Raising questions over the Swiss vote against mass immigration – A Policy Brief by Prof. Vincent Chetail

decisions-in-life-10036078The recent short victory of the ‘no’ to mass immigration in Switzerland raises several questions: How come a country with a successful economy says no to immigration? What are the implications of this vote beyond the issue of freedom of movement within the European Union?

These were the questions posed by Professor Vincent Chetail, Director of the Global Migration Centre and Professor of Public International Law at the Graduate Institute Geneva, on 27 February 2014 at the EUI during his lecture on “The Swiss vote against mass immigration, freedom of movement and international law: a preliminary assessment”. The lecture was followed by a stimulating discussion chaired by Professor Philippe De Bruycker, Deputy-Director of the MPC, in which Professor Adrienne Héritier, Professor of Comparative and European Public Policy, acted as discussant.

A policy brief by Professor Chetail follows his lecture at the EUI, the full text of which can be found HERE. The author identifies a number of treaties contrary to immigration quotas and examines the different options available to Switzerland since the popular vote.

Global Migration Policy Brief “The Swiss vote against mass immigration, freedom of movement and international law: a preliminary assessment” by Prof. Vincent Chetail, Graduate Institute Geneva


How migrants’ social remittances have empowered women in Turkey?

Social remittances are ideas, know-how, norms, values, knowledge, behaviour, practices and skills that migrants bring home with them or that they send home from abroad. These can promote or deter development in home countries, (Levitt, 1998, 2001, and Levitt and Lamba-Nieves, 2011).  Levitt (2001) argues that social remittances are, in fact, more important than financial remittances. She mentions four types of social remittances that are transferred from migrants to their home countries: norms, practices, identities and social capital.

Social remittances can be diffused by migrants as well as by refugees. They are transferred when migrants return or visit their home countries; when non-migrants visit their family and friends in the destination countries; or when a letter (or phone-call, fax, email, video…) is received (Levitt and Lamba-Nieves, 2011).

Social remittances do not only affect family relations, economic and social well-being, gender roles, class and race identity. They also have a substantial impact on political, social, cultural, economic and religious participation. They can challenge people’s ideas, beliefs and views about, among other things, democracy, politics, institutions, health, culture, society, religion, technology, science, business, economics, education, and gender issues.

A new EUI Working Paper (Akkoyunlu, 2013) addresses the effect of migration on women’s empowerment in Turkey, 1960-2011. The number of women in the Turkish parliament is chosen as a gauge of women’s empowerment and is explained by the emigration rate, the relative education of women to men, and by a measure of democracy. A particularly relevant study (Lodigiani and Salomone, 2012), finds that migration to countries with higher political empowerment for women significantly increases the share of women in parliament in the home country: this work is a major inspiration for Akkoyunlu (2013). However, their data cover 1960-2000 and migration data is available only by decade. The data in Akkoyunlu (2013) are annual and cover the post-2000 period, when there was a major shift upwards in terms of the parliamentary participation of women in Turkey.

The results of the study can be summarised thus:

  • A      1% increase in the ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary schools      increases women’s parliamentary share by 7%. This is a very large effect. A      1% increase in emigration rate increases, meanwhile, the share of women in      parliament by 0.50%. This is also a significant impact. Thus, emigration      contributes to women’s empowerment in Turkey. In addition, a 1% increase      in the measure of democracy increases women’s parliamentary share by      0.25%, suggesting that democratization encourages the empowerment of      women.
  • The      destination-specific effect of emigration on women empowerment is very important:      Turkish emigration to the West encourages women’s empowerment in Turkey.      The effect is striking. A one percentage point increase in migration to      the EU and OECD countries increases the share of women in the Turkish      parliament by 7 percentage points in the long-run, almost the same magnitude      as the education variable. Turkish migration to the West conveys, to      non-migrants in Turkey,      values, norms, and practices that contribute to women’s empowerment as      much as does the education of women. In contrast, emigration to Arab      countries had comparatively less impact on women’s empowerment; likewise      emigration to Russia and the CIS countries did not particularly affect women’s      parliamentary share. Emigrants to Arab countries are more likely to      support the religious parties and their ideologies in Turkey. Religious      parties in Turkey, e.g. the Welfare Party, activated millions of women to      circulate the party’s ideology by going door to door. But women did not      have many places in the representative and administrative systems of the      party. In fact, there was only one woman from the Welfare Party in      parliament during the period examined here. This might explain the low      impact of emigrants to Arab countries on women’s parliamentary share in      Turkey.
  • The      results are robust for the inclusion of asylum seekers and refugees in the      emigration data.
  • The      paper suggests that migration, and thus social remittances should be      accepted as an important component in development for both sending and      destination countries.  Migrant      women’s organisations or migrants’ organisations that seek to empower      women in the destination countries should, according to Akkoyunlu, be      supported and encouraged by destination country governments. These      organisations should be linked to organisations in the home countries by      the sending country governments. The author suggests too that more formal      dialogues through conferences, seminars, and workshops should be      established and strengthened between migrants and non-migrant communities      by both sending and destination country governments and NGOs. Then, the      social, political and cultural problems of the sending countries should be      investigated and better understood by destination countries, and the      migrants should be understood as a central element in understanding these      problems. They offer solutions as well as contributing to non-migrant      communities in the home countries through ideas and knowledge, not to      mention through norms and values accumulated in host countries.

Şule Akkoyunlu, Robert Schuman Fellow at the Migration Policy Centre.

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


Akkoyunlu, S. (2013). Migration-Induced Women’s Empowerment: The Case of Turkey. EUI Working Paper RSCAS, MPC Series 2013/77.

Levitt, P. (1998). “Social Remittances: Migration Driven Local-Level Forms of Cultural Diffusion”. International Migration Review, 32(4), 926-948.

Levitt, P. (2001). The Transnational Villagers. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Levitt, P. and D. Lamba-Nieves (2011). “Social Remittances Revisited”. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 37(1): 1-22.

Lodigiani, E. and S. Salomone (2012). Migration-induced Transfers of Norms. The Case of Female Political Empowerment, IRES Discussion Paper 2012-1.

To what extent are migration issues articulated in programs of political parties in the EU Eastern Partnership countries and in Russia?

In post-Soviet states the impact of migration and induced social risks (brain-drain, aging, depopulation, etc) are now a reality. Yet, little is known about the extent to which migration rhetoric has evolved and penetrated into the political party programs of European Union’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries– Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine–, and in Russia.

The country experts of the CARIM-East project conducted a pilot examination of migration rhetoric in the programs of political parties of Russia and EaP countries in 2012 (Moldova in 2011). This policy brief is based on the comparative review of their research (see the bibliography below for detail).

In the late 1990s migration debate centred on dramatic emigration trends and brain-drain (Bobrova 2012, Chelidze 2012, Chobanyan 2012a, Mukomel 2012, Oprunenco 2012, Rumyansev 2012, Tolstokorova 2012). In the 2000s migration dynamics changed for some post-Soviet states. From emigration countries Ukraine, and recently also Georgia,  became transit routes for migrants (Tolstokorova 2012, IOM 2008). In Azerbaijan the expansion of the energy and construction sectors attracted immigrants from Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, and post-Soviet Central Asian republics (IOM 2009). As migrants gradually established their residence in destination countries, migration debate refocused on the issues of integration and rights of migrants.

