“A great many people who try to reach Europe illegally, when they are detected, immediately file an application to avoid immediate deportation and drag out the situation over time” – says Jan Wójcik, a migration researcher
KAROL GAC: At the beginning of our conversation, I would like to ask you to sort out the terms related to immigration. There are at least several of them, and they are often used interchangeably, which is misleading.
JAN WÓJCIK: The broadest term is immigrant, which is a person who moves from one place to another, with the intention of staying there for a short or long period. This notion has subcategories, or what it introduces to us is an amalgamation. After all, a person can move because of a difficult situation related to, for example, war, persecution, and then he becomes a refugee. We usually assume implicitly that such a person will be granted refugee status, because de facto, formally one becomes a refugee when one receives international protection from the state. Sometimes such people are also referred to as “asylum seekers,” in which case they are those who submit relevant applications.
Today’s situation is problematic in that a great many people who try to reach Europe illegally, when they are detected, immediately file an application to avoid immediate deportation and drag out the situation over time. The person is then technically an asylum seeker, but in reality is an economic migrant, i.e. someone who wants to improve their living conditions. So a lot depends on whether we look at the issue from a legal angle or based on our guesses.
Where are Europe-headed immigrants coming from? What are the main directions and migration routes?
If we are talking about illegal immigration, it is mainly people from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (central and southeast). However, it is important to remember that we are talking about dynamic processes, hence there are changes. For example, in 2022 a very large number of people came from Afghanistan and Syria, but this year this is changing and we are seeing more and more citizens of Pakistan, Guinea, and Cameroon, for example. Immigration from Ivory Coast has also increased more than eightfold (from 900 to almost 8,000 people in the first quarter).
As for migration routes, there are some dynamics taking place here as well. The most popular route for illegal entry into the EU is the so-called Central Mediterranean route, which runs either from Libya or Tunisia to Italy. Between 2014-2015, we saw the highest migration on the so-called eastern Mediterranean route, leading through Turkey and Greece, which later turns into the so-called Balkan route. That year, the Western Balkan route was very popular. However, the countries along the route have taken a number of measures to put a bit of a damper on it. At the end of 2022, for example, there was a blockade of the expansion of the Schengen zone to Bulgaria and Romania by Austria, which claimed that these countries were not sufficiently protecting the EU border. As you can see, the presence of migrants also has its political consequences.
Why do these people choose to immigrate illegally? Can’t they use the legal route?
This is a very complicated question. In general, these people do not choose to do so for various reasons. Some of them are not even aware of it. I will use the case of my friends here, who visited Nigeria and met with people whose education would qualify them to apply for legal work in the EU. However, they had no knowledge of how they could apply for it. Secondly, there is also a big roadblock from consular services, which are reluctant to grant visas to people who don’t have the right education. This is something that Germany, for example, collided with, thinking in 2015 that they were solving the problems of their labor market by letting in mass immigration, and eight years later they saw that this was the wrong way to go.
This year they began opening job centers in African and Asian countries to look for those people who would be able to work legally. EU countries want to curb illegal immigration by offering to open their labor markets to third countries in return. This is to be discussed with African countries or Pakistan, among others.
Illegal immigrants are making their way into Europe. If they aren’t caught, we don’t know what happens to them, and what is the case if they are apprehended by the services?
Such a person can practically file a claim already on the ship, when they are picked up by the local coast guard. In Italy, they are usually transferred to detention centers, but they apply right away. It is the same in the Balkans. For a while these people are in the centers, but this is limited in time to two months, so after some time they are released, which ends up in the so-called secondary migration, that is, the migrants go to the destination countries. We had such a situation in Poland, where about 1,500 Iraqis applied and 90 % fled. This is what the new migration pact, which is supposed to block applications in many countries, wants to prevent.
This was especially evident in 2015, when Italy and Greece were overwhelmed by the influx of illegal immigrants, and the bureaucracy simply got clogged.
This is true, and it was a serious problem. After all, one has to verify who the person is and whether what he says is true. Later we have legal verification, and if we look at how long this process lasts, it can take up to two years if you include appeals. But the biggest problem from the EU’s point of view has been the issue of deportations, because these rates are low.
Eurostat data on exit orders shows that 124,000 exit orders were issued in Q4 2022, and only 28,000 of them were executed voluntarily or under coercion.
That’s exactly right. Unfortunately, the implementation rate is less than 25%. This, after all, also accumulates from year to year. We must also remember that the rate is high anyway, because it is easy to deport people from Belarus, Russia, or Georgia, or still fairly from Morocco, Algeria.
France, which issues almost a third of the entire EU’s deportation decisions, is primarily responsible for these statistics. However, the percentage of completed decisions there is below the EU average, indicating that French actions are therefore mainly theoretical. At the other extreme are, for example, Poland and the Czech Republic.
