Opinion: Unraveling Europe’s Immigration Narrative: Navigating Truth Amidst Misconceptions

By Maurizio Ambrosini, Full Professor, University of Milan (FAiR consortium partner)

The recent approval of the Immigration and Asylum Pact by the European Parliament has stirred both celebration and debate. Positioned just ahead of the June elections, its significance is undeniable. Yet, amidst the fervor, there lies a complex tapestry of narratives that merit closer examination.

One prevailing notion paints the EU as besieged by migrants, with Southern Europe bearing the brunt of migratory pressure. However, in the public discourse, the lines blur between immigrants, asylum seekers, and those arriving by sea. The label of “irregular entries” often shrouds these individuals in suspicion, disregarding their plight and the challenges they face in seeking refuge from war-torn regions.

The data made available for 2023 by Eurostat help measure the validity of these arguments. They indeed speak of an increase in first asylum applications in the EU, which again exceeded the symbolic threshold of one million (1,049,000), with an 18% growth compared to 2022. Compared to the five million Ukrainians who arrived in 2022, remained in the EU, and were never mentioned in the discussion, it doesn’t seem like a shocking figure. Moreover, 17% come from Latin America, 21% from countries exempt from the visa requirement. If we consider that in the world, with ongoing conflicts, refugees have certainly exceeded the figure of 110 million (they were 108 million at the end of 2022), perhaps we should question why have so few of them arrived in the EU?

Within the EU, the distribution does not appear seriously unbalanced in favour of the Mediterranean Europe: almost a third of the applications were submitted in Germany (329,000), followed by Spain with 160,500, and France with 145,100. Italy ranks fourth with 130,600 applications, a meager 12% of the total, and precedes Greece (57,900). The other applications are related to central-northern countries southern Europe together welcomed just over a third of the asylum seekers. Italy is therefore not Europe’s refugee camp, adding that many refugees try to reach the internal countries of the EU even when they have applied for asylum in southern countries.

Efforts to curb migration flows, particularly those north of the Alps, have relied on stricter identification procedures and extended hosting responsibilities. However, the success of these measures remains limited, underscoring the complexity of irregular immigration.

Irregular immigration, unlike asylum seekers who are registered and counted, presents a more elusive challenge. It enters through various channels, including tourist permits, for study, or visits to relatives. By making life harder for asylum seekers, obliging them to longer, more expensive, and riskier journeys, it is intended to make the public believe that irregular immigration is being countered, but in reality, it means a substitution of targets.

The narrative surrounding the Immigration and Asylum Pact is further muddled by political manoeuvring. While initially hailed as a tool to disarm sovereigntist forces, its solutions largely align with their demands, promoting a skewed vision of asylum and prioritizing forced returns.

In reality, shared sovereignty in border management should be about achieving a better governance of different types of migration and upholding humanitarian principles. It is a collective effort to navigate the complexities of immigration while ensuring the protection of human rights for all. On the contrary, shared sovereignty in the New Pact is a sharing of efforts to repel poor and unwanted immigration.

Disclaimer: Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them. Grant Agreement 101094828.

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