“Irregular Migration“ – an Interview with Dita Vogel

20 February, 2011

Refugees, persecutees, undocumented immigrants, aliens without residence status – hundreds of thousands of them live in EU countries. The constant risk of being deported forces them to go underground, work under exploitative conditions and live without access to medical care. An interview with Dr. Dita Vogel, who is in charge of the research area “Irregular Migration” at the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI).

Dr. Vogel, how many “illegal migrants” are there in Germany at present?

Nobody knows exactly how many persons without residence status are currently living in Germany. According to estimates arrived at by our institute, 200,000 to 400,000 is a realistic figure. The number of illegal residents has been declining for years. Our maximum estimate for 2005 was as high as 700,00 undocumented persons. The decline is to some extent related to the enlargement of the EU, which has led to numerous immigrants such as those from Poland gaining legal residence status. A similar trend can be observed in other EU countries, where regulatory programmes and the economic crisis have likewise contributed to the decline.

You use the term “irregular migration” – why?

Irregular migration is a term that is gaining increasing acceptance in international organisations and scientific discussion. Irregular migrants are people who are not entitled to reside in a country under that country’s law. They were not permitted to enter it and have done so nevertheless, or should have left the country and have remained there. Official texts often speak of “illegal residence”. The term “illegal residents” is frequently felt to be stigmatizing.

Are all “irregular migrants” refugees and persecutees or rather people with entrepreneurial spirit and the courage to take risks?

The two are not mutually exclusive. Refugees or persecutees who manage to get as far as Germany will generally not be among the weakest and poorest in their home countries. Illegality is often a transitional stage: they enter the country illegally, apply for asylum and may end up going underground again, if they are unable to justify their reasons for seeking asylum or fail to have their grounds for fleeing their countries recognized as entitling them to refugee status.

But many of them work illegally… Many irregular migrants succeed in joining Germany’s underground economy, finding employment in domestic service, for instance, or in restaurants and on farms or building sites. Despite low wages, some of those who are employed in this way manage to earn a living through their industry and entrepreneurial spirit. Others are cheated of their wages and don’t know how to defend themselves.

Given the tougher border controls, how do they gain entry to EU member states without documentation?

Illegal entry by boat across the Mediterranean or to the Canaries is the most widely known route, but certainly not the most frequent. We can assume that most irregular migrants nowadays enter the country legally, as tourists for example, or manage to pass the border controls with forged documents.

How do the destination countries deal with irregular migrants? Is the situation in Germany comparable with that found in the other EU member states?

Basically, all EU member states agree, on the one hand, that human rights must be upheld, irrespective of residence law, and on the other, that people without a right of residence must leave the EU as soon as possible – preferably voluntarily, by force if necessary. Legalizations should only be possible in exceptional cases. However, there are still wide differences in the mode of implementation employed by the various member states. In Germany, for example, civil servants are subject to a duty to pass on data and must report cases of illegal residence to the competent foreigners’ authority. It was not until last year, that this duty was qualified in recognition of the fact that it might stand in the way of children attending school or people receiving emergency hospital treatment. The qualified duty must now be put into practice in the field, so that parents without residence status will send their children to school and dare to go to hospital for emergency care. In other countries, cooperation on the part of officialdom is less extensive.

Ways out of illegality

What ways are there out of illegality?

The primary and most important route is voluntary repatriation to one’s home country. For many people, illegality is only a stage in their lives. They return home because they have achieved their income goal or the situation in their home country has improved or because they cannot bear to live a life of illegality any longer.

And in the receiving country?

Some countries have legalization programmes. Other countries – such as Germany – temporarily suspend deportation of those who cannot be deported. Migrants thus enter a grey zone, which may end in renewed illegality, legality of return.

The EU intends to take steps to combat exploitative practices and prohibit the employment of irregular migrants through strict controls – will that help?