However, the programs of political parties of EU Eastern Partnership countries remained distant from realities of migration and provided little discussion of migration issues.

There are several patterns that emerge from comparative analysis:

1. Role of political parties limited, migration barely mentioned in party programs

In some countries, such as Azerbaijan and Belarus, the political impact of political parties is quite limited. In Azerbaijan, the New Azerbaijan Party has been the ruling party and has won the majority of seats in all parliamentary elections in the last 18 years since 1995 (Rumyansev 2012). In Belarus the number of political parties has decreased from 40 parties in 1990 (Bobrova 2012) to only 15 registered political parties in 2012 (Central Commission of the Republic of Belarus 2012). This trend is also evident in the parliament of Belarus.

The limited role of political parties in the political system largely shapes the extent of their impact and contribution to policy-making. In Azerbaijan migration issues have only barely been mentioned in the programs of political parties (Rumyansev 2012). The emphasis has been on the refugees and the internally displaced persons from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that have largely dominated the migration discourse in Azerbaijan (Rumyansev 2012). In Belarus, despite  reference to human rights, ethnic non-discrimination, preservation of cultures of minorities, the revival of the culture of Belarussians, migration issues are barely mentioned (Bobrova 2012).

In these circumstances, it is the government that is the initiator of migration policies or the legislative reforms on migration. In Azerbaijan, for example, “[the] Members of the Parliament] … do not introduce anything new to the debate on migration” and “… laws [are] drafted by the government, the content of which as a rule is not seriously debated or criticized” (Rumyansev 2012:1).

2. Migration rhetoric typically problem-centred, not migration policy-centred

When migration issues are incorporated in the programs of political parties, then the emphasis is on trends and causes of migration rather than the migration policy itself. The migration debate remains heavily linked to domestic problems, such as socio-economic challenges (e.g. unemployment), demographic (e.g. low child-birth, depopulation) or is entangled with minority issues (integration, preservation of the titular nation and its culture, rights of ethnic groups or migrants). Here are a few examples:

In Armenia programs of political parties frequently used migration to accuse national authorities of Armenia for bad handling of country’s socio-political and economic development. The party programs frequently emphasized commitment to create new jobs  and reduce emigration, halt depopulation by increasing the birth-rate, develop mechanisms to encourage return migration or repatriation of the diaspora (Chobanyan 2012a).

In Moldova, the Communist government (2001-2009 years) referred to migration as a “caprice” and failed to admit the high emigration of Moldovans and the poor economic conditions that caused this migration (Oprunenco 2012). Thus, such issues as the brain drain, risks and benefits of labour migration, rights of migrants were frequently included in the programs of opposition parties (Oprunenco 2012). And yet, as an apparent paradox, the Communist government of Moldova consolidated Moldova’s migration system, established bilateral cooperation on labour migration and adopted various policy programs targeted at engaging Moldovan labour migrants for Moldova’s economic development (Oprunenco 2012).

Russia and Ukraine (and also Belarus) have been favourite migrant destinations among the former Soviet states. Thus, here the migration rhetoric of political parties has been linked with ethno-politics and integration issues. In Ukraine migration issues proposed to the parliament have usually been confined to ethno-politics, and have been entangled with language and minority policies (Tolstokorova 2012). In this context the policy objectives on migration have been framed as conditional on solution of larger social challenges, such as diasporas, rights of ethnic minorities, national identity, etc, and such issues as the rights of Ukrainian migrants abroad, immigration of foreigners, brain drain have become only selectively emphasized, politically manipulated and have avoided targeted policy response (Tolstokorova 2012).

In Russia the public has been divided between pro-immigration and anti-immigration attitudes, so have the political parties (Mukomel 2012). Due to the expansion of the public support for radical nationalist and xenophobic attitudes in the 2000s, to retain their electoral support, some political parties, such as Just Russia, have taken a more moderate position on migration, others, such as Yabloko or the Right Cause have refocused their migration rhetoric on advocacy for ethnic/migrant tolerance and anti-nationalism, whereas the United Russia has even been reluctant to articulate a position on migration in its party program to not alienate their electorate (Mukomel 2012).

3. However…

In some post-Soviet states more than in others political party programs have also debated the actual migration policy of the country, and have proposed legislation or a policy framework on migration. This has been rare in the South Caucasus and more prevalent in Russia and Ukraine where migration debate has largely been determined by the multi-ethnic structure of the society and has centred on the risks and benefits of inflow of migrants and the conditions of their integration in the society.

4. What next?

While the research of CARIM-East country experts focused on post-Soviet states with fragile democratic systems, migration is politicized also in West European consolidated democracies. But in emergent democracies where policy frameworks are new and still need to adopt to the country specificities to become effective, this political manipulation can lead to inaction in policy-making or result in frequent shifts of migration politics, allow xenophobic stereotypes to penetrate into policy decisions, can delay the economic development of the country and even make the country more receptive to external pressures on certain policies. For example, due to the highly politicized nature of migration, the political elites have often failed to adopt policies to potentially not be blamed for resulting migration trends, such as in Armenia, where the draft Law on Regulation of Overseas of Employment, drafted in 2001 and modified several times since then has to date not been adopted by the parliament of Armenia. In the opinion of the experts, “[t]he main reason for not adopting the Draft Law so far is mainly explained due to the cautious attitude of politicians towards migration issues, particularly, those, which are related to regulation of overseas migration, since the perception of general public is that the Government actions only would encourage emigration from Armenia” (Chobanyan 2012b: 3).

“This only confirms that that there is substantial role that the civil society and international organizations can play to increase the awareness about migration issues and the migration policy among the political actors and the society in large. To increase the emphasis on migration issues in political party programs, the civil society organizations could conduct  advocacy campaigns to push the migration issues into agendas of political parties. This should also increase the involvement of multiple actors in migration policy-making. Second, this should also have a counter-balancing affect on political parties that use migration as an election card: the civil society can monitor that political parties remain consistent in positions on migration they take on the paper (in the party programs) vs. during elections and when they achieve power, and can  expose those political parties that do not have a (consistent) position on migration policies” (Makaryan 2013:12-13).   


Shushanik Makaryan, Former Research Assistant to CARIM-East, Faculty Affiliate at Population Research Institute of  Pennsylvania State University, USA

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

Further Reading:

The interested reader can also consult the comparative review by Makaryan (2013) or the detailed country-specific discussion for Armenia (Chobanyan 2012a), Azerbaijan (Rumyansev 2012), Belarus (Bobrova 2012), Georgia (Chelidze 2012), Moldova (Oprunenco 2012), Russia (Mukomel 2012), Ukraine (Tolstokorova 2012).



Bobrova, A. (2012). “The Role of Migration in the Political System of Belarus”, CARIM-East Explanatory Note 12/107, RSCAS: European University Institute, Italy.

Central Commission of the Republic of Belarus on Elections and Holding Republican Referenda. (2012a). Facts about Political Parties in Registered in the Republic of Belarus, per 25 June, 2012 (in Russian), accessed Feb. 7, 2012

Chelidze, N. (2012). “Migration in the Agendas/Programmes of Political Factions and Political Parties in the Parliament of Georgia, 2011“, CARIM-East Explanatory Note 12/34  RSCAS: European University Institute, Italy.

