Growing Crises at Borders and Key Elections Signal EU Migration Pivot in 2022

By Jaya Ramachandran

VIENNA (IDN) — 2022 will be another challenging year for EU migration. The International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) Outlook lists key issues that will be high on the agenda of decision-makers and analysts alike. Founded in 1993, ICMPD holds UN observer status and cooperates with more than 240 partners including EU institutions and UN agencies.

According to the Outlook, almost 200,000 illegal crossings were recorded at the external borders of the EU in 2021—marking an increase of 57% in comparison to 2020 and of 38% in comparison to 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Driven by growing instability in major countries of origin and aggravated by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, this trend is likely to continue in 2022, says the Outlook.

Events in 2021 caused not only a large spike in irregular migration, but also a shift in the routes irregular migrants are choosing to take to Europe. The closure of borders and tightening of controls in Greece continued the earlier trend towards the Central Mediterranean and Western Balkan routes. The first experienced an 84% increase in detections, totalling at 65,000, and the second a 64% increase, totalling at 60,500. With Western Balkan borders overburdened by such high flows, migrant smuggling networks will continue to target the region, predicts the ICMPD.

The main drivers behind the spike in overall numbers were conflict and economic imbalances. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan displaced over 670,000 Afghans, and initial estimates predict a further 500,000 will flee the country. Though a large share of the 73,000 asylum applications submitted by Afghans in the EU during the first ten months of the year were made by Afghans who had at some point resided in EU territory before, the EU and Turkey should expect a significant increase in arrivals in 2022, says the international organisation.

Elsewhere in the region, the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Syria continues to drive migration towards Europe. The vast majority of the one million Syrian refugees located outside the region are hosted in Europe and the economic downturn in both Syria and Turkey is expected to significantly increase this number in 2022. Iraq is experiencing similar struggles after COVID-19-related economic contraction and vital resource scarcity that has caused 20% of the population to need humanitarian assistance.

Uneven recovery from the economic and social turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all main regions of origin of migration to Europe, says the Outlook. The number of arrivals from North Africa, and from Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, continues to rise. While the global economy is expected to grow by 4.9% in 2022, GDP growth in low-income countries is projected at 5.1%, an increase that is clearly below pre-pandemic forecasts and hardly sufficient to compensate for the adverse economic effects of COVID-19—a factor that is expected to fuel more irregular migration in 2022.

The ICMPD cautions that 2022 will prove to be a significant year in carving out how Europe responds to increasing levels of migration. Pending parliamentary or presidential elections in Hungary, France, Malta, Italy, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, have already shown that stances on migration will play a significant role in campaigns and future government action.

The position of France, as the holder of the Presidency of the European Council during the first half of 2022 and the second most important destination for migrants in Europe after Germany, will be crucial in this regard. Many candidates have aligned themselves with a tougher stance on immigration and a wish to repatriate power from the EU to the Member States. This somewhat contrasts the new German coalition government’s calls for a greater solidarity and responsibility sharing in hosting refugees and asylum seekers.

Michael Spindelegger, Director General of ICMPD says: “While 2021 was quite a remarkable year in terms of increasing flows of irregular migration to Europe, 2022 shows signs that it will perhaps be even more critical in setting the path for years ahead.

Through the crisis in Belarus last year, Europe showed that it will not allow migration to be instrumentalised as a geopolitical pressure tool. The bloc’s swift, robust and unified reaction, that included sanctions and extended to cooperation with non-EU partners, laid out a blueprint for future responses.”

In view of the fact that the ICMPD Migration Outlook 2022 intends to look ahead and to project major developments for the upcoming year at the EU and national level. Although forecasts on migration are difficult to make, the 2022 Migration Outlook identified 12 main migration issues that will shape the migration year in Europe and beyond.

These are: The rise in irregular migration to the EU, shifting pressures on the main migration routes, the migration effects of the Taliban takeover, growing tensions in Libya, the flaring up of the Syrian conflict, the reorientation of migration flows from Latin America, the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migration, the EU’s response to the instrumentalisation of irregular migrants, the presidential elections in France and the French Presidency of the EU, new accents in Germany’s migration policy, renewed attempts to address secondary movements, and labour shortages and the discussion on legal migration channels. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 February 2022]

Photo credit: Andrey Popov/ via:

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