In the final analysis, the provisions on uniform penalties and controls are very vague. The mode of implementation is left up to the individual member states. What is more important is the fact that the Employer Sanction Directive of 2009 lays down that the states should have effective mechanisms in place that allow employees to lodge complaints against employers, also through third parties such as trade unions. The battle against the worst cases of exploitation of illegally employed third-country nationals, involving cases where persons without status are cheated of their wages, can only be fought with employees, not against them. This, in turn, protects German employees, as nobody can compete against a dumping price of zero euros an hour.

Others recommend preventing immigration in the country of origin – what do you think of this recommendation?

This is largely reality. Visas are only granted after close scrutiny and airline companies that have not checked passengers’ documents properly must transport them back to their home countries and bear any ensuing costs. This method functions but has negative side-effects that have not been sufficiently investigated, e.g. the extent to which desirable visitors are deterred from travelling there. Stricter border controls also tend to lead to an extended period of stay of illegal migrants because re-entering the country or moving to and fro becomes risky. In academic circles, this type of phenomenon is also referred to as the “ratchet effect”.

Volker Thomas conducted the interview. He is a free-lance journalist in Berlin and heads the Thomas Presse & PR agency.

Translation: Mary-Lou Eisenberger
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
August 2010

Toronto becomes an “underground railroad” for gay Iranian Refugees

November 19, 2010

Arsham Parsi escaped Iran five years ago and has since assisted 50 gay Iranians to safety in Canada (and consulting on 250 other cases) with the COSTI Immigration services in downtown Toronto. The arrival of lesbian and gay refugees to Canada is difficult. Temporary asylum can be even more damaging than the persecution refugees face in their home countries, said Rachel Tribe, a senior lecturer at the University of East London’s School of Psychology. Separation from family, the loss of socio-economic status and the inability to speak the language can lead to crippling depression.

In 2010 Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney increased the quota of government-assisted refugees in Turkey who are invited to Canada from 475 to 640. The two most prominent groups that need resettlement help are “refugees from Iraq who are fleeing persecution, and gays, lesbians and dissidents who have had to flee Iran,” Kenney said.

From refugee to world champion: Kosovar German footballer Fatmire Bajramaj

Fatmire Bajramaj is one of Germany’s most successful female footballers. Having escaped from the Kosovo during her childhood, she and her family settled in North Rhine-Westphalia. “Lira”, as she calls herself, started to play football secretly against her father’s will, who found football was just for men. But after watching her first official match, he supported her throughout. From the age of 17 she has played for the national team.

With only 22 years old, Bajramaj has already published an autobiography about her childhood in the Kosovo, the intensifying conflict and asylum seeking in Germany. She claims that sports helped her integrate and hopes that her book will inspire girls from ethnic minority backgrounds to see what they can achieve. Her Kosovar roots are important to her, as is living out her Muslim faith. She practices a moderate Islam; she prays, does not eat pork, but neither practices Ramadan — because she could not afford it as a sportswoman. She does not wear a headscarf and likes putting on a girlie image, contrasting that of female footballers, when she wears make-up on the pitch or shoots a goal at a TV show in high heels. The head of the German Football Association, Theo Zwanziger, calls her a shining example of successful integration.

Swiss urged to accept Guantánamo inmates

Human rights activists have urged the Swiss government to give shelter on humanitarian grounds to two ethnic Uighurs held in the United States’ military prison of Guantánamo.

“The two brothers are the unluckiest of the unlucky,” said Elizabeth Gilson, an American lawyer who represents them. She said even the US government admitted that the members of the Muslim community in northwestern China were not terrorists but refugees. “There is no evidence to believe that they are dangerous,” Gilson told journalists on Thursday. She is visiting Switzerland for talks with government officials.

The two brothers are part of a group of more than 20 Uighurs, arrested in Afghanistan and Pakistan, suspected of links to militant Muslim organisations following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.

Muslim Life in Germany

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is presenting the first nationwide representative study, “Muslim Life in Germany”, comprising people from 49 Islamic countries and thus offering an extensive view of Muslim life throughout Germany.

