The EU's Global Approach to Migration and Mobility - European Union Committee Contents

Chapter 4: irregular migration and trafficking in human beings

72.  The GAMM states that "the legitimacy of any migration and mobility framework depends on effectively addressing irregular migration … Intra-EU cooperation is essential, and so is the goal of reinforcing partnerships with non-EU countries". Therefore, the second pillar of the GAMM focuses on "preventing and reducing irregular migration and trafficking in human beings".[91]

Irregular migration and the GAMM

73.  When the Global Approach to Migration was originally adopted in 2005, irregular migration was at the top of the European Council's agenda. Irregular migration remains one of the thematic priorities of the revised GAMM but is now presented as one of "four equally important pillars". There was disagreement among our witnesses about whether the GAMM did, and whether it should, give equal weighting to each of the pillars. The Government considered that the prevention and reduction of irregular immigration was a key aspect of the GAMM but Charles Clarke, who was Home Secretary when the UK Presidency first proposed the Global Approach, thought that the revised GAMM attached insufficient importance to irregular migration. He told us that "the second pillar ... is more important than any of the other three because it is the area which gives rise ... to the greatest doubts and uncertainties in the population about where we stand".[92]

74.  Other witnesses were very critical of what they saw as the over-emphasis placed on irregular migration compared to the other three pillars, believing that this undermined the success of the GAMM and limited the desire for third countries to cooperate with the EU in this area. Professor Boswell considered that the GAMM was dominated by home affairs considerations. In her view "the underlying and more or less explicit concern … is to try to offer more incentives to cajole third countries into accepting measures to reinforce border control and, in particular, to encourage them to sign and implement Readmission Agreements".[93] The Migrant Rights' Network thought this pillar was poorly defined and undermined the success of dialogues and partnerships with third countries by creating a negative starting point and failing to take account of the positive benefits of migration.[94] Claude Moraes MEP was critical of the tendency of EU level policies to emphasise what he called "the hard side … of security and control" to the detriment of "the soft side", such as discussions about demographics, what kind of immigration countries want and integration. He considered that this imbalance occurred because Member State governments tended to look to the EU for control solutions—"some more boats in the Mediterranean"[95]—but due to national political sensitivities were extremely reluctant to consider the facilitation of migration at the European level.[96] Ultimately, Bernd Hemingway concluded that "the best way to fight irregular migration is to ensure that there is a fair share of legal migration". He cited the case of Italy's quota for Tunisian immigrants which "more or less stopped" irregular migration from Tunisia to Libya.[97]

75.  Tackling irregular migration is one of the most developed aspects of EU migration policy in legislative and especially operational terms. Unlike legal migration, where Member States' divergent needs and resistance to transfers of sovereignty have constrained EU action, in the area of irregular migration, where governments share more common interests, there has been more progress. Existing EU legislation on irregular migration includes the Returns Directive and the Employer Sanctions Directive. The Government did not opt-in to either Directive. This Committee recommended that the Government should have opted-in to the Returns Directive.[98]

External border controls and tackling irregular migration

76.  The GAMM states that "the EU should continue to give priority to transfers of skills, capacity and resources to its partners, in order to prevent and reduce trafficking, smuggling and irregular migration, and to strengthening integrated border management". It refers to the need to implement existing legislation on irregular migration and highlights the importance of EU agencies such as Frontex in preventing irregular flows. It also refers to "forthcoming Commission proposals on smart borders, including an entry/exit system and a registered travellers' programme".[99] A networked European border surveillance system, EUROSUR, is being developed for the southern maritime border and the eastern land border, in addition to the Commission's forthcoming 'smart borders' proposals. The Commission has also mooted proposals for a common border force or guard. The current systems will have to be adapted to accommodate changes to the EU's external border once Croatia joins the EU in 2013.


77.  By far the most significant site of unauthorised border-crossings into the EU is the Greek-Turkish border. Charles Clarke thought that "a year or so ago" 90 per cent of people crossing the Schengen border without authorisation did so by traversing the Evros River between Greece and Turkey.[100] According to an assessment by the IOM, there were currently 1 million irregular migrants in Greece.[101] Christopher Chope referred to the inability of the Greek authorities to deal with the crisis on their border and expressed doubt about the effectiveness of Frontex in supporting their efforts in this regard. His view was that Schengen members should be required to demonstrate that they can control their own borders effectively and if not that they should be removed from the Schengen Area.[102] Stefano Manservisi disagreed with the negative assessment of the efficacy of EU interventions at the Greek-Turkish border, stating that European co-financing had enabled a substantial increase in the number of Greek border guards, which, along with Frontex interventions, had dramatically reduced irregular crossings at the land border.[103] He thought that the Greek-Turkey "border has been managed properly" since the end of August 2012.[104]

