EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Sir,

Illegal economic migration appears in destination countries which seem unable to accept any more immigrants. According to the United Nationals Commission on Human Rights, an illegal economic migrant is a person who goes and lives in a country without having legal immigration papers.

Statistics for illegal economic migration are estimated by the police authorities of the countries, based on the capture and deportation of the migrants, and usually do not illustrate the real size of illegal economic migration.

It is estimated (through arrests) that every year around 500,000-700,000 illegal economic migrants enter the EU-27. They usually come from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan, China and the Balkans, but also from countries in Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe. Around 40% of them are deported to the countries of origin or in the country through which entered in the EU. Nowadays, it is estimated that there are at least 4.5 million illegal economic migrants in the EU 27.

Political asylum requests in the EU-27 (1999-2008):
1999 380,000
2000 407,000
2001 424,000
2002 421,000
2003 345,000
2004 277,000
2005 235,000
2006 197,000
2007 223,000 (granted 62,500)
2008 238.000 (granted 76,320)
Source: Eurostat

There are three basic categories of illegal economic immigration:

1) Citizens of non-EU countries who come illegally in the EU territory by land, sea or air, using fake papers or not, with the help of smugglers belonging to organised crime. EU-27 countries are trying to stop, or at least to reduce, the flows of illegal immigration via legislation and strict controls.
2) Citizens of non-EU countries who come legally onto EU territory, but stay beyond the legal period of residence or change the reason of residence without a permit.
3) Foreigners who ask for political asylum in EU-27 countries and stay without permission even after their request is rejected.

Greece neighbours many countries whose residents often migrate, and it has large-scale land and sea borders. Illegal economic migrants come to the country and stay permanently or temporarily until they manage to go to another European country. That is, Greece – like all Mediterranean countries – is used as a ‘gate’ for immigrants entering in the EU.

The majority of the illegal economic migrants come to Greece legally and afterwards violate the duration of their visas. Some come to the country with fake papers. But the notion of ‘illegal economic migration’ entails some other phenomena too, like the illegal reunification of families, virtual marriages, illegally imported staff and trafficking performed by organised crime and continuation of residence after the rejection of political asylum requests.

I think that Greece must increase the flows of legal immigration, not only through strict border control (this does not seem to help), but also through legalisation programmes, monitoring employers and confronting the problems of the third-world economy and illegal employment.

Illegal economic immigration in Greece (2001-2008):
Data from the police and portal authorities based on arrests:
ORIGIN COUNTRIES OF THE IMMIGRANTS 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Albania 173957 36827 35789 31637 52132 57466 66818 72454
Iraq 8379 8455 1402 988 1064 8157 12549 15940
Afghanistan 2358 2234 1391 1802 1771 5260 11611 25577
Iran 2313 1383 736 1059 515 700
Pakistan 1843 918 687 1019 3350 2834 5512
Romania 5025 517 775 951 195 1791
Bulgaria 1469 1262 1889 1553 1649 1657
FYROM 1112 722 1088 711 993 543 459 336
Bangladesh 2424 471 1824 721 1655
Georgia 527 796 1708 1371 2961
Somalia 934 2618 3656 6713
Palestine 785 738 799 2847 5135 4593
Other 20718 5441 6242 5393 5933 7009 6695 9896
Total 219598 58230 51031 44987 66351 95239 112364 146337
Source: Ministry of Civil Protection

Where they were arrested (2002-2008):
Year Ground borders Sea borders Inland Total
2001 – – – –
2002 38051 4331 15848 58230
2003 28358 4098 18575 51031
2004 23221 5926 15840 44987
2005 37867 4974 23510 66351
2006 53556 9049 32634 95239
2007 63529 19882 28953 112364
2008 58968 33981 53388 146337
Total 303550 82241 188748 574439
Percentage 52,9% 14,3% 32,8%
Source: Ministry of Civil Protection

Arrests for deportation and deportees (2001-2008):
Year Arrests for deportation Deportees Percentage Difference*
2001 20734 13242 63,9% 7492
2002 29598 11778 39,8% 17820
2003 29527 14222 48,2% 15305
2004 29769 15168 51,0% 14601
2005 40599 20461 50,4% 20138
2006 43159 17650 48,9% 25509
2007 58602 17077 29,14% 41525
2008 81741 20555 25,14 % 61186
?????? 333729 130153 39% 203576
Source: Ministry of Civil Protection

* This is due to the many arrested people who avoid deportation in many ways, such as requests for political asylum, for example. Many Asians and Africans request political asylum because of war and poverty in their country of origin. In the last 10 years the number of requests for political asylum has increased, in particular by people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Georgia, Bangladesh and Iraq.

Greece grants political asylum in low percentages. In 2008, for example, only 380 from a total of 29,080 political asylum requests were granted; or in other words, just 1.8% of the applications.

Despite the economic crisis, it is estimated that in Greece during 2007 and 2008, the number of illegal immigrant persons was about 200,000-250,000.

Immigration is a priority for the EU and if it develops properly it can become a factor of economic and social development for all EU-27 countries. The immigration flows must be administrated under the assumption that the EU needs immigration in order to satisfy its economic and demographic needs.

There must be measures for controlling acceptance and integration of immigrants. Strict control cannot solve the issue of illegal economic immigration, because it addresses the consequences and not the causes. Immigration policies must be seen in the wider context of employment. Nowadays this parameter is almost ignored by immigration policy at European and national level. And if the EU has a policy towards legal immigration, the same does not apply to illegal economic immigration.

Strict border controls cannot reduce the determination of citizens of non-EU countries to enter EU territory. If there are no legal means for them to enter the EU, the immigrants will find other, usually risky, ways to enter it in an illegal way.

For Greece in particular, I suggest:

  • Stricter border control (through the Greek police authorities and FRONTEX).
  • Immediate deportation for illegal economic immigrants who are arrested.
  • Severe penalties for employers that hire illegal economic migrants.
  • Modernisation of port authorities and enhancement of staff and equipment.
  • Changes to political asylum policy, to make sure that political asylum is only granted to persons that really need it.

Maria Lianou

University of Athens

Author :
Print