action plan

Commissioner Johansson’s comments came as part of a session to launch the EU executive’s action plan in addressing the present crisis in the central Mediterranean.

The situation in the Mediterranean Sea is described by Johansson as “unsustainable”.

The action plan, which will be discussed by the Council on Friday, aims to “reduce irregular and unsafe migration” by cooperating with third countries and international organisations,  create “a more coordinated approach on search and rescue” and push to implement the voluntary solidarity mechanism.

The Commission said it is willing to take further steps to make and implement agreements with non-EU countries such as Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, as well as closely cooperate with international organisations such as UN agencies and the International Maritime Organisation.

“A specific framework and guidelines for vessels for search and rescue” is required, the Commission stressed.


In June 2022, the Commission endorsed the voluntary solidarity mechanism, which aims to provide member states most affected by migratory flows in the Mediterranean assistance by offering relocation and financial contributions.

However, according to Johansson, its implementation still has a long way to go. “Relocation is ongoing, but still a low number of people have been relocated under this mechanism,” the Commissioner said.

Since the mechanism has been in place, only 117 asylum seekers have been transferred across member states, out of the annual target of 8,000.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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