So far it’s succeeding, but let’s remember that so far it’s been Georgians or Belarusians. It remains to be seen how our country will cope with the whole mix of the world we see across our eastern border.
Can we at all distinguish models of migration policy pursued by European Union countries?
Yes, we can point to certain models, although they are dynamic. The situation in France, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands is the aftermath of the colonial past. At some point, a large number of people moved to the metropolis, where they settled. Secondly, when certain groups of migrants form, others join them. This is known as chain migration. It’s much easier to migrate to countries where there is a group of fellow brothers, because it’s easier to settle there. The second model was run by Germany and Austria, or for a while Sweden, that is, pulling people for a short period of time in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, who would work and disappear. This didn’t happen, because these people generally stayed and make up a large percentage of the population. As far as Poland is concerned, we happen to have a so-called “lagging bonus” because we can observe what is happening and what we want and what we don’t want. So we found that we wanted to attract people close to us culturally. However, the government has begun to recognize, although it may not be communicating it, that slowly this reservoir from Belarus, Ukraine or Kazakhstan is depleting, and so it is beginning to reach for further destinations. Attempts are being made to think about extending this search to Central Asia, which is likely to develop into permanent immigration. However, it should be remembered that the number of work permits is significantly greater than the number of visas granted. It is sometimes said in the public space that reproduction among immigrants is higher, but this is not true. She begins to decline in the second generation. It is also said that Muslims are converting Europeans to Islam, but this is also not true. The development of these communities is mainly through immigration.
Do you see the European Union having any idea how to solve the problems of illegal immigration? We hear about the so-called “migration pact,” which partly goes back to a solution from eight years ago.
It took the EU eight years to change its approach to illegal immigration. Even the EP, which is the EU’s liberal body, is inclined to put more money into border protection and look at it in terms of security. Secondly, the migration pact was accepted in the part that deals with limiting the ability to apply in many countries to discourage immigrants. Cooperation with third countries was also accepted. So, some shifts are visible to the eye. However, I think the issue of relocation is being demonized a bit too much in Poland, because we have indeed been given the option not to accept immigrants. It seems that the bigger problem is how the decision itself was made, i.e. by majority and not by consensus. The amount of EUR 20,000 per migrant seems large, but let’s also remember that it’s the cost of taking care of him for many months and the work of many people who work around this. I don’t deceive myself that the situation will improve. I think the cost of managing migration will simply increase and it will be a constant expense. More and more people are being born in Africa, there are worse climatic conditions and conflict-related problems. We should expect more migration pressure.
Only, won’t the adoption of this pact also generate more problems? In a while, we may be facing another migration wave, as people will hear that there is room for them in the EU.
As for relocation, I am against it. Besides, I don’t know how these people can be kept here afterwards. Especially since we know that they want to go to Western or Northern European countries and not remain in Central and Eastern Europe. However, I understand that this is a certain gesture to countries that are under an onslaught of illegal immigration. The devil is in the details. The question is, who will we relocate? Everyone, or only those who qualify for refugee status? If the result of this pact is only relocation, strengthening the borders and at the same time speeding up the Dublin procedure with the possibility of returning the immigrants to the first country, it would be very unfavorable for us. Then it would benefit countries that are not on the EU’s external borders, because they could expel migrants to border states. However, if all this is combined with readmission agreements with third countries, then it would have arms and legs. However, we still don’t know everything. EU talks with third countries such as Tunisia need to be watched. Then EU countries could send these people back to the countries through which they entered Europe, for example.
Illegal immigration is associated with many of the negative phenomena we are seeing. Crime is on the rise, including the risk of terrorist attacks. What short-term and long-term effects can illegal immigration have on the EU?
I will divide my answer into two parts. One is about illegal immigration, and the other is about lack of integration. Regarding the first part, countries are burdened with huge costs. Germany paid EUR 20 billion in immigration-related expenses from its central budget alone. In addition, migration routes were used to traffic terrorists. Today we know with certainty that this was not just a scare, but terrorists followed this route, resulting in attacks in Paris and Brussels, among others. This was officially confirmed by Frontex. Now we also have similar signals from the Italian services. Third, these people often have war traumas or psychological problems. If they don’t have a foothold, they may lean toward criminal groups, but they are also easy recruiting targets for radical groups.
However, what we are talking about now – arson in France, gangs in Sweden, problems of social cohesion, conflicts in schools, or cultural differences – are the result of poor integration, among other things. For several decades, it was thought that the state was merely an enclosure and everyone could live as they wished and everyone was free. These conflicts are not only between immigrants and natives, but are often also between immigrants themselves, who carry them along wherever they go. We have, for example, conflict between Kurds and Turks, tensions among Muslims themselves, etc. The question is whether it’s solely our bad immigration policy, or whether it’s more about the will of the other side.
Jan Wójcik – migration researcher at The Opportunity Foundation, regular columnist to the international relations magazine “Układ Sił” and writer for Infosecurity24 and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna outlets