Chobanyan, H. (2012a) “Migration Rhetoric in Armenian Political Parties’ Programs“, CARIM-East Explanatory Note 12/102,  RSCAS: European University Institute, Italy.

Chobanyan, H. (2012b) “Migration Emigration and Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia“,   CARIM-East Explanatory Note 12/30,  RSCAS: European University Institute, Italy.

IOM (2008) Migration in Georgia: A Country Profile 2008.

IOM (2009). Azerbaijan Labour Market Survey Report.

Makaryan, S. (2013) “Migration Rhetoric in Political Party Programs: Comparative Review of Case-Studies of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine“. CARIM-East Research Report 2013/28, RSCAS: European University Institute, Italy.

Mukomel, V. (2012). “Migration Rhetoric in Program Documents of Russian Political Parties“, CARIM-East Explanatory Note 12/112,  RSCAS: European University Institute, Italy.

Oprunenco, A. (2012).  “Migration Issue in Programs and Platforms of Political Parties in   Moldova“, CARIM-East Explanatory Note 11/21,  RSCAS: European University Institute, Italy.

Rumyansev, S. (2012) “Political Parties and Problems of Migration in Azerbaijan” (in Russian), CARIM-East Explanatory Note 12/53,  RSCAS: European University Institute, Italy.

Rustavi 2 Broadcasting Company. (2011). Labor Party calls for blocking Readmission Treaty with EU, March 1, 2011, accessed March 10, 2013

Svoboda (2013). Програма ВО “Свобода”, as amended in 2011, accessed, March 3, 2013

Tolstokorova, A. (2012) “Migration Rhetoric in Programs of Political Parties of Ukraine” (in Russian) CARIM-East Explanatory Note 12/41,

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 www.carim-east.eu

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: http://www.carim-east.eu/publications/explanatory-notes/statistical-data-collection-on-migration/

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 www.carim-east.eu

[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:  http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43458&Cr=syria&Cr1=&Kw1=syria&Kw2=deaths&Kw3=

[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 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/10488910; and UNHCR. Syria situation regional roundup. (2012, October 23). Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=50866f729&query=syriansegypt.


[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 http://www.migrationsverket.se/info/5833_en.html.

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

[9] UNHCR. (2012, October 11). Greece to accommodate syrian refugees on tourist islands. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.se/en/media/baltic-and-nordic-headlines/2012/october/12-16-october-2012.html

[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: http://www.frontex.europa.eu/assets/Publications/Risk_Analysis/FRAN_Q2_2012_.pdf

[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 http://www.cy2012.eu/index.php/en/news-categories/areas/justice-and-home-affairs/press-release-common-european-asylum-system-and-regional-protection-programme-for-syria-on-the-agend

[12] Frontex.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Common EU Response Needed

Towards civil war or conflict resolution?

The conflict in Syria has quickly escalated and prospects for peace – let alone peaceful regime change – seem unlikely. The human death toll is unknown. Accounts from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claim over 17,000Syrian deaths (11,897 civilians, 4,348 soldiers and 884 military defectors).[1] The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced.[2]   

Although the conflict has continued for 17 months, the beginnings of a downward spiral can be discerned. In the past month alone, there have been a number of army desertions, and high-ranking military and political officers have defected. International leaders, the UN, and the Arab League have implemented sanctions, and have called for a transitional government to replace Assad. The US, the EU, and certain Arab states have also been assisting the Syrian rebels – whether monetarily, or with weapons. The Syrian rebels, however, do not form a coherent group, as forces are divided between the Free Syrian Army and the salasfists, and attacks against the government have not yet led to a significant weakening of the regime. 

Although initially wounding – particularly after the assassinations of four high-profile members of the regime – outcomes of Syrian rebel-led operations against the government remain unclear. If the rebellion is successful, could Assad fall? Would civil war, particularly between the new regime and potentially marginalized minority groups or Assad loyalists, follow? Syria’s complex communal context could turn any of its religious or linguistic groups into a target for violence: alongside a large Sunni majority, sizeable minorities comprise Shias (2 million, including Alawites), Christians (1.5 million), Druze (0.5 million), non-Arab Kurds (2 million), Palestinian refugees (close to 0.5 million), and Iraqi refugees (unknown number, possibly close to 100,000). If unsuccessful, could the regime unleash all the military powers of the state, leading to more deaths and refugee outflows?

Refugee movement gaining momentum: Neighbours of Syria host the vast majority of refugees

As the rebel strikes intensify, and as the Syrian government responds with more retaliatory violence, thousands of refugees pour over Syrian borders. On 20 July, and within 48 hours, the UNHCR witnessed a doubling of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, with perhaps 30,000 Syrians crossing to Lebanon[3] – within one day’s time, it observed more than 3,000 Syrians flee into Iraq.[4] 

Numbers of refugees assisted by UNHCR have almost tripled in three months from 45,633 on 18 April 2012 to 117,087 – with another 5,000 awaiting registration – on 24 July 2012. The vast majority have fled to neighbouring countries: on 24 July 2012, 42,682 were registered in Turkey; 35,911 in Jordan; 31,004 in Lebanon; and 7,490 in Iraq.[5] UNHCR and other global and local NGOs are working within these countries to provide basic needs support and essential services; however, services are increasingly limited, and access to basic needs and services is allocated unevenly or unattainable throughout countries of asylum. Israel is the only among Syria’s neighbours where no Syrian has yet tried to find shelter, but human rights movements have warned that its government should respect the principle of non-refoulement and not turn back those who may flee across its border.[6]

Turkey at the external border of the EU: Europe receiving more entries of Syrian refugees

As the numbers of Syrians escaping into neighbouring countries increases, numbers fleeing to Europe are also on the rise. Germany, the EU MS with the largest number of Syrian asylum applications, witnessed the number of Syrian asylum applications double within the first five months of 2012, from 295 in January to 615 in May, totalling 2,155 in this time period alone (compared with and 2,030 Syrian claims in 2010, and 3,440 in all of 2011). Sweden comes next with 865 Syrian claims from January through May 2012 (compared with 450 claims in 2010, and 635 in 2011).[7]

Asylum applications filed by Syrians in Europe as a whole have markedly increased. From January to May 2012 alone, 5,370 asylum applications have been filed throughout EU Member States, and Norway and Switzerland – almost equalling the total number of Syrian applications in the entire year of 2010 (5,575). This number is undoubtedly much higher as not all MS have reported all numbers of applications, making it extremely likely that this number will soon surpass total Syrian applications filed in 2011 (8,920).[8] 

Frontex data also indicates an increase of Syrians detected as illegally crossing into Europe, as their number increased by almost six-fold within Quarter 1 (January 2012 through March 2012), with 715 entries, when compared to Quarter 1 2011 (126 entries) – the vast majority of which (83%) were detected at the Greek-Turkey border.[9]  First, it must be noted that not all those entering Europe without the proper documents are detected; and second, that while refugee camps in Turkey have been established close to the Syrian border, most Syrian refugees outside camps seem to be staying in Istanbul, i.e. close to the land border of Europe, which many of them may wish to reach.

Needs for designing a proper status

Although most EU MS have suspended forced return to Syria of Syrian nationals being in an irregular situation, there has been no decision or initiative at the EU level to prepare and organise a common or harmonised response to the arrival and stay of refugees from Syria in Europe since the beginning of the crisis more than 17 months ago.

