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«Examining the EU response to Irregular Migration through the Mediterranean Sea Tel & Fax : +41 22 788 19 71 Email: info Headquarters: 150 ...»

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Examining the EU response to Irregular Migration through the Mediterranean Sea

Tel & Fax : +41 22 788 19 71 Email: info@gicj.org

Headquarters: 150 Route de Ferney, CH 1211 Geneva 2 – Switzerland

Examining the EU response to Irregular Migration through the Mediterranean Sea

Written by:

Ifeoluwa Kolade

Cover Photo: Francesco Malavolta/AFP



Clarification of Terminology

The Historical Background of Global South-Europe Migration

How and Why Does Irregular Migration Occur?

Outgoing European Migration Policy

The Newly Proposed European Commission Agenda on Migration

The European Response to the Agenda on Migration

The International Community’s Response to the Migration Crisis

Recommendations and Steps Forward


While continued shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea, such as the 19April, 2015 incident that claimed an estimated 800 lives1, have drawn attention to irregular migration in Europe, it is important to observe that the history of Global South to Europe migration is long and complex. The current crisis in the Mediterranean, which the United Nations has called, “a tragedy of epic proportions”2 is the culmination of decades of unequal power relationships between the Global South and Europe.

European nations and the United States, though the latter is lucky not the be as easily accessible to migrants, hold significant responsibility for the continued irregular migration influx due to decades of corrupt regimes they helped foster and then dismantle as well as trade policies which impoverished the continent.3,4 Conflict stemming from ethnic, religious and political strife continues to threaten daily life in many parts of the continent. Africa has the fastest growing population in the world, but despite its economic gains in recent years, it still does not have enough jobs for youths.5 Unfortunately, the crisis is only now gaining attention because of the alarming increase in migrant deaths during the trip across the Mediterranean Sea. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there have been 18 times as many deaths in the Mediterranean Sea from January to April of 2015, when compared to the same period last year.6 The number of irregular migrants making the journey to Europe is also growing. Tens of thousands of migrants are expected to take the sea route to Europe in 2015, despite the smugglers, deserts, sea crossing, risk of death and other dangers. The Italian Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano, recently indicated that Italian authorities believe here to be between "Mediterranean Migrants Crisis: What Happened on the Sinking Boat?" BBC News, April 23, 2015, Accessed May 25, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32411381.

"Joint Statement on Mediterranean Crossings," UNHCR News, April 23, 2015, Accessed May 25, 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/5538d9079.html; A joint statement was put out by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, The Special Representative of the UN SG for International Migration and Development and the Director General for the IOM who all urged European leaders to put human life first in their response to the humanitarian crisis occurring in the Mediterranean Dirk Kohnert, "African Migration to Europe: Obscured Responsibilities and Common Misconceptions,” SSRN Journal SSRN Electronic Journal, 2007, Accessed May 25, 2015, www.giga‐hamburg.de/workingpapers.

Jaideep Prabhu, "Refugees Not Migrants: How Europe Is Misleading the World on the Humanitarian Crisis in the Page1 Mediterranean," DNA India, April 28, 2015, Accessed May 25, 2015, http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/standpointrefugees-not-migrants-how-europeans-are-misleading-the-world-on-the-humanitarian-crisis-in-the-mediterranean-2081490.

Tuesday Reitano, Laura Adal, and Mark Shaw, "Smuggled Futures The Dangerous Path of the Migrant from Africa to Europe," May 2014, Accessed May 26, 2015, http://www.globalinitiative.net/download/global-initiative/Global Initiative Migration from Africa to Europe - May 2014.pdf.

"What’s Behind the Surge in Refugees Crossing the Mediterranean Sea," The New York Times, May 21, 2015, Accessed May 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/20/world/europe/surge-in-refugees-crossing-the-mediterraneansea-maps.html?_r=0.

300,000 and 600,000 migrants in North Africa waiting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.7 These factors are putting increased pressure on European countries to reform their immigration and asylum laws. European countries are faced with a continuing humanitarian crisis, which many of its leaders prefer to avoid, but can no longer do so.

In this report, GICJ wishes to highlight the complexities of irregular migration to Europe.

Destination countries in Europe have benefitted from the work of irregular migrants for decades. In fact, the countries who now wish to close their doors once encouraged migrants to come in an effort to bolster their labour force. Migration has also had positive impacts on African countries most especially seen through the volume of remittances received across the continent. Yet, GICJ believes that the relationship has not been equally beneficial for both sides.

The historical injustices suffered by the African continent from the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism and neo-colonial practices continue to play a role in its hindered development.

The Mediterranean migration crisis cannot be isolated from its underlying causes, which are found in these acts. In this report, GICJ explores the impact of terminology on policies towards the crisis, the historical background of migration from Africa to Europe and situates these discussions in the ongoing process of creating new European policies that effectively address irregular migration. GICJ’s paramount concern in this report is to emphasize the root causes of the issue we see today and highlight the importance of addressing these causes in any proposed migration plan.


In the ongoing debate and discussions over migration, it is important to clarify the meaning of various terms. Oftentimes, the word used in the debate is “illegal migrant”. The term is however misleading, because it places into one group a diverse range of people who arrive at Europe’s shores. Furthermore, the use of the word “illegal” is in itself a determinant of how these people are seen and subsequently treated.

Instead of “illegal migrant”, the term that has been deemed most suitable is “irregular migrant.” As such, irregular migration is the “movement of persons taking place outside the regulatory norms of the sending, transit and receiving countries. From the perspective of destination countries, it is entry, stay or work in a country without necessary authorization or documents under immigration regulations.”8

–  –  –

“‘Up to 600,000 Migrants Ready to Cross Med’, Italian Minister,” April 3, 2015, Accessed May 25, 2015, http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/nations/italy/2014/04/03/up-to-600000-migrants-ready-to-cross-meditalianminister_3cd8c203-fc66-492a-84c9-6b8b164aca0d.html.

