Readmission Policy: where is the carrot though?

The proclaimed new EU Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM) presents important contradictions: while it seeks to facilitate and organise the legal mobility of Third Country Nationals and to ensure that TCNs in need of international protection, receive it, it also aims at strong border controls and particularly emphasises readmission policies.  In this short piece we look at past experience on readmission cooperation with Albania and at the current readmission ‘hot potato’ notably cooperation with Turkey.

The readmission of irregular migrants and refugees who entered the EU territory constitutes one of the biggest challenges that EU neighbouring countries are confronted with. There are cases of third countries who have been re-admitting large numbers of irregular migrants (including own nationals) and potential asylum seekers. For instance, the visa liberalization between the EU and Albania, which has been in force since January 2011, has been a ‘reward’ for, among other things, a good record of readmissions of its own nationals from Greece over the years. This is an example of how collaboration works even though considerable policy gaps in the re-integration of readmitted Albanians are identified, e.g. there is hardly any assistance for them to find a job and/or reintegrate in their communities of origin, so that they would not try to cross the border illegally again.

There are, however, also third countries whose readmission record is rather problematic. A case in point is Turkey and its failure to implement the Re-admission Protocol that it has signed nearly a decade ago with Greece. During the period 2006-2010, Greece had filed 3,431 readmission requests to Turkey, in the context of this Protocol, concerning 62,816 people. Of those 7,359 were accepted for readmissions by Turkish authorities, but only 1,281 were effectively re-admitted to Turkey.

It is our contention that a successful readmission policy has to look closer into the political economies of the third country in question, notably Turkey, in order to understand its capacity and eagerness or reluctance to implement the Readmission Protocol and to tackle irregular migration flows with a view of arguing convincingly about the visa facilitation or visa exemption altogether.

The visa liberalization between the EU and Albania, which has been in force since January 2011, mainly offers Albanians the opportunity to seek short-term and seasonal informal work in Greece (Maroukis and Gemi 2011). Indeed such a strategy fits well with the political economy of Albania. Offering its citizens the opportunity to travel legally and work informally in neighbouring Greece eases the pressure from rising unemployment, a welfare regime under pressure and an economy that lacks basic infrastructure for achieving better distributional effects from the insertion of FDI over the last decade in the country.

The case of Turkey is not so straightforward. Commenting on the recent initiative by the Austrian government to discard the requirement of competence in German for Turkish citizens when applying for a residence permit for the purposes of family unification, the Turkish Minister of European Union Affairs Egemen Bağış characteristically stated “they [EU member states] are welcome to go ahead if they plan to carry out some sort of facilitation of the visa process. But what Turkey deserves is a visa exemption[1].

Although the external anchor of EU membership has functioned during most of the 2000s as a powerful incentive for Turkey to proceed with substantial political and economic reforms (Öniş 2012), Turkey’s economic growth record so far has given ground to the ‘’apparently paradoxical conclusion that whether Turkey becomes a member or not will not have such a dramatic impact on the quality of its economic performance and the nature of its democratic regime’’ (Öniş & Bakır 2007: 161-2). However, a key variable behind Turkey’s economic and political (in)stability in the coming years is the way Turkey addresses its developmental and re-distributional challenges.

The highly fragmented and hierarchical corporatist social security system in Turkey providing health and pension benefits only to formally employed individuals coexists with a labour market structure where self-employment, unpaid family labour and informal employment practices are very important (Buğra and Keyder 2006). Part of Turkey’s informal economic activities is migrant smuggling. Significant marginalised segments of Turkish society and marginalised regions (especially in the South-East) have been earning a living from this illegal activity (Triandafyllidou and Maroukis 2012, Danis 2006, Icduygu 2004), alleviating thus the pressure from the re-distributional inequalities (often tinted with political colours, e.g. the Kurdish issue) that the Turkish political economy faces.

For Turkey to engage into an effective readmission policy and for an effective dismantling of irregular migration networks, the EU needs to achieve better knowledge and understanding of how these are intertwined in Turkey’s socio-economic structure. What works with Albania as a visa regime might not work for Turkey. The incentives for Turkey may be different also because the bulk of third country nationals that it would have to re-admit are not its own nationals.  Hence, the carrot that the EU has to offer is a wider regime of visa exemption, plus human resources and technical know-how assistance that would help Turkey build a more effective border management system at the Turkish eastern borders. Such a ‘carrot’ would make the ‘stick’ (notably readmissions and the dismantling of the migrant smuggling networks) worth it and would provide a more durable answer to the challenge of irregular migration flows from Asia to Europe via Turkey and Greece. 

For more information, read: Triandafyllidou, Anna and Maroukis, Thanos (2012) Migrant Smuggling. Irregular migration from Asia and Africa to Europe, London: Palgrave,

Thanos Maroukis, Marie Curie Research Fellow, Bath University

Anna Triandafyllidou, Professor, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute

The views expressed by the authors are not necessarily the views of the Migration Policy Centre.