As activating temporary protection status for Syrian nationals within the EU (as was recommended by UNHCR and the EU Parliament during the Libyan crisis) seems highly unlikely, the EU could opt for a common response to harmonise the receiving conditions and the protection of Syrian nationals in EU member states. EU institutions could commit themselves to the following:

*Ensure that no Syrian nationals are brought back to Syria or pushed back at the EU border;

*Ensure that Syrian nationals have the possibility to apply for asylum when they enter an EU territory;

*Facilitate the application procedures to reduce delays;

*Ensure that Syrian applicants all receive a protection status – either subsidiary (protection, which can be renewed or revoked based on risk of harm, to someone who does not qualify for refugee status, yet risks serious harm in returning to their country) or convention-based (protection granted to those who meet the UN definition of a refugee) – according to national regulations and individual situations.

During the Libyan crisis, the EU fundamentally failed to organise solidarity at the intra-EU level or to exemplify burden-sharing with its neighbourhood. The Syrian crisis is a second opportunity for the EU to unfold its capacity to: offer a common and collective response to refugee crises; to use and foster the respect of its acquis in regards to asylum and refugee protection; and to ensure that Syrian nationals on its territory are offered a proper protection.

Christine Fandrich, Research Assistant to the MPC

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

[1] “Activist group says Syrian death toll over 17,000.” Reuters, 10 Jul 2012. Web. 23 Jul 2012. http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/10/syria-crisis-toll-idINDEE86908X20120710

[2] UN News Centre. “Syria: Ban alarmed by intensifying violence, condemns attack on government building.” UN News Centre, 18 Jul 2012. Web. 23 Jul 2012. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42510&Cr=syria&Cr1  

[3] “Les habitants de Damas affluent au Liban, la peur au ventre”, L’Orient-Le Jour, 21 Jul. 2012

[4]  BBC News. “Syria crisis: Thousands of refugees flee violence.” BBC News. 20 Jul 2012. Web. 23 Jul 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18929940 

[5] Syrian Regional Refugee Response: Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey 20 July 2012, pg. 1. http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

[6] Amnesty International: Israel must protect Syrian refugees, The Jerusalem Post, www.jpost.com, 21 July 2012 



[9] Frontex, FRAN Q1, 2012.  http://www.frontex.europa.eu/assets/Publications/Risk_Analysis/FRAN_Q1_2012.pdf

Is it time for Italy to resume cooperation with Libya in the field of migration ?

On 3 April 2012, the Italian Interior Minister, Anna Maria Cancellieri, and her Libyan counterpart Fawzi Abdulaal concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on security[1] so as to combat the unauthorized departures of migrants from Libya, which seem to be on a rise again. The arrangement refers to the 2000 UN Convention against transnational organised crime and focuses on fighting the smuggling of migrants, while facilitating the voluntary return of migrants to their origin country, in cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). To this end, it mentions the training of the Libyan police to control borders, recommends information exchange between the two countries and also the creation of a system of data management for civil registries. As early as June 2011, the Libyan National Transitional Council (CNT) and Italy had concluded a Memorandum of Understanding to manage migratory flows; this undiscussed agreement was denounced though by MSF as a misleading response to departures coming out of a state of war[2]. It was supposed to guarantee that the new Libyan government would acknowledge the obligations previously undertaken by Gaddafi’s regime.

The new MoU indeed recalls agreements concluded between Italy and Libya before the revolution. Already in December 2000, the two states had decided to work together against terrorism, drug smuggling and irregular migration, and at that time too, the agreement was not published[3] or discussed. In December 2007, an agreement was signed to establish joint patrols in the Mediterranean, followed in August 2008 by a friendship treaty, which entered into force in the first half of 2009. From 2003 and 2004, Italy and Libya organised the collective return to Libya of those migrants who had arrived in Lampedusa after a transit in Libya. After 2009, direct push-back was facilitated and boats could be intercepted at sea and returned to Libya, before they made land on Italian territory[4].

Yet, the revolution launched on 17 February 2011 led to the suspension of these agreements. Hundreds of thousands of migrants fled war-torn Libya[5], and a minority, stranded in the country, tried to leave it from the Mediterranean coasts. Among the 58,000 migrants who reached Europe after crossing the Mediterranean in 2011, 56,000 landed in Italy and half of these were Tunisian[6]. While the departures from Tunisia were mostly “voluntary”, exits from Libya were driven by war and the vast majority were refugees, from Somalia, Eritrea or Ethiopia. According to UNHCR estimates, more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe in 2011[7]. Migrants and refugees take incredibly high risks and dangers may be compounded by the attitude of some authorities at sea.

Cooperation between Italy and Libya to counter migration has been long denounced. Feeling powerless in the face of migrants’ endless attempts to cross the Mediterranean, never mind the strengthening of border controls in the last decade, European states have let wild practices expand: boats pushed back to Libya, failure in assisting migrants at sea, collective expulsions… For years, this kind of behaviour has been denounced without an adequate response or an official condemnation, due to a number of obstacles. On 14 April 2005, a resolution of the EU Parliament condemned the collective expulsion to Libya on 17 March 2005 of 180 migrants who had arrived at Lampedusa[8]. Arguing its lack of competence because of an incomplete communautarisation of asylum law, the European Commission did not intervene[9]. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) also asked for interim measures on 10 May 2005, urging Italy to suspend the expulsion of eleven migrants. The Court was then constrained to remove the case from its list on January 2010 for a lack of factual elements[10]: it had become impossible to find the migrants, by then back in Libya.

Why will things change ?

Interestingly, changes will not come from the fall of Gaddafi, the war in Libya or the expectation of a future Libyan democracy. They will result from fundamental legal and institutional steps in Europe. On 23 February 2012, the ECHR condemned Italy for having pushed migrants back to Libya on 6 May 2009[11]. A group of 200 people who set off from the Libyan coasts was found at sea by Italian forces, and accompanied back to Libya. Thanks to the CIR (Consiglio Italiano per i Rifugiati), whose presence in Libya had been authorised in 2009, 24 persons out of 200 were taken in charge and decided to refer to the ECHR to report how they had been unable to file a request for asylum before being brought to Libya, where most of them were detained. In its judgement, the Court found that Italy had violated article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, since there was a real risk that the applicants would be subjected to inhuman treatment and torture in Libya and that the applicants had been exposed to the risk of arbitrary repatriation. The Court argued that Italy had also violated article 4 of Protocol n°4, which prohibits the collective expulsion of aliens, since the Italian authorities failed to carry out any form of examination of each applicant’s individual situation. The Court also held that there had been a violation of article 13 as the applicants were unable to lodge their complaint with a competent authority[12]. Most importantly, it stated that Italy could not “evade its own responsibility by relying on its obligations arising out of bilateral agreements with Libya”.

In addition to this historic case-law at European level, EU law has also taken a significant step which implies that such practices can no longer be tolerated. On 1 December 2009, the Lisbon Treaty entered in force, making the European Charter for Human Rights compulsory as primary law and confirming the full communautarisation of EU asylum policy. This means that EU Member States are compelled to respect human rights, but also that the European Commission shall check member states’s obligations in terms of human rights and the right of asylum. On 6 March 2012, the European Ombudsman opened an inquiry concerning the implementation by FRONTEX of its fundamental rights obligations[13] during its border control missions[14]. The attitude of vessels at sea is also the focus of a report adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 24 April 2012 to raise this fundamental question: “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”[15]. It points to the failure of NATO, Italy, Spain and Malta and other countries in meeting their obligations to respond to migrants’ distress calls at sea in March 2011. Lastly, NGOs going to national jurisdictions for similar practices have been multiplied[16], following a similar trend in Australia, the pioneer in externalising border control.

