Labour Emigration from the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood: How to get the numbers right?

Executive Summary

EU’s Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM) highlights the importance of evidence-based policymaking which, in turn, depends on the accurate measurement of migration in the EU and its neighbourhood. This short piece gives a brief insight into the problems associated with statistical data collection on labour emigration from the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood to the EU and the need for its reform.


EU’s Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM)[1] highlights the importance of evidence-based policymaking which depends on the accurate measurement of migration in the EU and its neighbourhood. The knowledge tools included in GAMM – such as mapping instruments, impact assessments and migration profiles – need credible sources of data on migration to enable policymakers to make informed decisions.  In the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood[2] (hereafter, referred as the ‘region’), statistics on labour emigration are usually derived from administrative sources, which have remained largely unchanged since their creation in the post-Soviet era. The other sources are represented by specific one-off small-scale surveys conducted by governmental or international agencies.

Main challenges with the statistical data collection on labour emigration

  • Administrative sources

    Firstly, administrative sources, such as the registration of labour migrants on the basis of official labour contracts, tend to be largely incomplete and scarcely usable. In Belarus, for example, labour movements are not classified by country of birth/nationality which makes it impossible to detect the nature of flows. In Graph 1 (see below), the administrative data on flows of labour migrants in Belarus indicate that 5,522 labour migrants departed Belarus in 2011. However, in the same year, only in Poland, 10,788[3] first residence permits for work reasons were granted to Belarus citizens. Though these flows are not entirely comparable, the magnitude of the gap in the statistical data is quite striking.

Graph 1: Arrival and departures of labour migrants from and to Belarus on the basis of official labour contracts and agreements (1994-2011)


Source: Registration cards for labour migrants, Belarus (Bobrova and Shakhotska 2012[4]), Visit CARIM-East[5] website for more details

Moreover, administrative sources do not capture migrants at the destination point. It is often the case that in the semi-open border regimes (as is the case in the EU and CIS[6]) circular migrant workers do not apply for work permits, especially if performing seasonal or temporary work. Therefore, there movements are lost in the administrative statistics. For example, Belarusians do not need a work permit to work in the Russian Federation, and thus, they are simply absent from the statistics (as depicted below in Graph 2). Similarly, the number of permits issued to Moldovan labour migrants in Russia is below estimations (if compared for example with the Moldovan Labour Force Survey).

Graph 2: Temporary work permits issued to Eastern Partnership[7] (EaP) country citizens in the Russian Federation (2007-2010) *


*Notes: Migrant workers from Belarus are not included in the statistics as they do not need work permits in the Russian labour market in accordance with the Agreement between Belarus and the Russian Federation on the establishment of the Interstate Union.
Source: Federal Migration Service (FMS), Russia. For more details, visit CARIM-East database

Finally, administrative sources have complicated procedures and contradictory legal norms.  For example, in Armenia, the Population Register only provides for the possibility of registration at a place of permanent residence (de jure population) but excludes the possibility to register at a temporary place of residence (de facto population). Due to the complicated procedure of registration and de-registration, migrants do not have any incentive for complying strictly with the rules of registration. This primarily means a significant underestimation in emigration and immigration flows. Similarly, in Russia, the absence of a legal time criteria makes it difficult to separate temporary stay from permanent residence. This implies that large numbers of immigrants prefer to register as temporary migrants (i.e. in their place of stay), though the duration of stay may last several years. Unfortunately, temporary migrants’ registrations are not processed by official statistics, implying that their numbers are unknown.

  • Specialized surveys

    The only information on emigration in most EaP countries is to be found through specialized surveys such as the Labour Force Survey (LFS). They usually collect a wealth of information that allows for some basic analysis of migration trends and characteristics in the region.

    However, there are three main problems with these surveys. Firstly, apart from LFS, surveys tend to be one-off undertakings and differ in methodology or objective, ruling out any possibility for comparison in time and space. This can be seen in the case of the survey conducted by the Ukrainian State Statistics Service in 2008 in cooperation with the Ukrainian Centre for Social Reforms, the Open Ukraine Foundation, IOM, and the World Bank. This survey was repeated in 2012 and, thus, there might be a potential for some comparisons. Also in 2008, a survey was conducted in Georgia on the topic of “Development on the Move: Measuring and Optimising Migration’s Economic and Social Impacts”[8]which was a joint project of the Global Development Network, and the Institute for Public Policy Research. If not repeated with the same methodology, the data from the survey will become out-dated and useless for the future studies.

    The second problem with surveys is the heterogeneity of the applied definitions of migrationwhich makes comparison of the received data difficult. Different definitions of migrants (e.g. based on country of birth/citizenship/previous residence criteria) are often used interchangeably and applied to migration analysis.

