International Centre for Migration Policy Development presents a brief analysis of migration and policy trends.
2022 will be another challenging year for EU migration policy. Below is a non-exhaustive list of trends and developments that will be high on the agenda of decision-makers and analysts alike.
1. The rise in irregular migration to the EU.
Almost 200,000 illegal crossings were recorded at the external borders of the EU in 2021. This corresponds to an increase of 57% in comparison to 2020 and 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.
2. Shifting pressures on the main migration routes.
In reaction to increasing migration pressures, Greece closed its external borders and temporarily suspended the admission of asylum applications in early 2020. In 2021, it introduced additional measures such as closed and controlled reception structures, wider use of administrative detention or the extension of physical border control facilities and surveillance. Apparently, the strict Greek asylum policy prompted irregular migrants and asylum seekers to switch to alternate routes. This trend is likely to continue in 2022, exacerbating the pressure on reception and migration management
capacities in the Western Balkans and along the Central Mediterranean Route.
3. The migration effects of the Taliban takeover.
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the rapidly growing humanitarian crisis in the country are likely to lead to additional displacement and outbound flows of refugees and migrants. According to initial assessments, another 500,000 Afghan refugees are expected to flee the country. The countries in the region have closed their borders, limited access to passport and visa holders, and cut support for newly arriving Afghans. These measures are likely to control the size of movements. In the medium to long term, it will be difficult to fully control the vast borders in the region and the activities of the well-established smuggling networks. The increasing numbers of asylum applications lodged by Afghan nationals in the second half of 2021 suggest that the EU will see arrivals increase in 2022 as well.
4. Growing tensions in Libya.
The continued presence of foreign armed forces and tensions over the presidential elections endanger the fragile state of stability in the country. Ongoing disputes about fundamental rules governing elections and uncertainty about when they will be held will also impact migration from and through Libya and Libyan partners’ capacity to cooperate with the EU and the international community on solving migration issues. Coupled with growing instability in sub-Saharan Africa and the political and
economic challenges faced by neighbouring Tunisia, these developments in Libya make it very likely that the scale of irregular migration along the Central Mediterranean Route will remain high or even increase in 2022.
5. The flaring up of the Syrian conflict.
Violence has continued throughout 2021 and hostilities have re-intensified for the first time since the ceasefire agreement of March 2020. The humanitarian situation has significantly worsened. Along with the economic downturn in Turkey, which is the major host of Syrian refugees globally, 2022 is likely to see increased primary and secondary movements of Syrians towards the EU. Already last year, the number of asylum applications lodged by Syrian nationals in an EU Member State was 71% higher than
in 2020 and 46% higher than in 2019.
6. The reorientation of migration flows from Latin America.
In recent years, asylum seekers from Latin American countries, especially Colombia and Venezuela, ranked high in European Union apprehension statistics. In 2020, their number declined. At the time, this change was thought to be the result of the extensive restrictions on air travel from third countries to the EU during the first phase of the pandemic. The gradual lifting of restrictions in 2021, however, did not lead to a resurgence of Latin American asylum migration to the EU. The drop in applications is
believed to be the result of fewer flight connections to Europe and increased movement towards the United States. Envisaged policy changes announced by the new US administration appear to have sparked hopes for a more liberal stance towards migrants and refugees and prompted a reorientation of related flows from European destinations to the US.
7. The continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migration.
The pandemic has increased economic pressures on large parts of the overall population in low-income countries but also on the migrant and refugee populations residing within their territories. The resilience of migrant remittances might cushion some of these pressures but surely not all of them. Uneven economic recovery is likely to fuel irregular migration also in 2022. This assumption is supported by developments observed in 2021, such as the increase of irregular flows from North African countries, secondary movements of Syrian and Afghan nationals from Turkey and Iran, or the
sharp increase of irregular arrivals from Latin America at the southern border of the United States. Bangladesh observed a slowing of remittances via official channels in the second half of 2021, as migration ramped up again and informal funds transfer systems gained in importance again.
8. The EU response to the instrumentalisation of irregular migrants.
The instrumentalisation of migration is not a new phenomenon. Countries in the neighbourhood have pressured the EU before to make political or financial concessions in return for cooperation on migration control. The deliberate creation of a migration crisis at the EU’s external borders, however, instigated and controlled by Belarussian authorities, added a dimension different from previous instances. The EU’s swift, unified and robust response in cooperation with non-European partners halted this scheme. But the situation will remain volatile in 2022 and thousands of migrants are left in
a state of limbo, and an immediate threat to their lives and well-being.
9. The presidential elections in France and the French Presidency of the EU.
2022 is a big election year in Europe, all of them important for European migration policymaking. The greatest attention will be paid to the presidential elections in France. Euroscepticism is widespread among the French electorate and the majority of candidates and is linked to a tougher stance on immigration and the wish to repatriate power from the EU to the Member States. The elections will also influence the implementation of the French Presidency programme as it pertains to migration.
The programme focuses on reforming the Schengen Area and continuing the work on asylum and migration. It emphasises the need to better address the instrumentalisation of migration and to prevent irregular migratory flows within the Schengen Area.
10. New accents in Germany’s migration policy.
The new government’s coalition agreement contains an extensive chapter on migration. It calls for a restart of Germany’s migration and integration policy to reflect the stance of a modern immigration country. Amongst other things, the coalition agreement calls for a strengthening reinforcement of functioning partnership agreements with non-EU countries following a holistic approach and including economic cooperation, visa facilitation, skills transfers, job platforms and cooperation on the reintegration of rejected asylum seekers. Moreover, the coalition agreement is committed to
reforming the European asylum system and ensuring a fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity. Thus, Germany seeks to forge a coalition of member states that are receptive to admission.
11. Renewed attempts to address secondary movements.
The issue of secondary movements of asylum seekers among member states has been high on the European agenda for years. In Germany, one priority identified in the coalition agreement of the new government is to prevent the misuse of visa-free travel for secondary movements within the EU. The French Presidency aims at a reform of the Schengen acquis that helps to prevent irregular migratory flows within the Schengen Area. Internal border controls were a much-debated issue in the EU before,
with the European Commission and several member states insisting that such controls must remain the exception. It can be assumed that this debate will continue throughout 2022.
12. Labour shortages and the discussion on legal migration channels.
The European Union has entered a period of demographic ageing. By 2050, the share of the EU population of working age will shrink by 37 million. Already now, many vacancies cannot be filled with domestic applicants and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it all the clearer how much the European economies depend on essential workers. Last year, an apparent shortage of lorry drivers in the UK and other European countries made the headlines, spurring fears of interrupted supply chains and missing deliveries of food, fuel and other essential goods. Current labour shortages might be less severe than
portrayed in the media and much can be done through upskilling, higher wages and better working conditions. But European labour markets will remain tight in 2022 and beyond, intensifying the debate on ways to fill immediate shortages and to cope with long-term labour market demands. This might give renewed impetus to the further development of instruments such as the EU’s Talent Partnerships and to overall cooperation with non-EU countries on labour migration issues.