With the conclusion of this new MoU with Libyan representatives, Italy does not seem to have learned from experience. This arrangement is part of a long series of ‘gentleman’s agreements’ which are not submitted to any debate in Parliament and which entirely lack transparency. Italy may put an end to this practice of concluding agreements in simplified form which avoids debates and enables late publication. The security dimension should not be a pretext to discard public scrutiny over human rights obligations.

Italy has just entered into a new security pact with Libya, that is no longer led by Colonel Gaddafi, yet that cannot guarantee any protection of human rights. Libya is still not party to the 1951 Geneva Convention; it has still no procedure for granting protection to refugees. Above all, the country is wracked by chaos and violence with wide-spread xenophobia and the authorities cannot even protect their own population. In January 2012, the leader of the CNT tried, in a declaration, to deter migrants from coming back to Libya, arguing that the Libyan authorities would be unable to guarantee their security. Since then, the situation has deteriorated.

In this context, the European Commission should be extremely cautious and vigilant about bilateral cooperation that Member states could be tempted to develop. It has the responsibility of checking their compatibility with and their respect for EU law. Cecilia Malmström came to Italy twenty days after the signature of this pact between the Italian and Libyan provisory governments to discuss asylum policy and Schengen rules[17]. She might have taken the opportunity to warn Italy about resuming former policies in private talks. But she made no public reference to this. Amnesty International in Italy has already requested that the content of the MoU was revealed and that its implementation should be submitted to the capacity of both states to respect the international human rights law and refugee rights[18].

Given the current uncertain disastrous situation in Libya, preventing perilous departures in the Mediterranean should not depend on training Libyan policemen to better control the borders and contain people within Libyan territory. When the EU Council President Van Rompuy addressed the political situation in Libya in the European Parliament on 5 April, he announced the launch of an EU mission, which might include giving protection to refugee camps[19].  Besides, the Joint EU Resettlement Programme, which was voted on 29 March to enhance refugee resettlement, appears as an appropriate way to scale down the numbers of refugees attempting Mediterranean crossings while taking into account the present delicate situation in Libya. Member states cannot be constrained to resettle. But they have been called upon to profit from the opportunity offered by the European Refugee Fund, whose funding priorities for 2013 include the resettlement of refugees registered by UNHCR in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt; the three of these being covered by a Regional Protection Programme. Then, last, while it is still necessary to remind EU Member states of their duties based on asylum law, the respect of fundamental rights obligations applies to refugees as well as to any person, be s/he a voluntary migrant, who needs to be rescued and cannot be returned to a country where s/he could be subjected to inhuman treatment. Today, Libya is not a safe place: forced or voluntary migrants trying to leave should not be pushed back there. 

Delphine Perrin, MPC Research Fellow

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

[1] According to a press release of the Interior Ministry on 3 April 2012 : “Cancellieri a Tripoli a colloquio con le autorità libiche: siglata un’intesa per il contrasto al traffico di migranti”. The text of the Understanding has not been published.

[2] http://www.msf.fr/presse/communiques/msf-condamne-toute-initiative-menant-au-refoulement-boat-people-en-libye. The text of the Understanding can be found on the following website: http://download.repubblica.it/pdf/2011/migrazione.pdf

[3] E. Paoletti, F. Pastore , “Sharing the dirty Job on the Southern Front? Italian-Libyan relations and their impact on the European Union”, IMI Working Paper n°29, Dec.2010: 40.

[4] Human Rights Watch reports how 75 migrants were transferred by the Italian Coast Guard to a Libyan patrol boat which took them to Tripoli in June 2009. Human Rights Watch, “Pushed back, pushed around”, 21 septembre 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/node/85582/section/9

[5] In June 2011, UNHCR reported that Tunisia had received 540,000 people fleeing Libya and Egypt 356,000 people. UNHCR Update n°30, “Humanitarian situation in Libya and the neighbouring countries”, June 2011.

[6] UNHCR Briefing Note, “Mediterranean takes record as most deadly stretch of water for refugees and migrants in 2011”, 31 January 2012.

[7] Ibid.

[8] European Parliament resolution Lampedusa, April 14th 2005, P6_TA-PROV(2005)0138.

[9] Franco Frattini was at that time the Justice and Home Affairs commissioner.

[10] E. Paoletti, F. Pastore, op.cit.: 17.

[11] Judgement of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on the case of Hirsi Jamaa and

Others v. Italy (Application No. 27765/09), 23 February 2012. The judgement can be found on this website: www.unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/4f4507942.pdf

[12] See the comment of this judgement: http://www.hrlc.org.au/court-tribunal/european-court-of-human-rights/hirsi-jamaa-and-others-v-italy-2012-echr-application-no-2776509-23-february-2012/

[13] Case OI/5/2012/BEH-MHZ, See http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/fr/cases/correspondence.faces/en/11316/html.bookmark, and also the MPC policy brief http://www.migrationpolicycentre.eu/frontex-vers-une-meilleure-prise-en-compte-des-droits-fondamentaux/#note

[14] On 15 August 2011, a study requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) was also released on Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and its Impact on EU Home Affairs Agencies (Frontex, Europol and the EASO).

[15] Report of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, issued on 29 March 2012; Rapporteur: Ms Tineke STRIK, Netherlands, Socialist Group. The report was voted and approved by the Assembly on 24 April 2012.

[16] See the request of a group of 9 NGOs to the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris against the French army on 11 April 2012 on the FIDH website, http://www.fidh.org/63-migrants-morts-en-Mediterranee

[17] http://www.interno.it/mininterno/export/sites/default/it/sezioni/sala_stampa/notizie/2099_500_ministro/00000023_2012_04_24_incontro_ministro_con_commissario_Malmstrom.html_1375993339.html

[18] http://www.stranieriinitalia.it/attualita-accordo_italia-libia._amnesty_international_cosa_c_e_scritto_14949.html

[19] http://euobserver.com/24/32128

After Libya, Syria: Towards a new refugee crisis on the borders of Europe?

For the second time in less than a year an acute refugee crisis is looming in Europe’s neighbourhood. Libya in 2011 and Syria in 2012 have several features in common. In both cases, a civilian population has been exposed to a war which has seen rebels opposing the regular army. In both cases, a sizeable foreign population – between fewer than 100,000 and more than 1 million Iraqi refugees in Syria according to estimates, as compared with around 1.5 million migrant workers in Libya on the eve of the 2011 uprisings – have had to flee from danger. In both cases, these populations cross a land border to find refuge in a neighbouring country. Likewise in both cases, only the Mediterranean separates Europe from the theatre of operations. In 2011, the response of the European Union and its Member States to the influx of refugees at Libya’s borders was limited, to say the least, by comparison with the massive solidarity shown by Libya’s African neighbours. Will this happen again in 2012 with Syria? Several European States have spoken up in the search for a political solution in Syria. But will they take part in addressing the emergency created by a new refugee crisis, a crisis in which all the concerned states are linked with the EU by association agreements?

As UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan warned, while visiting Syrian refugee camps in Turkey on 10 April, displacement of people caused by unrest in Syria should not be overlooked. UNHCR, the international refugee agency, has already recorded (12 April 2012) 44,570 Syrian refugees in bordering countries: 24,674 in Turkey; 10,386 in Lebanon; 8,270 in Jordan; and 1,240 in Iraq. [1] These numbers do not include either Syrian refugees, who are not registered with UNHCR, those who left for countries that do not border Syria (e.g. Arab Gulf States), or Iraqis in Syria who returned to Iraq or found shelter in another country. Non-registered refugees are probably present only in small numbers in Turkey, where from the outset the State jointly managed the crisis with UNHCR. But likely a majority of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are not registered. In Jordan the Governor of Zarqa (the governorate bordering Syria) estimates that 100,000 Syrians have been displaced to his country[2]. And in Lebanon UNHCR itself assesses that refugees from Syria number 20,000 of whom 7,500 would be unrecorded refugees sheltered in regions where UNHCR is not operating, in particular the Beqaa Valley and Beirut.[3]  

Syrian refugees move with their whole families and they rapidly risk becoming destitute in the country where they find first asylum. Males and females are in equal numbers and half of them are children and adolescents (48%) with 17% at pre-school age (0-4 years) and 31% at school age (5-17 years).[4]  In this context, their access to basic resources (food, clothing, etc.), to decent housing and to public services (health, school) puts enormous strain on the receiving society as well as on the refugees themselves. As soon as the money they could take with them in their flight dries up access to employment will become the prime issue.

Syria’s neighbours (with the exception of Israel) have not, to date, restricted the access of Syrian refugees to their territory. However, they manage the inflow of refugees differently. InTurkey, Syrian refugees have been regrouped into nine camps managed by the Turkish authorities dispersed in the provinces ofGaziantep, Kilis, Hatay, and Sanliurfa along the border. In contrast, in the other countries, the refugees have settled in inhabited districts (towns and villages) where they are hosted by relatives, accommodated by local communities, or, alternatively, where they are forced to rent a house.

In Turkey, medical care is provided in the camps or, if necessary, in public hospitals in Antalya. In addition, 68 school classes have been created with Arabic-speaking professors[5]. UNHCR supports the Turkish government, as well as other international organisations and the Turkish Red Crescent Society. Since February, UNHCR has been permanently present in Hatay to support the government. To date, Turkey has not asked for any additional international assistance. But it would consider doing so if the influx of refugees went on. According to the Turkish liberal newspaper Milliyet, 9. April 2012, if the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey exceeded 50,000, Ankara would consider the creation  of  “humanitarian corridors” at the border, protected by the Turkish army[6].

In Lebanonand Jordan, the refugees’ situation varies greatly from one region to another. UNHCR and the Lebanese Higher Relief Committee provide assistance to the refugees, but their mandate is limited to North Lebanon, and they cannot intervene in the rest of the country. In Jordan, UNCHR works together with other UN agencies and with local NGOs, in particular with the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organisation (JHCO). However, in those two countries, assistance to refugees depends largely on local communities and governments which guarantee free access to public services including hospitals for wounded refugees, and schools. However, the pressure exerted at the local level by the presence of a rising number of refugees is getting greater and greater especially in communities with limited resources. In particular, schooling raises several problems. The Jordanian and Lebanese governments have admitted Syrian children in the local schools. But schooling rates are low, especially in Lebanon where they are estimated to be 52% at primary, and 9% at the secondary level. [7]

The situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon raises specific issues. Relations between Lebanon and Syria are complex at the economic and political levels. Lebanon already hosts several hundred  thousand Syrian workers. Moreover, Syrian and Lebanese populations living in the areas close to the border, especially in the North, are traditionally linked by close familial, social and economic ties. Ultimately, the Lebanese government is dominated by the 8 of March Movement, which included Hezbollah and the parties supporting the strategic alliance with Syria against Israel; while the Movement of March 14 gathering parties opposed to Bachar al-Assad regime is in opposition. Thus, the Syrian regime can count on the support of the Lebanese government, to a certain extent, while the Syrian insurgents, in particular the Free Syrian Army, are backed, directly and indirectly, by the Lebanese opposition, in particular its Sunni component.

The situation in Syria not only threatens Syrians, but also many migrants and refugees already present in Syrian territory, whose number is difficult to assess. While Syria is considered the main host country for Iraqi refugees, these have never been properly recorded. There have been claimed to be one million, according to a highly controversial estimate of the Syrian government, once endorsed by UNHCR[8]. In addition, there are migrant workers of various nationalities, whose numbers vary from 80,000 to 150,000[9]. Moreover, Syria not being part of the Geneva Convention on Refugees of 1951, many people who would be refugees in another context live there as economic migrants.

So far, third-country nationals who have crossed the Syrian border to neighbouring countries have not contacted any UN agency[10]. Yet, their protection could later on become an issue. Jordan and Lebanon have not signed the Geneva Convention on refugees. Turkey is a party to the Convention, but has not adopted its 1967 protocol which would lift the geographical reservation limiting its implementation to European nationals. Refugees are thus unlikely to find there the protection they need and would have little chance of integrating locally should the crisis last. The situation seems even more complex in Lebanon where most refugees entered illegally, due to border crossing risks (Syrian army checks, mines) and since some refugees are also combatants in the Free Syrian Army.[11]

To face the situation in the coming months in a coordinated and consistent way, UNHCR appointed a regional coordinator for Syrian refugees last March[12] and presented a regional Action Plan[13], in coordination with seven UN agencies, twenty seven national and international NGOs and the receiving countries. This plan is based on estimations according to which, in the next six months, assistance will be needed for about 100,000 persons in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. The aim of this Plan is to guarantee that Syrian and foreign nationals fleeing Syria will have access to the neighbouring states and to international protection, that their basic needs will be met and so as to consider the measures to be taken in case of massive flows of people. A call for 84 million dollars was launched on 23 March to fund this plan[14].

Europe has a crucial role to play, not only in finding a solution to the political situation, but also in supporting the refugees, an issue from which it tends to disengage. The financial aid to the receiving countries is currently a priority. The decision of 22 March to raise EU aid for the victims of the humanitarian crisis in Syria from 3 to 10 million euros is a positive step. But it seems already insufficient as events have overtaken it. This aid aims at funding those people who have been wounded or constrained to flee the violence in the country, and will transit through the European Commission’s humanitarian partners, notably the International Red Cross and UNHCR. [15] In addition, it is important that the Member States do not prevent people fleeing Syria and fearing individual persecutions from acceding to asylum. Regarding the specific situation of Iraqi refugees fleeing Syria, EU member states should facilitate their resettlement, which has been enhanced by the Joint EU resettlement programme for 2013 adopted by the EU last March[16]. They are supposed to pledge by 1 May 2012 to inform the European Commission about the people they wish to resettle, and they will benefit from the financial aid of the European Refugee Fund if this meets the defined priorities, among which are Iraqi refugees in Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

If the receiving countries come to be overwhelmed by the collective flow of people fleeing violence in Syria and if they can no longer offer an appropriate protection, then the EU’s temporary protection should be activated[17] in order to provide a rapid (prima facie) response and to offer solidarity. Will the Member States agree to use this resource? Certainly, they refused to do so in response to the Libyan crisis despite the European Parliament’s and UNHCR’s recommendations.