    Finally, a key concern to be highlighted is that surveys usually take only a small sample of migrants leading to issues of statistical representativeness.

Good source of statistics = Effective migration policy?

It is clear from the above discussion that the statistical data collection system in the region is in need of urgent organizational and structural reform with functional expansion, better financial support and more human resources. More specifically, the following reforms should be implemented:

  • Currently, the most useful and updated data on labour emigration characteristics in the region is gathered by labour force surveys. However, at the moment, only Moldova has a special segment in its survey dedicated to emigration. It would be beneficial for other countries in the region to conduct similar surveys regularly in their territory with special modules that capture out-migration of household members as well as return migration.
  • Both EU and the Eastern Neighbourhood countries would benefit from specific efforts bridging the results of their respective labour force surveys and making sense of the circular mobility captured by this source at both ends of migration. Possible gaps and inconsistencies, if identified, should be further examined by focused surveys.
  • There should be the establishment of harmonized Population Registers in all the countries in the region.
  • More centralized mechanism for the gathering of emigration data and better coordination should be conducted between the various state agencies responsible for emigration-related issues
  • Qualified methodical assistance and consultations with foreign  research institutions should be provided so that the data collected meets the international requirements for international migration statistics

Please Note: The above discussion is drawn from MPC’s explanatory notes on ‘Statistical Data Collection on Migration’. To read the detailed notes, visit:

Anna di Bartolomeo, Research Assistant to CARIM East, CARIM India and CARIM South

Neha Sinha, Policy Analyst to the MPC

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

[2] For the purpose of this paper, the analysis of the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan

[3] Source: Eurostat

[5] CARIM-East is part of the Migration Policy Centre (MPC) and is the first migration observatory focused on the Eastern Neighbourhood of the European Union. The project covers all countries of the Eastern Partnership initiative (Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) and the Russian Federation

[6] CIS refers to  the Commonwealth of Independent States which is a regional association of former Soviet Republics

[7] The Eastern Partnership Initiative (EaP) is an institutionalised forum between the EU and the post-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine

Healing a neighbourhood: Potential EU responses to the Syrian refugee crisis

Syria in turmoil

The internal armed conflict in Syria continues endlessly with its cohorts of fleeing people. In addition to an estimated 20,000 civilian deaths, 2.5 million people have been afflicted, 1.2 million internally displaced and nearly 450,000 have sought asylum outside their homeland[1]. By mid-January 2013, the UN estimates that over 4 million people will be in need and the number of refugees will exceed 700,000[2]. Amidst this backdrop, how will Europe respond to the crisis in its neighbourhood?

The facts: How many Syrians fleeing the country and to where?

Neighbouring countries of Syria, except Israel, have assumed the bulk of the refugee burden. Turkey (123,747), Lebanon (97,152), Jordan (94,566) and Iraq (56,982) are accommodating the vast majority and thousands await registration. In North Africa, UNHCR has registered 9,734 Syrian refugees, and tens to hundreds of thousands are claimed to reside without UNHCR registration[3].

Only a tiny proportion of those fleeing Syria have been admitted within European borders. Although total numbers are unknown – due to the particularly clandestine nature of irregular stay and entry, and unavailable EU statistics – some facts regarding Syrians in the EU can be discerned:

  • Syrian asylum applications within Europe have increased since the beginning of the conflict, but remain small (Table 1).
  • The increase in Syrian asylum applications is concentrated in a few countries. Five in the EU (Germany with 8,435 asylum seekers recorded in 2011 and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2012; Sweden: 3,780; Belgium: 955; the United Kingdom: 915; and Austria: 825) and one outside the EU (Switzerland: 1,745)[4].
  • Recorded Syrian entries to Europe have increased since the beginning of the conflict, but remain small. The vast majority of Syrian entries were recorded at the Greek-Turkey land border (Table 2).
  • There was a negligible increase in Syrians applying for immigration in the EU. In 2010,7,829 Syrians applied for a first permit of residence and 8,106 in 2011 (2012 data is unavailable) indicating that applying for immigration in the EU has not been an access route to Europe for Syrians , at least in the first year of the crisis. Sweden, the only country providing data for 2012, suggests that change may have recently occurred: first residence permits granted in Sweden to Syrian nationals were 140 per month in average in 2010, 167 in 2011, but 274 in 2012 (January – June), almost twice their number before the crisis.

