Immigration in Europe
Away from the debt crisis that recently hit the European Union (EU), the migration crisis is the most recent calamity to have hit the Union. The crisis comes in the wake of an increasing number of refugees and asylum seekers coming into the EU countries in the droves fleeing conflicts in their native nations. The Mediterranean Sea and Southeast Europe have been the main entry points for the immigrants. These migration routes have given Europe the reputation of the world’s most dangerous destination, considering that the number of deaths of migrants with the hopes of getting to Europe remains the highest in the world at 3072 according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM n.p.). Even with such deaths, there has been a lot of finger pointing direct at the EU, whose response to the migration crisis has largely been one aiming at securing the Union’s borders. Critics’ admonition of this approach stands on the claim that it does not consider the protection of the human rights of these migrant groups. Most of the Union’s governments however remain reluctant on taking up more refugees and asylum seekers over concerns of impeding Islamic terrorism in the Union and across the continent. While many of the immigrants had initially originated from the Middle East, South Asia and parts of African, especially at the onset of the Arab Spring. There has been a recent surge in the number of asylum seekers and refugees coming into the EU following the beginning of the Syrian crisis, in addition to conflicts in Libya, Afghanistan and Eritrea, all of which are experiencing turbulence. This paper will look at some of the migrant groups into Europe and their countries of destination, reasons form migration and cultural repercussions on the immigrant families. The paper will also compare the social conditions, economic opportunities and political status of immigrants in Europe and North America, particularly the US.
Immigration in Europe so far sees an influx of three migrant groups into the continent. These are economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. A look at the three groups shows stark difference among the three migrant groups, particularly between economic migrants and the other two. Current European population trends show a continually aging population and therefore the need for migrant population to provide labor in these labor-deficient countries (Fargues 1348). Although aging is universal, the periods following the Second World War saw an explosion in population in Europe (Baby Boom). This period was however short-lived, and most of this generation is currently reaching its retirement age. This, therefore, leads to the demand for labor in some sectors of the economy with shortage in labor supply (Fargues 1356). The situation consequently offers opportunity for labor migration, with a freer worker circulation need for its effectiveness as an economy.
Economic immigration into Europe is an old trade that has seen millions of Arabs and other nationalities’ citizens migrant from their native countries into Europe. The image of Europe as a “fortress” with innumerable economic attractions has fueled and continues to fuel the desire for economic migration into the continent. The Arab-Israeli war 1973, however brought with it migration restrictions into Europe, most of which have held to date (Fargues 1356). The new restrictions regulate labor migration, permanently settling migrant families in the European countries and only allowing entry into the continent on family reunification pretexts and nothing more (Fargues 1356). The results of such restrictions have been the formulation of new ways to circumvent the labor migration laws. Among these ways are clandestine entries and overstays. From these irregular entries, “estimates put the number of new irregular migrants into the fifteen countries of the European Union at half a million per year” (Fargues 1356).
The influx of economic immigrants into Europe is a result of two factors: the hardships in the countries of origin and the new attractions in Europe. Fargues intimates that the falling of dictators in Greece, Spain and Portugal in early 70s and their entry into the EU as well as their economic takeoff because of their entry into the EU made them attractive immigrant destinations. An understanding of the push-pull factor of the EU’s economy and that of the Asian and African immigrants is visible through the growth of the export-oriented agricultural sector in Spain. According to Fargues, as of 2004, Spain was producing the same amount of agricultural produce as Morocco before it (Spain) joined the EU. The change points to Moroccan migrant labor working in the Spanish agriculture sector to produce the same amount of agricultural produce as Morocco before Spain’s integration into the EU.
Certain economic and situational circumstances therefore attract the migrant population (particularly irregular immigrants) into Europe. In addition to the growing agricultural sector in Spain that offers jobs for the irregular immigrants; jobs that national and regular immigrant will not accept due to their (jobs) lack of any upward social and economic mobility potential, Italy offers more opportunities. The Italian underground economy predates the immigration period, is entrenched in tradition, and most of the employers do not ask for documents (Fargues 1358).
The other two immigrant groups are the asylum seekers and refugees. Park defines asylum seekers as individuals running away from persecution or war, are in need of international protection. Refugees on the other hand, are asylum seekers whose claim for asylums has been granted. The United Nations however considers war-fleeing migrants to be refugees automatically, prior to their reception of asylum. Thus, the current Syrian and Eritrean nationals fleeing from their countries are automatically refugees.
