What is the reality of migratory flows in the world?

The succession of migratory crises around the world has affected a multitude of States, whether as countries of departure, transit or arrival for migrants. A source of fear for some, immigration can also be an economic booster for countries with labour shortages. Sometimes misused, this notion needs to be rethought to convey the reality of immigration with its many faces.

By Diane Cassain

A global phenomenon

People have always travelled, migrated and hoped for a better life in another country. « ‘Immigration’ is distinct from ‘irregular migration’ or ‘requests for international protection’, which is asylum. At the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), we have seen a steady increase in the number of asylum applications in EU countries over the past two years, following a decline during the COVID-19 pandemic. We project that the number of applications will exceed 1 million in 2023. Syrian and Afghan nationals have been the two largest applicant groups for some years now, often followed by Venezuelan, Colombian and Turkish nationals. Since 2021, we have observed other nationalities appear in the top 20 countries of origin of applicants, including from Belarus, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Iran, Iraq and Russia. These are often in response to quite specific geopolitical events » points out Nina Gregori, Executive Director of the EUAA.

In 2022, 108.4 million people were uprooted by war, conflict or persecution.1 Contrary to popular belief, it is not the so-called « rich » countries that receive the most migrants, but the developing world, with seven out of ten migrants going no further than a neighbouring country.2 A global situation needs a global response. This isn’t a challenge Europe can tackle in isolation. It’s a global issue that demands a tapestry of cooperation, woven together by member states, NGOs, and international organisations alike” emphasizes Hans Leijtens, Executive Director of Frontex. Frontex serves also as a core element in this intricate network « providing technical and operational support to Member States in search and rescue operations. Frontex is but one piece of a much larger puzzle. We are part of an extended team that includes everyone from national governments to NGOs. Unity of purpose isn’t just a lofty ideal; it’s an absolute necessity” adds the Executive Director.

Humanitarian disaster

As migration rules have tightened over the years, migrants are taking more and more risks to reach their dream destinations. The result? A series of humanitarian disasters. Since January 2023, more than 2,500 people have lost their lives or gone missing in the Mediterranean, which has become the most dangerous migratory route in the world.3 Along the migration route, violence is commonplace, rape and forced labour almost inevitable. And, often, the price paid by women is higher. « I don’t want to get into a hierarchy, but the violence suffered by women asylum seekers is three times more horrific than that suffered by men. They also suffer violence of course, but it’s not systemic. They don’t have their vagina mutilated at the age of 6, or rape as an almost inevitable part of migration« 4, says Dr Jérémy Khouani, a general practitioner at a health centre in Marseille’s 3rd arrondissement that regularly welcomes people from migrant families. Stella, a 33-year-old Nigerian refugee, shares: « It’s simple: if you’re a migrant woman, you’re a sex slave”.5 But the smugglers are not the only ones accused of abuse. The human rights NGO Human Right Watch recently reported cases of abuse of migrant populations by the Tunisian authorities, including torture, excessive use of force and theft.6

Political disagreements

« We need to acknowledge that migration is not a ‘crisis’ or a ‘problem’. Nor is it something temporary that we need to ‘solve’. To the contrary, it is a permanent facet of society » supports Nina Gregori. However, in the European Union, the issue of migration is being debated. On the one hand, populist parties want to close borders at all costs, while parties on the left of the political spectrum advocate opening borders. At EU level, Italy and Greece, which are the main entry points for migration, want to tighten the rules in this area to contain the flow of illegal migrants entering their countries, while Germany is defending a more humanist position on the reception of migrant populations. It’s a real political tug-of-war, and the result is a cacophony among Europeans. Limiting illegal immigration is now one of the Union’s priorities, and it is gradually signing readmission agreements to facilitate the return of illegal residents to their countries of origin or transit. One of the first was signed in 2016 with Turkey. The latest was signed with Tunisia on 17 July 2023, at a time when the migration crisis was in full swing, with an 85% increase in departures from Tunisia and Libya since the start of the year. In return, the European Union has granted a budget of 105 million euros to « cooperate on border management, the fight against smuggling, return and the resolution of the root causes, in full compliance with international law« 7, explains Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed has announced that he will reject the EU funds, calling the amount ‘ridiculous’.8

Providing food for thought on immigration

While the number of illegal immigrants’ peaks regularly, depending on the geopolitical and security situation, countries are struggling to attract foreign talent or are facing labour shortages. With 2 million vacancies, Germany is now looking to recruit. In France, which is facing the same problem and wishes to recruit foreign talent, the services of the French Ministry of the Interior are seeking to contribute to a reflection on the way in which immigration is viewed at national level. Internal or intra-regional migration, or « the economic dimension of migration in a global competition to attract skilled profiles » will all be studied shortly by the IHEMI.9

Towards appropriate migration policies

To renew itself, avoid dispersal of effort and better manage migratory pressure, Europe recently set up the European Asylum Agency. « Our agency is at the heart of the implementation of the EU’s international protection legislation, known as the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). In terms of our operational support, we can now offer stronger assistance to national authorities and deploy more quickly which, taken together with a new Asylum Reserve Pool of 500 Member State officials that has now been established, means that we can support them more efficiently and effectively when they are under significant pressure. […] The overall aim of our work remains to reach a point at which asylum practices in all EU Member States are harmonised, in line with EU law » explains Nina Gregori who adds : « I would say that migration management is a three-legged stool, consisting of effective border management; a well-functioning CEAS; and a credible and effective return policy for those who do not meet the criteria for international protection, while fully respecting fundamental rights. » The future of migration policies is and will be determined by structural changes. “The future of Frontex is one of transformation and adaptability. We’ve grown to become the EU’s largest and most operational agency, and with that comes a responsibility to evolve. We’re in the process of implementing a new chain of command for the Standing Corps to make it more responsive and effective in supporting member states. This isn’t just about expansion; it’s about ongoing, dynamic reform” explains Hans Leijtens.

When it comes to migration aimed at boosting a country’s economy, Germany or France could take inspiration from Canada’s « Start-Up Visa » programme, aimed at entrepreneurs with innovative ideas likely to stimulate a country’s economic growth. In return for a commitment to an approved organisation and C$190,000, applicants can obtain permanent residency in Canada and citizenship after three years. These are innovative initiatives that could be extended to other countries and change the way local populations view immigration…

1 https://bit.ly/3tOW4tK


3 https://bit.ly/3FzigKE

4 https://bit.ly/3s2QoLW

5 Ibid

6 https://bit.ly/3tIdfNo

7 https://bit.ly/3s5JXYC

8 https://bit.ly/46IY2Kx