78.  Charles Clarke also emphasised the importance of an effectively managed external border, including the ability to monitor who is entering and leaving (which modern technology makes possible), and considered this to be important for maintaining public confidence in the wider immigration system: "people will not have confidence in the way in which migration is controlled and governed unless they believe that there are proper controls in these areas".[105] Stefano Manservisi agreed about the importance of effective border controls, saying that "if we do not have a credible border management system, our system is not credible".[106] However, he argued that "to reduce illegal migration, the only way is to go to the origin of the problem", which is why engagement with third countries through the GAMM is essential. This includes cooperation with third countries to fight organised crime networks involved in the smuggling of people, as well as looking at options for opening up legal channels for migration and mobility. Without such engagement, border controls "while necessary, will not be effective". Professor Keith was sceptical about states' ability to control their own borders and queried whether investment in border controls was cost-effective. He concluded that despite the "extraordinary emphasis" on Frontex and issues of enforcement, "the realities sometimes defy the rhetoric of the states".[107]

79.  Mark Harper MP, the Minister for Immigration, stated that the EU clearly had a role to play in managing its external borders and that its ongoing work in this area, which saw particular Member States and EU Institutions working together, was valuable. While he agreed that Member States, including the United Kingdom, should support other Member States such as Greece through funding and the secondment of national experts, he did not believe that the EU should "stand in place" of those Member States and make decisions on their behalf.[108]

80.  Some of our witnesses cautioned that the political emphasis on external border controls obscures the fact that most irregular migrants do not enter Europe irregularly. Bernd Hemingway told us that "the public perception of migratory flows across the Mediterranean Sea … seen on the television and published in other media … does not reflect the reality. Irregular migration is comprised mainly of visa overstayers".[109] Stefano Manservisi agreed with this view.[110]

81.  We strongly support the Government's efforts to play an active role in the work of Frontex and the development of EUROSUR and believe that it is in the United Kingdom's national interest that these operations are efficient, effective and well resourced.

82.  However, we believe that while external border controls are a crucial part of any strategy to deal with irregular migration, they have limited effects on reducing irregularity, not least since most irregular migrants in Europe are visa over-stayers. We recommend that both Member States and the EU consider a more balanced and comprehensive approach to over-stayers, including the selective encouragement of legal migration channels. We also support the Commission's forthcoming proposal for an entry-exit system.

EU Readmission Agreements

83.  The EU has entered into, or commenced negotiations for, a number of Readmission Agreements with third countries. More information is given in Box 3 and a complete list is available in Appendix 4. Readmission Agreements are often, though not always, negotiated at the same time as visa facilitation agreements, with the latter intended as compensatory measures for the former. In the context of the GAMM, both visa facilitation and Readmission Agreements will form integral parts of Mobility Partnerships, which we discuss further in Chapter 7.

84.  While the United Kingdom does not participate in any of the visa facilitation agreements, because they relate to the Schengen Area, it participates in all 13 Readmission Agreements that are currently in force. The number of enforced and voluntary returns that have taken place from the United Kingdom to the third countries covered by the Readmission Agreements is set out in Appendix 4. While there is not much use made of some of the agreements with smaller countries, in the case of the larger source countries, there have been significant increases in the number of returns during 2011.


EU Readmission Agreements

EU Readmission Agreements are negotiated between the EU and third countries to facilitate the return to their country of origin persons residing without authorisation in a Member State. Readmission Agreements are an important tool for returning irregular migrants. They stipulate an obligation to readmit nationals of the country with which the EU has signed the agreement and also a commitment to readmit stateless persons and persons of another jurisdiction who have entered the EU without authorisation from the country in question. Readmission Agreements also contain technical provisions on documentation, transit operations, and time limits. There are currently 13 Readmission Agreements in force, and several pending Agreements that have yet to be concluded due to sometimes protracted negotiations.