The bulk of the immigrants into Europe are from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Although most of economic immigrants into Europe, as aforementioned, look for employment opportunities in the European countries, the asylum seekers and refugees largely from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea are fleeing from the political crises in their native countries. The wars and conflict in the immigrants’ native countries are so intense that most of the immigrants prefer to take the dangerous sea voyages to Europe.
Most of the asylum seekers and refugees have looked into Greece, Italy and Hungary as the main destinations for settlement. The proximity of the three countries to the Mediterranean Basin makes them the best option for the immigrants fleeing their countries (Park n.p.). Recently, however, there has been a shift in the migratory patterns, exposing Hungary to immigrant influx. Located on the EU’s eastern border, Hungary has been a recipient of more immigrants than anticipated.
Previously, Greece had been the preferred entry point for most of the immigrants. According to the Frontex Annual Risk Analysis 2013 by 2012, 51 percent of the migrants entered the EU illegally through Greece (19). However, with enhanced border controls, the number reduced only to surge at the start of 2015. By the middle of 2015, Greece had again become the preferred entry point into the EU, with a reported 132,240 entries into the EU in the first six months of 2015 (Park n.p.). The number of the reported entries was five times that reported the previous year within the same period. Of these entries, Syrian and Afghans were the majority finding their way into the country through the Greek islands of Samos, Lesbos, Chios and Kos (Park n.p.).
Italy’s Central Mediterranean passage was among the busiest of routes involving immigrants in 2014 (Park n.p.). In 2014 alone, Frontex reported 170,000 illegal border entries into Italy from Eritrea and sub-Saharan Africa. Part of the preference for this route was Italy’s Mare Nostrum program, which had credit for saving in excess of 100,000 migrants. The Italian government, however, replaced the search-and-rescue program with the Triton program, which had a smaller budget and not search-and-rescue operations. The rising death toll through the route and the diminishing security status in Libya has however prompted the search for an alternative route for the migrants. The bulk of migrants using this route are Eritreans and other sub-Saharan nationals.
Hungary is the preferred destination for Syrian and Afghan immigrants wishing to enter the EU. Additionally, migrants from Kosovo and Serbia are also using Hungary as their gateway to the EU. Frontex’s 2014 report estimated about 102,342 illegal entries into the EU through Hungary (Park n.p.). The increase in the number of immigrants into the European country prompted the erection of a barbed wire fence on the Serbian-Hungary border. Moreover, there have been restrictions on migrants with the desire to travel westwards, a situation that has prompted most of the immigrants to construct a makeshift camp at the Keleti station in Budapest (Park n.p.).
The crises in the migrants’ native nations are the greatest motivation towards the European countries. At the beginning of the crisis, most of the immigrants were men, who saw the immigration as an opportunity to look for better working and living conditions before reuniting with their families. With the escalating crises however, both women and children are increasingly taking the dangerous sea voyages. As the situation worsens in their native countries, even unaccompanied children take the dangerous journeys in hope of finding better prospects in Europe.
Most of the countries that attract the migrant populations are those with abundant social welfare benefits. Additionally, countries with a high population of permanently settled migrant communities especially from the Middle East and Africa are attractive to the migrant population. The migrants find the nations with the permanently settled immigrants attractive due to the sense of community and help they hope to receive from these permanently settled “kinsmen” (Lyman n.p.). Additionally, Western European countries are increasingly attractive to the migrant communities because they offer better employment opportunities.
Reaction of European countries to the immigration crisis, especially with regard to cultural integration in divided among the left wing and right wing states. Most of the right wings states object to the reception of the immigrants and their integration into their social fabric (Lyman n.p.). Part of the reason for their rejection is the fact the bulk of the migrant population is Islamic, while the right wing states are prominently Christian (Lyman n.p.). Moreover, the right wing states consider their economies poor with low infrastructural development and therefore are unable to cater for the incoming migrant communities. The left wing states on the other hand, have been responsive towards the plight of the migrant groups and offer cultural and social integration programs aimed at infusing the migrant populations into the very fabric of the society. Sweden has been lauded as having some of the most progressive asylum and refugee policies. As of 2014, the country had accepted 30,600 asylum applications, with Syrian refugees having the highest chances of receiving asylum in Sweden (Pabst n.p.). Sweden’s lauding stems from the country’s proactive actions towards refugees. The Swedish government has the aim of integrating the migrants into the job markets. As such, the country offers special language and cultural courses in addition to work preparation education and internships (Pabst n.p.).
