What is an illegal state

Basic dossier migration

Illegal or irregular migrants, sans paper: Behind these terms are people who enter the EU without valid residence papers or who continue to stay in the EU when their papers expire.

What is irregular immigration?

In the last few years, first the so-called "Schengen states" and then the European Union created a common set of legal rules that regulate the access of non-EU citizens to their territory. If people from third countries want to enter the EU, they usually need appropriate entry documents. Anyone who enters the EU without this permit or stays longer in the EU than they are allowed to stay legally (e.g. as a tourist) is breaking EU law. Hence, people who do this are referred to as "irregular" immigrants unless they have appropriate residence permits. In Germany and in the European Union's choice of terms, they are often referred to as "illegal immigrants", in French they are referred to as "Sans Papiers" ("without papers").

Many migrant organizations reject the concept of "illegal" migration: Sovereign states have the right to determine who is allowed to enter their national territory and under what conditions. However, these regulations are not fixed and differ from country to country. While migrants of a certain status are completely legal in one state, their stay in another country could be illegal under the same conditions, e.g. if family reunification is more restrictive there.

Like all legal norms, the legality or illegality of entry and residence of immigrants are also subject to change over time. If the law is changed in one and the same country, a previously legal stay can be "illegalized". Here it becomes clear that an illegal stay can constitute a breach of the law, but the migrant who committed it is not illegal. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Auschwitz prisoner Elie Wiesel therefore asked: "You should know that no one is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. People can be beautiful or even more beautiful. They can be just or unjust. But illegal? How can a person be illegal? " The term "irregular" or "undocumented" migration is therefore used in the following.

Push and pull factors as causes of irregular immigration

When asked about the causes of immigration, a fundamental distinction is made between push and pull factors. Push factors can be found in the country of origin and encourage the desire to emigrate. They are translated with the term "pressure factors". For example, poverty, unemployment, political and / or social conflicts, environmental degradation, poor governance, lack of access to education or inadequate health care act as push factors. In addition, there are the so-called pull factors (attraction factors) in immigration regions such as the EU. They are so attractive that people accept the privations of emigrating. Emigration appears to be worthwhile to people because they expect better living and / or working conditions or a higher wage or social level. Family reasons can also act as pull factors, for example when women join their husbands who have already emigrated. Thanks to modern communication options in an increasingly networked world, information about attractive pull factors is even spreading to remote regions of Africa or Asia. This increases the number of those making their way to the EU.

The EU member states never tire of stressing that irregular immigration has negative effects on the crime and labor market situation and causes costs for social systems. Nevertheless, they are not uninvolved in the fact that irregular migration remains attractive for some groups of people despite stricter controls at the EU's external borders. Using the example of the FRG, it can be shown that irregular migrants find factually tolerated illegal employment opportunities, for example in the field of domestic work, in the construction industry or in the catering trade. The same applies to harvest workers from the Maghreb, without whom the Spanish economy could not do. Despite the damage that is often cited, national economies benefit from these cheap and legally unprotected workers. It is not uncommon for illegal employment to be overlooked or, at least, the fight against undeclared work is not adequately addressed.

Irregular migration and labor market

Warnings, fines and criminal charges for illegal employment of foreigners (& copy Migration Report 2004)
Most irregular migrants arrive with the intention of working and earning money in the EU. As these are often people with low professional qualifications, their activities are limited to a few sectors - construction, hotels and restaurants, agriculture, transport and private household services to prostitution. The latter area is closely linked to human smuggling and human trafficking. In the Eastern European countries in particular, there are networks that deliberately lure women and girls into the EU with false promises in order to prostitute them there against their will. Intimidated and without papers, the victims of such machinations usually cannot free themselves from their situation.

Exploitation and dependence usually shape the situation of irregular immigrants. Their working conditions in many companies are significantly worse than those of regular workers, which manifests itself in lower wages, a lack of employment contracts (and thus also rights) and longer working hours. Many irregular immigrants accept this exploitation for fear that they will lose their jobs or that their status will be exposed. Some irregular migrants who have fled and who have gone through asylum procedures unsuccessfully also have high professional qualifications, which they cannot have recognized because of their lack of status. For them, returning to crisis areas is usually not an alternative. In EU border areas, many irregular immigrants also work in temporary jobs and travel back to their countries of origin after completing their orders.

Media images about irregular migration

The media repeatedly report illegal border crossings that all too often have a fatal outcome. Mostly pictures are shown of people trying to get from North Africa to Spain, Malta or Italy in completely overcrowded ships. We know from television recordings of people trying to cross border rivers or green borders to get to the European Union at the eastern borders. However, these associations, which are very present in public opinion, convey a largely false image. Only a relatively small proportion of irregular immigrants come through such routes. Many enter with the help of real or fake temporary residence permits such as tourist visas and then go into hiding. For this reason, the extent of the undoubtedly existing smuggling crime is often overestimated.

Irregular migration in numbers

There are no reliable figures on the extent of irregular migration. The congruent term "undocumented migration" illustrates the problem: People who do not have a regulated residence permit also do not record any statistics. As with crime statistics, estimates in this area are based on the number of hits. The European Commission estimates that there are between 4.5 and 8 million people without valid papers in the Member States. This wide range shows how difficult it is to quantify the phenomenon of irregular immigration because the estimated unreported numbers are the basis. The European Commission assumes that there are around 350,000 to 500,000 irregular migrants annually.

The fact that the EU is protecting its external borders more and more effectively against irregular immigration does not mean that the number of people wishing to enter the country will decrease. Rather, they are increasingly taking risks as entry attempts are becoming more and more dangerous. In recent years, the number of tragedies, often fatal, has increased: every year tens of thousands try to get to the European Union from Africa by sea. Fatalities occur again and again in unseaworthy or overcrowded boats without navigation equipment, sufficient food and fluids. It is estimated that up to 6,000 people lost their lives in these immigration attempts in 2006 alone.