Alexandre Lusenti and Lisa Watanabe, "The Challenge and Tragedy of Irregular Migration to Europe," Edited by Matthias Bieri, October 2014, Accessed May 27, 2015, http://www.css.ethz.ch/publications/pdfs/CSSAnalyse162-EN.pdf.

François, Crépeau, "Mainstreaming a human rights based approach to migration within the High Level Dialogue," Speech, PGA Plenary Session - Criminalization of Migrants, New York, October 2, 2013, the smugglers from that of the migrants. According to Crépeau, while smuggling migrants is a crime, those migrants who are smuggled should not themselves be criminalized.10 Within the broad group of people referred to as irregular migrants, there are “asylum seekers”, “refugees”, and “economic migrants”. Asylum seekers are people who wish to be admitted into a country as refugees but are stilling waiting for a decision as to whether or not they have been granted refugee status. If the asylum seeker is not granted refugee status, they are required to leave their destination country unless they are allowed to stay on other humanitarian grounds.11 Conversely, a refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”12 Economic migrants are the group that receives the most scrutiny in the current migration crisis. This is despite the fact that data regarding the origin of migrants show that most are probably more suitably classified as asylum seekers. Nevertheless, economic migrants are those people who choose to move to a different country to improve the future economic opportunities of themselves and their families.13 In many cases, they are searching for employment opportunities and are willing to work low paying jobs, because even that is better than their prospects in their home country. In Europe, the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis left high unemployment rates in many Mediterranean countries that are on the frontlines of receiving migrants from Africa. This has hardened the attitude against so-called economic migrants. As such, media references to those crossing the Mediterranean Sea as economic migrants limit the policy options for political leaders.


For many centuries, Europe was the main contributor to intercontinental migration. Limited funds prevented migrants from other continents from choosing Europe as a destination. On the other hand, from the 16th century, more than 65 million Europeans left their continent for other places.14 Of these migrants, 90% migrated after 1800.15

–  –  –

Tuesday Reitano, Laura Adal, and Mark Shaw.

Lubbers, Ruud. "Refugees and Migrants: Defining the Difference." BBC News. April 5, 2004. Accessed May 25, 2015.


Pieter Emmer and Leo Lucassen, "Migration from the Colonies to Western Europe since 1800," European History Online, November 13, 2012, Accessed May 6, 2015, http://ieg-ego.eu/en/threads/europe-on-the-road/economic-migration/pieter-cemmer-leo-lucassen-migration-from-the-colonies-to-western-europe-since-1800.

Pieter Emmer and Leo Lucassen.

Pieter Emmer and Leo Lucassen.

During WW1 and WWII, large numbers of non-European soldiers and labourers were recruited to work for the Allies. Recruited soldiers and labourers came from French West Africa, British India, China, Indochina, and North Africa. After the wars, many were repatriated while some were allowed to stay.

During the post WWII era, Europe did not have enough labour to rebuild the continent. The Marshall Plan allowed Europe to build with the help of labourers from Africa and the Middle East.17 The demand for labour caused Britain, France and other countries to allow citizens of former colonies to work in their country.18 Between 1954 and 1964, France received 1.8 million immigrants from its former colonies in North Africa and Indochina. About 1 million of these migrants originated from Algeria.19 The migration flow began to be stemmed after the oil crisis of 1973, which caused many European nations to tighten their visa requirements.20 Even with greater visa restrictions, the demand for unskilled labour in Europe kept migration going. Most of the irregular migrants were actually well educated, middle class people in their country of origin, but found that their qualifications were not recognized in Europe, pushing them to unskilled labour.21 The decolonization era of the 50s and 60s also brought many migrants to Europe. Millions of Europeans, and their local allies moved from French North Africa, British colonies in Southern Africa and South Asia, the Dutch East Indies, and Portuguese Africa to Europe right before, during or after decolonization.22 Furthermore, political asylum seekers from Africa, Asia and Latin America were also coming to Europe in the Cold War era (1947-1991). There was warm western reception for refugees who left the communist bloc during this period, which spurred many more people to seek asylum in Europe.23 Historically, illegal migrants from the Global South have entered Europe through the Spanish Canary Islands; the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa; Malta and the Italian islands of Sicily and Lampedusa; and Greece.24 Smuggling flows to Italy, through what is termed the Central Mediterranean route, evolved from the 1990s when North Africans came to Italy in droves as temporary seasonal workers in the fishing and agricultural sectors of Sicily.25 These routes later became used for smuggling networks as smugglers realized the potential.

17Jaideep Prabhu.

Page4 Pieter Emmer and Leo Lucassen.

Pieter Emmer and Leo Lucassen.

Jaideep Prabhu.

Jaideep Prabhu.

Pieter Emmer and Leo Lucassen.

Pieter Emmer and Leo Lucassen.

Jaideep Prabhu.

Tuesday Reitano, Laura Adal, and Mark Shaw.


Irregular migration to Europe is a phenomenon that has grown in recent years as legal migration methods have diminished. In 2014, over 200,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea for Europe and about 3,500 lives were lost according to UNHCR.As of the 19th of April 2015, UNHCR reported that about 31,500 migrants had reached Europe by sea.26 The UN agency put the number of dead and missing at 1,750 and 1,776 respectively.27

Data Source: Frontex

The majority of legal African migrants overseas are found in Europe with about 4.6 million compared to the 890,000 of the United States according to the IOM.28 The Migration Policy Institute however estimates that there are between 7 and 8 million irregular African migrants in the E.U.29 About two-thirds of these African migrants in Europe come from North Africa.

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