2 Comments on “Readmission Policy: where is the carrot though?”

  1. Georgia Mavrodi, RSCAS says:

    Dear Anna and Thano, these are interesting propositions. However, there a couple of questions that occurred to me while reading your article.

    a) Why is it necessarily contradictory to go for facilitation and organisation of authorized mobility of third-country nationals and stronger border controls? The conditions for entry, residence and employment do not necessarily have an organic connection with border controls. This is because in the case of authorized mobility, most often authorization for entry is obtained prior to the arrival at the border, and the authorization for continuing residence is decided after crossing the border. We may have a relaxation of the entry and residence conditions, but still have strict controls at the borders – i.e. controlling who has authorization (even with more favorable conditions for entry) and who does not. Even the institutions dealing with these two categories of issues can be different, adding to the possibility of having both policies going on (police authorities executing border controls vs. labor ministries, ministries of foreign affairs, and civil interior ministries services dealing with authorized entry and residence.

    b) I agree that success in enforcing international agreements entails a “Stick and Carrot” approach. What is debatable is what the stick and what the carrot are. The case of visa facilitation is indeed a case in point. What we need to bear in mind, I think, is that policy linkages exist that go beyond the mere framework of immigration policies. International agreements have lots to do with the general framework of bilateral relations, and the state of bilateral relations the parties wish to cultivate, maintain, etc. In bilateral relations, size and importance also matters. Even without taking into account migration dynamics, Albania (with its size, level of economic development, geographical position, etc) is more likely to yield to and implement agreements (even tacit agreements) with the EU on a series of issues (even when the outcome of such agreements is not the highest preference of the third party in the short run, exactly because there is also the bigger long-term framework of expected big benefits from good relations with the EU) than a much bigger and more important international player is (such as Turkey). Moreover, the size of the resources that the EU needs to commit in the “carrot” dimension will be much higher in the case of Turkey than in the case of Albania. The “Carrot” dimension needs to be appealing for the EU as well. Finally, the entry and temporary informal employment of Albanian citizens crossing the border following the visa facilitation policy is a remedy concerning extended unauthorized entry, but it is not a remedy for unauthorized employment of third country nationals. This has got twofold implications: on the one hand, working rights of those informally employed third-country nationals may not be observed / respected, and exploitation may still occur; on the other hand, informal employment of third-country nationals in a period of deep crisis and rising unemployment in Greece may create serious issues (of rising tensions, hostility, and xenophobia) in local communities. Whereas for two decades we had been rest assured that third-country nationals in southern Europe were doing the jobs that natives did not want, the deep economic crisis has been changing a lot of basic assumptions about our societies and even more expectations of the native populations. One of these changes is that long-term unemployed natives losing a big part of welfare services and benefits they used to have, may indeed be ending up competing with the immigrant labor force for low-paid employment. When extended informal employment for both natives and immigrants enters the equation (will all possible consequences, such as very low payment, lack of guarantees for working rights, exploitation, and other illegal practices), I think the danger for experiencing worrying social phenomena is rising considerably.

    c) Finally there is an inherent contradiction in your proposition that the EU should go for a relaxation of border controls at its own borders with its neighboring countries as a carrot for third countries to increase border controls at their own borders to other third countries. For, the same dilemmas that the EU faces other countries also face. Turkey had been – up until the eruption of the crisis in Syria – facing very similar concerns as regards to its borders for nationals of its neighboring countries and had opted for a liberalisation of its visa regime for the nationals of north African and middle eastern countries (it is well known that this was also one of the reasons why the entries of Moroccan and Algerian unauthorized immigrants to Greece increased in recent years). There, too, a stick and carrot approach was present: facilitation of movement in exchange of the benefits of improved bilateral relations, cooperation in a variety of issues, and an increased importance of the standing of Turkey in the wider region. In other words, the world does not end at the south-eastern border of Turkey, or the southern borders of Morocco. Differences in living standards, wage differentials, immigrant smuggling networks, immigration paths and systems are present everywhere. How convincing, consistent and successful can the EU be when,pursuing two exactly opposite policy goals on border controls in its immediate neighborhood?

  2. Agnieszka Weinar, MPC says:

    Dear Authors

    I read your blog entry with interest and partially subscribe to your ideas. Indeed, all bilateral relations in the world are about a Carrot and Stick approach and Carrots need to match the Stick. Nevertheless I have some doubts regarding your approach. I would echo the reservations expressed above by Georgia Mavrodi, but add two more 1) Turkey and Albania are hard to compare for a variety of reasons, not least for size, population, economic growth and sheer numbers of transit migrants to the EU; 2) there is so much EU can do.

    1) Albania is not a major transit country on the way to the EU. See the 2012 I-Map:
    During visa liberalization dialogue, transit migration was an element of a lesser importance as opposed to the wide-spread fears of a visa-free abuse by Albanians themselves. But in the end of the day, Albania is a small country so any decision on visa free was just easier.

    I would think that a more appropriate comparison would be that between Russia (visa facilitation and readmission in place, major economic hub for migrants and almost at the border of the Eu, as there is no border between Russia and Belarus) and Turkey, or Ukraine (visa facilitation and readmission, border with the EU, growing segments of economy, big population) and Turkey.

    2) there is so much EU can do. Even with visa-free for Turkey there is no guarantee that trafficking and smuggling would stop. Maybe it would become easier. Maybe visa free to the EU is not enough of a carrot anymore for a quickly developing world economy as Turkey is?

    You seem to imply that for a part of Turkish society smuggling is a way of gaining a living. I have a problem with this. Firstly, Turkey has a booming economy and its informal sector is in part its engine. Second, we cannot assume that smugglers come from the outside. If it had not been for willing EU citizens on this side of the border, smuggling would be impossible. The networks of organized crime active in impoverished regions of the EU, notably Southern Italy and borderlands of Greece (we could only speculate that many more people went into that business during the crisis…) sustain this phenomenon. The same can be said about Eastern border of the EU – but maybe the authorities there were more resolute in cracking down crack-down the home-grown organized crime (after all, the new Schengen member states on the East had to go through EU scrutiny and years of monitoring).

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