CARIM - Consortium for Applied Research on International Migration

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Irregular Migration

Click here to view the publications in this series.

I. Introduction

Throughout the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean (SEM) region, a pattern of unstable and often irregular immigration has emerged in the last decade, confronting states with new challenges. While part of this migration has received increasing attention from the European Union, SEM countries are alone in dealing with the rest. Developing a comprehensive approach of the growing and multifaceted phenomenon of irregular migration in the SEM region has become increasingly pressing. Preparing the ground for such an approach is the objective of the CARIM Thematic Session on irregular immigration into, and through, the SEM.

Three types of irregular immigrants into SEM countries may be distinguished:

  • Irregular labour migrants form the first type. While they respond to actual opportunities offered by the labour market of the country where they are (generally in the informal sector), they do not respond to a formal demand for labour and do not fulfil all the legal conditions of entry, stay and employment, and therefore may be considered undesirable by the government of the country in question. On one side, the rise of this category is linked with economic changes in SEM countries and with the emergence of new employment niches. On the other side, it is associated with policies and protectionist measures that reserve a number of professions, skilled or unskilled, for nationals in order to alleviate the problem of persisting unemployment. These policies create a fertile ground for an irregular labour demand and pave the way for different scenarios of irregularity: irregular entrance and/or regular entrance and irregular stay, or regular stay but irregular employment. It is noteworthy that part of these migrants had been initially admitted as foreign workers on a legal basis, who subsequently became irregular due to changing labour legislation or because they overstayed their residence permits. Frequently, migrants do not even perceive the different status given the low level of legislation enforcement.

  • Refugees are the second and numerically the most massive type of flow. They originate mainly from Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea and are hosted by Syria, Jordan, Egypt and, to a lesser extent, by Lebanon. Of all recent population flows, the influx of Iraqi refugees to other Arab countries is the largest and most uncertain. Their future is unclear. Return to Iraq is not a solution in the short term, and admission for resettlement in a Western country is unrealistic for the vast majority. This leaves their indeterminate stay in Arab countries as the most likely scenario, with various ensuing economic and social problems for the host country as well as for the refugees. Most refugees in SEM countries do not have a recognised refugee status and are stranded in their country of first asylum, waiting to be resettled in a third country or to return to their home country as soon as security is re-established following a peace agreement or national reconciliation.

  • Transit migrants form the third type. Transit migration is a new category in the lexicon of international migration which refers to people initially heading for regions further away - Europe, North America or the Gulf states - but who remain blocked at their gate because they do not meet visa conditions. They respond to pull factors operating in a different region from that where they find themselves stranded, and are therefore perceived and treated as unwanted newcomers. Transit migration reflects a paradox: at a time when the movement of people is increasingly easy and affordable due to cheap means of transportation, migration becomes difficult and costly due to more restrictive legislation and reinforced border control.

The three aforementioned types of irregular migration greatly differ insofar as they are not shaped by the same motives, but they often tend to merge inasmuch as the migrants end up having the same socioeconomic and legal conditions. In addition, because many SEM countries are used to viewing themselves as source and not host countries, they do not have well-articulated immigration policies, and tend rather to develop protectionist laws with no project whatsoever for integrating immigrants into society.

In this context of competing interests and needs, CARIM organises a Thematic Session with the aim of grasping the phenomenon of irregular migration in the SEM region, detecting its dynamics, evaluating its repercussions, and envisaging policy responses. The Thematic Session will conduct an innovative reflection on a growing group of population who willingly or unwillingly find themselves in SEM countries.

II. Content of the Thematic Session

Based upon the three modules of the CARIM network – Demo-economic, Legal, and Socio-Political – the session will tackle the following issues.