The MPC Team

[1] http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php


[3] Lebanon Weekly Update 06 Apr 2012: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

[4] http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php


[5] http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=4f5f493e6&query=syrian

[6] http://www.lexpress.fr/actualites/1/monde/refugies-syriens-tension-a-la-frontiere-turque-avant-une-visite-de-kofi-annan_1102577.html

[7] http://www.refugeesinternational.org/policy/field-report/syrian-refugees-lebanon-preparing-worst


[8] http://www.carim.org/public/migrationprofiles/MP_Syria_EN.pdf ; http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e486a76.html

[9] http://www.carim.org/public/migrationprofiles/MP_Syria_EN.pdf; http://www.unhcr.org/4f6c80a49.html (p. 9)

[10] http://www.unhcr.org/4f6c80a49.html

[11] http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/wadi-khaled-free-syrian-army-base-lebanon-i



[12] http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=4f5f493e6&query=syrian

[13] http://www.unhcr.org/4f6c80a49.html

[14] http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=4f6c501e6&query=syrian


[16] For more information on this topic, please consult the website of the KNOW RESET project : http://www.know-reset.eu/?c=00069

[17] Directive 2001/55/CE: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32001L0055:FR:HTML

Après la Libye, la Syrie : vers une nouvelle crise de réfugiés aux frontières de l’Europe ?

Pour la seconde fois en moins d’un an, une crise aiguë de réfugiés se profile au voisinage de l’Europe. Entre la Libye de 2011 et la Syrie de 2012, les parallèles ne manquent pas. Dans les deux cas, une population civile est exposée à la guerre que se livrent la rébellion et l’armée régulière ; dans les deux cas, une importante population étrangère – réfugiés Irakiens en Syrie (dont le nombre, inconnu, varie entre moins de 100,000 et plus d’un million selon les estimations) et travailleurs immigrés en Libye (peut-être un million et demi à la veille du soulèvement de 2011) — est menacée dans sa présence même ; dans les deux cas, ces deux populations passent une frontière terrestre pour chercher refuge dans un pays voisin ; dans les deux cas, seule la Méditerranée sépare l’Europe du théâtre des opérations. En 2011, la réponse de l’Union européenne et de ses Etats membres à l’afflux de réfugiés fut pour le moins faible par comparaison avec la solidarité massive dont témoignèrent les  voisins africains de la Libye. En sera-t-il de même en 2012 avec la Syrie ? Les Etats européens font entendre leur voix dans la recherche d’une solution politique en Syrie, mais prendront-ils part à la résolution de la situation d’urgence créée par ce nouvel afflux de réfugiés au voisinage de l’UE, d’autant que tous les pays concernés sont liés à l’UE par des accords d’association ?

La question des déplacements de personnes liés à la situation politique en Syrie ne doit pas être sous-estimée, comme nous le rappelle la visite de l’Envoyé spécial des Nations Unis et de la Ligue arabe pour la Syrie Kofi Annan dans des camps de réfugiés syriens en Turquie le 10 avril dernier. L’Agence internationale pour les réfugiés, le HCR, a déjà enregistré (12 avril 2012) 44,570 réfugiés syriens dans les pays frontaliers : 24,674 en Turquie, 10,386 au Liban, 8,270 en Jordanie et 1,240 en Irak.[1] Ces chiffres n’incluent pas ceux des réfugiés qui ne sont pas enregistrés auprès du HCR, ni les Syriens partis vers des pays non frontaliers (notamment dans le Golfe), ni enfin les réfugiés irakiens en Syrie retournés en Irak ou ayant gagné une autre destination. Si le nombre de réfugiés non enregistrés par le HCR est vraisemblablement faible en Turquie, où l’Etat a dès le départ géré la crise avec l’appui du HCR, la majorité des réfugiés en Jordanie et au Liban ne sont probablement pas enregistrés. En Jordanie, le Gouverneur de Zarqa (province frontalière de la Syrie) estime à 100,000 le nombre total de Syriens déplacés dans le pays[2] ; et au Liban, le HCR lui-même indique que les réfugiés syriens seraient environ 20,000, dont 7,500 non-inscrits dans ses registres se trouveraient dans les régions où le HCR n’opère pas directement, en particulier la Bekaa et Beyrouth.[3]

Les réfugiés quittent la Syrie par familles entières et sont pour la plupart extrêmement démunis lorsqu’ils arrivent dans les pays d’accueil. Les femmes et les hommes sont en nombre égaux, et les enfants et adolescents représentent près de la moitié (48%) des réfugiés avec 17% d’enfants d’âge préscolaire (0-4 ans) ; 31% d’âge scolaire (5-17 ans).[4] Dans ce contexte, l’accès des réfugiés aux ressources de base (nourriture, équipement, etc.), à un logement décent, et aux services publics (santé, école) soulève de nombreux problèmes. Bientôt, lorsque leurs ressources seront épuisées, risque de se poser la question de leur accès à l’emploi.

Les pays frontaliers de la Syrie (à l’exception d’Israël) n’ont pas limité jusqu’à présent l’accès de leur territoire aux réfugiés syriens. Ils ont cependant adopté des approches différentes face à l’afflux de réfugiés. En Turquie, les réfugiés syriens sont regroupés dans neuf camps érigés par l’autorité publique dans les provinces frontalières de Gaziantep, Kilis, Hatay et Sanliurfa. Au contraire, dans les autres pays, les réfugiés se sont installés dans des zones habitées (villes ou villages), où ils sont accueillis par des proches, pris en charge par les autorités locales, ou contraints de louer une habitation.

En Turquie, les soins médicaux sont fournis dans les camps et, si nécessaire, à l’hôpital public d’Antalya. En outre, 68 salles de classe y ont été créées avec des professeurs arabophones.[5] Le HCR soutient le gouvernement turc, ainsi que d’autres organisations internationales et la Société du Croissant Rouge turc. Depuis février 2012, il a établi une présence permanente dans la province d’Hatay pour soutenir le gouvernement. Pour le moment, la Turquie n’a pas fait appel à une aide internationale supplémentaire, mais elle envisagerait de le faire dans le cas où l’afflux de réfugiés continuerait. Le journal turc libéral Milliyet affirmait le 9 avril dernier que si le nombre de réfugiés syriens en Turquie dépassait les 50.000, Ankara envisagerait la création de “couloirs humanitaires” à la frontière, protégés par l’armée turque[6].

