UKREN blog

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Europe’s response to irregular immigration is damaging and ineffective

Jenny Pennington, IPPR (this blog was first published on the MRN website)

Last night’s Newsnight exposed shocking European Union-sponsored abuse of migrants twenty miles from the European border in Morocco. An estimated 20,000 migrants from sub-Saharan African countries are now resident in the country – many of whom travelled there en-route to Europe. Their situation is highly precarious; research from earlier this year by Medicins Sans Frontieres documented appalling conditions where acute health needs go unmet, and sexual violence and exploitation are commonplace. Their marginalised status is compounded by the threat of violence and illegal deportations to the desert in Algeria from security services substantially funded by the EU.

Quite aside from the obvious ethical and human issues, this approach to managing irregular immigration is clearly not working.  IPPR research shows that, despite the best efforts of the EU to block their path into Europe and to make their lives untenable in Morocco, the numbers of migrants are not decreasing. The tightening of European border controls and the cost of migrating to other countries has simply meant that much of this ‘transit’ migration has in practice taken on an extended, even semi-permanent character. Many migrants, even those who regard their journey as incomplete, find themselves in the country for years. Some have children born in Morocco. Most lack the means to travel home. Yet they are treated by the Moroccan authorities as if they are passing through, and by European countries as an unwelcome threat.

The situation in Morocco shows the deep flaws in European countries’ wider current response to irregular migration. Dangerous camps may have been cleared from areas like Sangatte in France, however a decade on they have reappeared in places like Morocco. Despite efforts to address human trafficking in Europe, a focus on immigration enforcement rather than protection has led to migrants’ fear of the police being used by unscrupulous employers to control people in slavery-like conditions. A reliance on deportations rather than supported returns leaves thousands of migrants without support and vulnerable to re-trafficking.

The evidence also suggests that this security-focused approach is not effective at preventing irregular migration. Not only are migrants in Morocco further encouraged to leave for Europe by the violence they face, research suggests that hostility to migrants in Europe makes irregular migrants more likely to ‘cling on’ despite their precarious situation as they knew that once they leave they will never be able to return. Research also shows that migrants who are forcibly removed rather than supported to leave are much more likely to attempt to migrate again.

Addressing irregular immigration is an important policy aim. But a radically-different approach is needed. The European Union needs to enter into genuine partnerships with all involved in addressing these issues, including ‘transit’ countries like Morocco, and migrants’ countries of origin. Rather than fund countries like Morocco to create a hostile environment, the EU needs to encourage its neighbours to set an immigration policy that works for them. Rather than fund Morocco to keep migrants at bay, Europe needs to engage with countries of origin to address some of the drivers of migration, and re-direct money spent on expensive deportations to supporting schemes that promote more effective voluntary return.

A shift away from the tried and tested method of ever tougher borders will be challenging, not least politically. But current efforts to ‘prevent’ the problem of irregular migration do little but export the problem elsewhere. A new response is needed.

Jenny Pennington is a researcher at IPPR

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