Table 1. Syrian asylum claims in EU by quarter

Quarter Applications
Q1-11 1,510
Q2-11 1,725
Q3-11 2,750
Q4-11 2,935
Q1-12 3,000
Q2-12 4,013
Q3-12 4,560

*Data compiled from EUROSTAT

Table 2. Recorded irregular Syrian entries into Europe by quarter

Quarter Irregular Entries
Q2-11 274
Q3-11 602
Q4-11 614
Q1-12 715
Q2-12 2,024

*Data compiled from Frontex FRAN Quarterly Report, various issues.

The EUs response to the crisis

In addition to political efforts aimed at assisting the Syrian people – i.e. actions that hasten a democratic transition– the EU has taken several actions regarding the crisis:

Humanitarian aid

By 16 November 2012, the EU and its Member States had provided an approximate €288 million in assistance to those within and outside the country.[5]

Granting protection 

Syrian asylum seekers have been granted the highest percentage of positive decisions out of the top 30 nationalities applying for asylum in the EU. EUROSTAT reported that in Q2 2012, 4,390 out of 4,765 applications were positively granted protection – 1,595 refugee status and 2,755 subsidiary protection – meaning that almost all were granted some form of protection.[6] Levels of protection vary across Europe. In Germany, the vast majority of Syrians who apply for asylum are granted subsidiary protection. In Sweden, most Syrians who apply for asylum will automatically be granted a temporary residence permit for three years.[7] Norway and Denmark are granting ‘tolerated stay’ to Syrians. Other countries, like Greece and Eastern European states, have higher rejection rates of Syrian asylum claims when compared to the rest of Europe.[8] Other discussions have focused on providing shelter – albeit temporary – as EU and Greece considered providing shelter, if necessary, for 20,000 Syrian refugees on the islands of Crete and Rhodes.[9] Most EU Member States have refrained from forcibly repatriating Syrians back to their country.[10]

Consideration of a Regional Protection Programme (RPP)
The EU has considered implementing a RPP that could enhance “the capacities of the authorities and of the organisations dealing with international protection and refugee issues with a view to meeting the longer term challenges they will face and providing durable solutions.” [11]

Increased border security
In July 2012, Greece with the assistance of Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office) dispatched 1,800 border guards to the Greek-Turkey Evros border and placed 26 floating barriers along the river. More than 80% of Syrians crossing into Europe in the first quarter of 2012 did so through this border.[12]

Healing a neighbourhood: What other actions could the EU take?

Most countries involved in the conflict are acutely linked to the European Union, not only through Association Agreements, but also through their involvement in a progression towards a more peaceful, stable and prosperous region. At a time when unprecedented changes are occurring in the region, the EU could grasp this situation as an opportunity to show its responsibility to burden sharing and its commitment to mutually improving both shores of the Mediterranean. In order to continue efforts at resolving the Syrian crisis, the EU could:

  • Increase refugee resettlement for those who have been affected by the Syrian crisis and are the most in need. The EU has not publicly acknowledged the need for Syrian resettlement and has instead focused on providing assistance to third host countries. The EU could encourage resettlement as it has done in other refugee-producing conflicts (Iraq).
  • Continue positive asylum procedures throughout the EU, and grant prima facie recognition including provision of sufficient assistance.
  • EASO could take a more active role. EASO could provide and analyse clear data regarding Syrian refugees and coordinate MS’ efforts at providing protection to Syrians. It could in particular advice Member States about the right status to be granted to Syrians and on how to assist Syrians already within the EU.
  • Continue to work with its international partners to find a political and humanitarian solution to the Syrian crisis.

Christine Fandrich, Research Assistant to the MPC

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

[1] UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response, and the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department of the European Commission, ECHO.

[2] UN News Centre (9 November 2012) Retrieved from:

[3] UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response. See also:  Fick , M. (2012 , October 18). Un: 150,000 syrian refugees have fled to egypt. The Guardian. Retrieved from; and UNHCR. Syria situation regional roundup. (2012, October 23). Retrieved from


[5] For detailed provision of EU humanitarian assistance, see: ECHO Factsheet Syria (16 November 2012).


[7] Migrationsverket. (12 August 2012). Due to the current violence in Syria, many people will be allowed to stay in Sweden. Retrieved from

[8] UNHCR. (2012, October 18). Op. cit.

[9] UNHCR. (2012, October 11). Greece to accommodate syrian refugees on tourist islands. Retrieved from

[10] According to Frontex, “Syrians were not returned in large number (less than 300 persons), but while the numbers were rather stable in most Member States, Greece reported a sharp increase in returns of Syrians as of June 2012” (about 125 people).  Frontex. (2012, October). Fran quarterly issue 2. Retrieved from:

[11] Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the European Union. (2012, October 24). Press release – common european asylum system and regional protection programme for syria on the agenda of jha. Retrieved from

[12] Frontex.