Au Liban et en Jordanie, la situation des réfugiés varie fortement d’une région à l’autre. Le HCR et le Haut Comité de Secours libanais assistent les réfugiés dans le nord, mais n’ont pas mandat pour intervenir dans le reste du pays. En Jordanie, le HCR collabore avec d’autres organisations onusiennes et ONG locales, notamment l’Organisation jordanienne hachémite de charité (JHCO). Toutefois, dans ces deux pays, l’aide dépend encore largement des communautés locales et du gouvernement qui garantit un accès gratuit aux services publics, en particulier aux hôpitaux pour les réfugiés blessés et aux écoles. Toutefois, la présence d’un nombre croissant de réfugiés exerce une pression de plus en plus forte au niveau local, en particulier parmi les communautés locales dont les ressources sont limitées. La scolarisation des enfants, notamment, soulève des problèmes. Les gouvernements jordaniens et libanais ont admis les enfants syriens dans les écoles locales mais leur taux de scolarisation est faible, en particulier au Liban où il est évalué à 52 % dans le primaire et 9 % dans le secondaire.[7]

La situation des réfugiés syriens au Liban soulève des enjeux spécifiques. En effet, les relations entre le Liban et la Syrie sont complexes aux plans économique et politique. Le Liban  accueille déjà plusieurs centaines de milliers de travailleurs syriens. De plus, les populations des régions frontalières entretiennent traditionnellement des relations familiales, sociales et économiques étroites, en particulier au nord du Liban. Enfin, le gouvernement libanais est dominé par le Mouvement du 8 mars, qui regroupe le Hezbollah et les partis favorables à l’alliance stratégique avec la Syrie contre Israël, tandis que le Mouvement du 14 mars rassemble dans l’opposition les partis opposés au régime de Bachar al-Assad. Le régime syrien peut donc compter, dans une certaine mesure, sur le soutien du gouvernement libanais, tandis que les opposants syriens, en particulier l’Armée Syrienne Libre, sont appuyés, directement et indirectement, par l’opposition libanaise, en particulier sa composante sunnite. L’accueil réservé aux réfugiés syriens au Liban dépend donc en partie de l’impact de la crise syrienne sur la scène politique libanaise.

La situation en Syrie ne menace pas seulement les Syriens, mais également les nombreux migrants et réfugiés déjà présents sur le territoire syrien, dont le nombre est difficile à évaluer. Alors que la Syrie est considérée comme le principal pays d’accueil des réfugiés irakiens, ceux-ci n’ont jamais été comptabilisés. Ils seraient 1 million, selon l’estimation controversée du gouvernement syrien[8]. S’y ajoutent des travailleurs migrants de diverses nationalités, dont le nombre varierait entre 80 000 et 150 000[9]. Par ailleurs, la Syrie n’étant pas partie à la Convention de Genève de 1951 sur les réfugiés, nombre de personnes qui dans un autre contexte seraient des réfugiés y vivent comme des migrants économiques.

Pour le moment, aucun ressortissant de pays tiers ayant traversé la frontière syrienne vers les pays voisins n’a encore approché une agence des Nations Unies[10], mais la question de leur protection pourrait se poser en termes aigus. La Jordanie et le Liban ne sont pas signataires de la Convention de Genève sur les réfugiés. La Turquie y est partie, mais n’a pas adhéré au protocole 1967 qui en levait la réserve géographique limitant sa portée aux ressortissants européens. Il est donc peu probable que les réfugiés y trouvent la protection dont ils ont besoin et l’on peut douter qu’ils seront intégrés localement si la crise devait perdurer. Par ailleurs, la situation apparait d’autant plus complexe au Liban que la plupart des réfugiés sont entrés illégalement, en raison des risques importants que présente le passage de la frontière (contrôles de l’armée syrienne, champs de mines), et du fait de la présence parmi les réfugiés de combattants de l’Armée Syrienne Libre.[11]

Afin de faire face à la situation des mois à venir de manière coordonnée et cohérente, le HCR a nommé en mars dernier un coordinateur régional pour les réfugiés syriens[12] et a présenté un Plan d’action régional[13] pour les réfugiés syriens en coordination avec 7 agences des Nations Unies, 27 ONG nationales et internationales et les gouvernements d’accueil. Ce plan est fondé sur des estimations selon lesquelles, dans les 6 mois à venir, une assistance sera nécessaire pour environ 100 000 personnes en Turquie, Jordanie, Liban et Iraq. Il vise à assurer aux Syriens et ressortissants étrangers fuyant la Syrie l’accès aux pays voisins et à la protection internationale, à répondre à leurs besoins de base et à envisager des mesures en cas d’afflux massif de personnes. Afin de soutenir financièrement ce plan, un appel a été lancé le 23 mars dernier pour recueillir 84 millions de dollars[14].

De son côté, l’Europe a un rôle crucial à jouer, non seulement dans la résolution de la situation politique, mais également dans le soutien aux réfugiés, question dont elle a malheureusement tendance à se désengager. Actuellement, l’aide financière aux Etats d’accueil est prioritaire. La décision du 22 mars dernier d’accroître l’aide de l’UE en faveur des victimes de la crise humanitaire en Syrie de 3 à 10 millions d’euros[15] va dans le bon sens, mais apparait d’ores et déjà insuffisante. Cette aide, destinée à financer l’assistance aux personnes ayant été blessées ou contraintes de fuir les violences en cours dans le pays, transitera par les partenaires humanitaires de la Commission européenne, notamment le Comité international de la Croix Rouge (CICR) et le HCR. En parallèle, il est important que les Etats membres n’entravent pas l’accès à la demande d’asile qui proviendrait de personnes fuyant la Syrie et risquant des persécutions individuelles. En ce qui concerne le cas particulier des réfugiés irakiens, les Etats membres de l’UE devraient faciliter leur réinstallation, favorisée par le programme conjoint de réinstallation pour 2013 adopté par l’Union européenne en mars dernier[16]. Ils doivent indiquer à la Commission européenne avant le 1er mai 2012 quelles sont les personnes qu’ils souhaitent réinstaller et bénéficieront de l’aide financière du Fonds européen pour les réfugiés si celles-ci correspondent aux priorités définies, parmi lesquelles les réfugiés irakiens se trouvant en Syrie, en Turquie, en Jordanie et au Liban.

Dans le cas où les Etats d’accueil se verraient débordés par l’afflux collectif des personnes fuyant les violences en Syrie et où ils ne seraient plus à même d’assurer une protection adéquate, la protection temporaire de l’UE devrait être activée[17] afin d’apporter une réponse rapide (prima facie) et solidaire de l’UE. Mais les Etats membres accepteront-ils d’y recourir, après avoir refusé de le faire dans le cas de la Libye, et alors même que le Parlement européen et le HCR l’avaient recommandée ?

L’équipe du MPC

[1] http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php


[3] Lebanon Weekly Update 06 Apr 2012: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

[4] http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php


[5] http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=4f5f493e6&query=syrian

[6] http://www.lexpress.fr/actualites/1/monde/refugies-syriens-tension-a-la-frontiere-turque-avant-une-visite-de-kofi-annan_1102577.html

[7] http://www.refugeesinternational.org/policy/field-report/syrian-refugees-lebanon-preparing-worst


[8] http://www.carim.org/public/migrationprofiles/MP_Syria_EN.pdf ; http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e486a76.html

[9] http://www.carim.org/public/migrationprofiles/MP_Syria_EN.pdf; http://www.unhcr.org/4f6c80a49.html (p. 9)

[10] http://www.unhcr.org/4f6c80a49.html

[11] http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/wadi-khaled-free-syrian-army-base-lebanon-i



[12] http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=4f5f493e6&query=syrian

[13] http://www.unhcr.org/4f6c80a49.html

[14] http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=4f6c501e6&query=syrian


[16] Pour plus d’information sur ce sujet, consulter le site du projet KNOW RESET: http://www.know-reset.eu/?c=00069

[17] Directive 2001/55/CE: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32001L0055:FR:HTML