  1. Definitions

The following are among the main issues concerning definitions:

  • Categories in use (irregular, illegal, undocumented, informal, etc.) refer to different levels of language and realities;

  • The classification of migrants varies according to time (one may be successively irregular and regular, or the other way round), domain (irregularity may differ with regard to entry, stay, employment, access to services; etc.) the country of nationality (visa requirements may vary according to country of nationality), etc;

  • Regarding persons in transit ─ i.e. those who stop for some time in a place en route between the point of origin and the point of destination without intending to remain there ─ a distinction between travellers and migrants has to be elaborated. Duration is a key criterion: How long should a person be in a ‘travelling’ process before he/she becomes an immigrant? Due to the lack of this sort of criterion and because of the lack of reliable data, transit migration is a phenomenon that is difficult to observe.

  1. Methods of measurement

Contrary to other population statistics routinely collected by the state with a view to administrating people, data on irregular migrants do not correspond to any routine operation since the phenomenon itself escapes the state’s control.

A reflection on how to get round this intrinsic difficulty will tackle the following issues:

  • Direct count vs. indirect estimation;

  • Ad hoc direct surveys on irregular migrants;

  • Administrative records that help to indirectly estimate irregular migration: numbers of entries vs. exits; numbers of apprehended cases; statistics on deportation and regularisation; employment vs. residence statistics; etc.;

  • New methodologies adapted to SEM realities.

  1. Current levels, trends and differentials

The situation in each country of the SEM, then at the regional level, will be described along the following lines:

  • Stocks and flows of irregular migration by type (labour migrants, transit migrants, refugees with or without a refugee status);

  • Origins, routes and destinations of irregular migrants, by type;

  • Smuggled, trafficked and other irregular migrants: categories of irregularity (entry, stay, work) and their changes over time (visas overstayed, regularised persons, changing regulations on the access of foreigners to employment, etc.);

  • Profiles of irregular migrants (gender, age, family composition, education, economic activity, skills).

  1. Causes and consequences

Two important sets of questions will be asked:

  • Which push factors lay behind irregular migration in the origin country and which pull factors play a role in destination countries in the SEM region? In other words, why has irregular migration become a massive reality into and across the MENA region and what are the economic, demographic, legal, social and political reasons behind irregular migration?

  • Do irregular migrants contribute to the economies of SEM countries and how, according to type of migrants? Do they contribute to the economy of their country of origin? Are they integrating in SEM societies?

  1. Policy-making

Questions concerning policy-making will be asked:

  • How do policy-making institutions, national legislative frameworks, and labour legislations deal with different types of irregular migrants in the concerned country?

  • How do state and non-state institutions (trade unions, regional and national labour organisations, human rights associations, NGOs…) consider and deal with irregular migrants in SEM countries? Is it possible to identify best and worst practices?

  • What has been done so far to contain irregularity, either through bending the supply of, or demand for, irregular migrants, or through extending the scope of regular migration in SEM countries?

  • To which extent and under which conditions can international conventions, regional instruments (African Union, Arab League, EU neighbourhood policy, etc.) and bilateral agreements influence this phenomenon in the SEM region?

  • Do more restrictive legislative frameworks on the entry and stay of migrants and asylum seekers and tighter border management reinforce irregular migration? Which policies work and which do not?

Click here to view the publications in this series.

Gender and Migration

CARIM has launched the new research topic: "Gender and Migration". Click here for more details and information on related events.

Highly-Skilled Migration

CARIM is currently publishing papers following research into Highly-Skilled Migration into, through and from the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean and Sub-Saharan Africa. Click on the link to view the papers in the series.

Migration Profiles

CARIM Migration Profiles provide an overview of demographic, economic, legal and sociopolitical aspects shaping migration in the country.
Click here for more information

Irregular Migration

CARIM has published 36 papers as a result of research into Irregular Migration in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Countries.
Click on the link to view the papers in the series.

Circular Migration

CARIM has published 38 papers as a result of research into Circular migration in the Euro-Mediterranean area. Click on the link to view the papers in the series.

Iraqi refugees

CARIM has just published 10 papers on Iraqi Refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. Click on the link to view the papers.

Page last updated: 14/02/2010NULL