The research commissioned by the Deutsche Islam Konferenz (DIK; hereinafter referred to as the German Conference on Islam) gives unprecedented insight into the diversity of Muslim life in Germany as people from different contexts of origin were questioned about religion in everyday life and about aspects of structural and social integration.

A total of 6,004 people aged 16 and above were surveyed by telephone; together with the information provided about other household members the analyzes are based on data of almost 17,000 people.

The study is in English.

Paris ‘Little Kabul’ shelters Afghan boys

According to IslamOnline.net, every evening as many as 100 Afghan refugee boys arrive at the Villemin Square, in Paris’ trendy 10th district, to roll out their blankets and sleeping bags. Exhausted and without resources, they are struggling to rebuild their lives in the West. According to the refugee advocacy group France Terre d’Asile (France Land of Refuge), there were 683 migrants under the age of 18 have in the French capital in 2008, up from 480 in 2007. The group complains of lack of enough help to the Afghan refugees.

Dominique Bordin, the director for protection of minors at the group, said there are only 28 beds to shelter the boys.

The number of Afghan asylum seekers rose by 85 percent compared to an average of 12 percent for other migrants. France ranks third in the world in 2008 for the number of asylum requests, after the United States and Canada.

Sweden: Mosque attacked

A fire was set to a mosque in Stromsund, located in the basement of an apartment block. The mosque serves as a local prayer center for Muslim in the neighborhood, comprised of mostly immigrants and refugees from Uzbekistan. Police found burned cartoons inside, and are taking the case very seriously, taking into consideration the possibility that the mosque fire may have been a hate crime. However, currently it is classified as attempted arson. Friday prayers have been set up in a temporary location. There were no reports of any injuries from the fire.

The Wife of Jailed Muslim Activist in China, Huseyin Celil, Appeals to Ottawa

Kamila Telendibaeva, the wife of jailed activist Huseyin Celil, appealed to the Canadian government to press her husband’s case more with China, in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. Telendibaeva suggested their requests were ignored as they arrived in Canada as refugees are not Canadian-born. She was joined at a news conference at Amnesty International’s annual general meeting in Toronto by Rebiya Kadeer, considered the most important leader of the Uyghur people, the Muslim minority group to which Celil belongs. Celil had been traveling with a Canadian passport when he was arrested in Uzbekistan 2 years ago and eventually handed over to Chinese officials, who accused him of terrorism and sentenced him to life in prison.

No Muslims: Germany may act alone to rescue Iraqi Christians, Merkel aide says

Germany may act alone to rescue Iraqi Christians if fellow European Union nations continue to refuse a joint welcome to the refugees, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s top adviser on immigration Tuesday. Maria Boehmer said in Berlin that members of the ancient Christian minority were regularly being threatened by Islamist gangs, who were giving households a choice of converting to Islam or leaving the country within 24 hours. “In view of the serious human rights crisis in the region, rapid action is needed,” she said in Berlin. “The plight of the non-Muslim minorities which have fled to Jordan and Syria to get away from persecution is getting worse.” She called for Germany to receive refugees alone if an EU welcome were not quickly issued. Critics in the EU have argued that help for the Christians would discriminate against any Muslims who leave Iraq. Boehmer, who is government commissioner on migration policy, rejected that. “We have to start off by helping those whose plight is worst,” she said.

Less immigrants re-migrating

According to the Netherlands Immigration Institute (NMI), guest workers and refugees are staying in the Netherlands rather than going back to their land of origin. Health-care, welfare, and family connection in the Netherlands are citied as reasons preventing them from moving back. In 2007, 1725 immigrants in Netherlands went back to their land of origin – down from 1840 in 2006, and 2139 in 2004. However, the NMI also reported rising feelings of wanting to return back to their home country. According to an NMI manager, the increase comes from the prevailing social climate – people having the feeling that they are not welcome anymore in the Netherlands.