85.  Professor Boswell noted that "fairly substantial numbers of migrants had been returned under Readmission Agreements"; information campaigns to deter irregular migration on the other hand, had made much less of an impact.[111] However, Hugo Brady considered that Readmission Agreements needed to be assessed to see whether they "are worth investing so much time and energy in". In particular, he thought the Commission should evaluate whether the EU agreements were more effective than bilateral ones. One supposed added-value of Readmission Agreements is that they allow for the return not only of the third country's nationals, but also any national that had travelled through the country's territory to get to the EU. However, he stated that this was a rarely used aspect of Readmission Agreements, whether for political or technical reasons.[112] Charles Clarke considered that, in theory, Readmission Agreements were a good idea and thought that returns and readmissions should be a much more significant part of EU foreign policy but judged the EU's success in this area to be "extremely patchy".[113]

86.  In 2011, the Commission published a Communication on the evaluation of EU Readmission Agreements. It aimed to evaluate the implementation of the Readmission Agreements already in force, assess the ongoing readmission negotiations and provide recommendations for a future EU readmission policy, including on monitoring mechanisms.[114] However, this evaluation relied upon sometimes unreliable data provided by some Member States and Eurostat data, which was also considered to be deficient in some respects. It referred to the role of Joint Readmission Committees (JRCs), which include representatives of each party and usually meet once a year, and are responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Readmission Agreements. It also stated that JRCs should improve their performance in this area by drawing more on information about the situation "on the ground" from NGOs and other international organisations, as well as Member States' embassies and EU delegations.

87.  The Minister for Immigration confirmed that the Government would only seek to opt-in to those Readmission Agreements that they considered would provide some benefit or value for the United Kingdom. If existing bilateral agreements were deemed to be adequate or there were considered to be no issues between the United Kingdom and the third country in question then they were unlikely to opt-in.[115]

88.  We have consistently advocated the United Kingdom's participation in all EU Readmission Agreements. We believe that they can be important tools in facilitating returns to third countries particularly if bilateral relations were to weaken between the United Kingdom and particular third countries. We were disappointed that the Government chose not to participate in the negotiating mandates with Belarus and Armenia and would like to see the United Kingdom opt-in at a later stage. We support the Government's decision to opt-in to the agreement with Turkey.

89.  We believe that the existing Readmission Agreements would benefit from a full evaluation and urge the Government to support such an approach by the Commission.

Human trafficking

90.  The GAMM states that "initiatives to provide better protection for and empower victims of trafficking in human beings" should be a priority under the second pillar. It states that the EU "takes a holistic approach focusing on prevention, prosecution of criminals and protection of victims" and recommends that trafficking in human beings should be "systematically included in relevant EU agreements and strategic partnerships with non-EU countries and also in political dialogues on migration and mobility".[116]

91.  The Human Trafficking Directive was adopted by the EU in 2011 and the Government decided to opt-in after it was adopted, with our support.[117] The Commission also published a strategy in June 2012 on the eradication of trafficking in human beings.[118] The UNHCR also supported the EU's work in this area.[119]

92.  We support the commitment to embed anti-trafficking measures in wider external migration relations as well as the recognition of the need for a more coordinated and strategic approach. We look forward to seeing evidence of these commitments being put into practice in the 2014 evaluation report of the Anti-trafficking Strategy.

93.  The Minister for Immigration told us about joint working between ministers in the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office on anti-trafficking initiatives as an example of inter-departmental cooperation.[120] The Government also stated that the GAMM's main thematic recommendations on the fight against human trafficking were in line with their own approach to this issue.[121]

94.  We restate our support for the United Kingdom's participation in the Human Trafficking Directive and welcome the Government's joined-up approach to this area.

91   GAMM, p. 15 Back

92   Q 145 Back

93   Q 219 Back

94   Migrant Rights' Network Back

95   Q 331 Back

96   Q 330 Back

97   Q 366 Back

98   EU Committee, Illegal Migrants: proposals for a common EU returns policy (32nd Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 166) Back

99   GAMM, pp. 15-16. The Government is unlikely to opt-in to either of the 'smart borders' proposals as Schengen-building measures. The United Kingdom also operates its own e-Borders system outside of Schengen. Back

100   QQ 161-162 Back

101   Q 377 Back

102   Q 216 Back

103   See Figure 3 and paragraph 24 in Chapter 2 Back

104   Q 319 Back

105   Q 143 Back

106   Q 319 Back

107   Q 193 Back

108   QQ 246-247 Back

109   Q 364 Back

110   Q 319 Back

111   Q 224 Back

112   Q 180 Back

113   Q 151 Back

114   Commission Communication, Evaluation of EU Readmission Agreements, COM (2011) 76, 23.2.2011 Back

115   Q 248 Back

116   GAMM, pp. 16-17 Back

117   Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, OJ L101 (15 April 2011) p 1 Back

118   Commission Communication, EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016, COM (2012) 286, 19.6.2012 Back

119   UNHCR Back

120   Q 261 Back

121   UK Government Back

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