The situation is however different in Italy, which is one of the most popular asylum seekers’ destinations. In Italy, the immigrants face difficulties from to the “inaccessibility to the job market due to the discriminatory attitude towards refugees (people reported that refugees are perceived
by the Italian society as “strangers”, meaning being just not Italian” (Castro 104). Moreover, employees in Italy do not accept to employ refugees in professional capacities regardless of their qualifications. The Italian employees, relegating these professionals to menial jobs, easily disregard the diplomas and degrees owned by these refugees. It is however noteworthy to mention that some employers offer the refugees opportunities to learn new skills and find employment in the learned fields such as hairdressing.
For Greece, refugees are a new phenomenon since most of the refugees used the country as a conduit to other European countries. With recent international advances though, the country has been receiving a number of asylum seeking applications. The legal framework concerning refugees is therefore considerably weak in comparison to other countries (Kiagia, Kriona and Georgaca 46). The refugee integration in Greece is therefore weak with squalid accommodations offered to the refugees and asylum applicants at their entry into the country. Further, while legal refugees and asylum seekers (during the examination of their application) have the right to work, finding employment is difficult. Those lucky enough to get face exploitation, racism, xenophobia and problems in communication. Even more is that the Greek state does not provide any form of financial support to these groups (Kiagia, Kriona and Georgaca 46).
More difficulties accompany the refugees and the asylum applicants in learning the Greek language, getting legal and medical support. Although these groups are entitled to free education, they still get no support from the government (Kiagia, Kriona and Georgaca 46). Most Greek employers, like their Italian counterparts, do not recognize the foreign degrees and diplomas held by the foreigners. However, NGOs, Greek universities and the Program of Education of Immigrants in the Greek Language offered by the Institute of Continuous Adult Education offer these immigrants lessons in the Greek language.
Like Sweden, Hungary has elaborate refugee integration programs. According to Demey, “The refugee authority and local governments provide different kinds of support and benefits
for refugees and for persons authorized to stay (persons who receive a residence permit on humanitarian grounds)” (119). The purpose for such support is to assist the recognized refugees in their quest to find independence in the new country as well as overcome the difficulties with integration. The support herein includes finances that cover housing and living expenses. Support for integration in the Hungary also includes school enrolment for the children of recognized refugees. The education supported begins from elementary to high school, with other forms of support including medical expenses, travelling and the translation of official documents into Hungarian (Demey 119).
Comparing immigration in the US and Europe presents different pictures for any refugee. The US presents a better option for the immigrant than Europe fir a poor undocumented immigrant in search of new ways for family support. While the US is custom to immigration, given that immigrants set the very foundations of the Union, Europe is not well custom to migration (Jimenez 3). According to the Economist, Europe seems overwhelmed by the current immigration crisis and is therefore not equipped to handle such complexities and level of immigration. Moreover, there have been protests against migrant population, with some European countries closing their borders to migrant populations (Pabst n.p.; The Economist n.p.). This points to hostility against migrant populations, making the US a better option for poor undocumented migrants. The US additionally presents a better destination for the poor undocumented migrant given the already wide diversity of the population. Some of the European countries are predominantly white, practice one type of religion (Christianity), and may therefore not be entirely receptive of other races and religions. This is different in the US, which has virtually all the religions and has a racial and ethnic diversity, making it easier to accept a different kind of religion, nationality and race.
Part of the reason for decrease in the number of immigrants into Greece and Italy was because of the poor treatment of the migrant population. Both Spain and Italy have job opportunities for the immigrant population in the agricultural and black economy respectively. Even with proper documents and qualifications, Italy and Greece do not recognize the professional qualifications presented by the migrants (Kiagia, Kriona and Georgaca 46). The job opportunities in these two European countries are largely those rejected by natives and documented immigrants. With immigration as part of the country’s DNA, America offers better economic opportunities for the immigrants. Not only can immigrants find jobs, they can also rise to the ranks of employers owning property and employing others (Jimenez 3). They additionally contribute to social welfare and can benefit from the social welfare programs in the US. This is a stark difference from the available economic opportunities in most European countries.
The political status of migrant population in the US is much better than that of migrants in Europe. With proper documentation, migrants in the US can vote as well as run for public office. In the UK alone, passport holders from non-EU countries cannot vote in local and general elections. The US therefore grants legal immigrants the permission to vote; it is additionally even possible for illegal immigrants to vote, although through the circumvention of the law (Dinann.p.). Moreover, president Obama, US current president is a son of a migrant student from Kenya. He (Obama) not only voted, but also ran for senate and the presidency, winning two terms in the White House.
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