13 December 2000
Transit migration in central and eastern Europe
Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography
Rapporteur: Mr Tadeusz Iwiński, Poland, Socialist Group
Following the democratic changes in central and eastern Europe migration patterns in the region have changed significantly. The countries concerned have been confronted with large-scale movement of people from outside and inside the region heading for the western countries, considering central and east European countries as transit countries. The two main characteristics of transit migration is its illicit nature and high level of criminal organisation.
The new migration flows have a number of direct and indirect political, economic and social consequences for central and east European countries.
The Rapporteur considers that the harmonisation of national migration policies should be done at a pan-European level. Moreover, he encourages Council of Europe member states to adopt a new management approach, in particular to facilitate short-term legal migration. Co-operation between Council of Europe member states in combating illegal migration and trafficking in aliens should be given priority.
I. Draft recommendation
1. The Assembly recalls and re-affirms its Recommendation 1306 (1996) on migration from the developing countries to the European industrialised countries, Recommendation 1327 (1997) on the protection and reinforcement of the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, Recommendation 1440 (2000) on restrictions on asylum in the member States of the Council of Europe and the European Union, and Recommendation 1467 (2000) on clandestine immigration and the fight against traffickers.
2. The Assembly is aware that central and eastern European countries have been increasingly confronted with large-scale movements of people heading for the European Union and considering them as transit countries. This relatively new migration phenomenon has a number of direct and indirect political, economic and social consequences for the countries concerned.
3. The Assembly is particularly concerned over the fact that the two major characteristics of transit migration are its illicit nature and an elaborate criminal organisation. In addition to migration issues the problem of trafficking is, foremost, one of human rights.
4. Among the rising number of illegal migrants transiting the region, there are believed to be a number who would qualify for asylum, but who prefer not to file their request in countries of central and eastern Europe for different reasons, not least due to lack of confidence in the eventual success of such a step, a concern partly justified in the past, before proper legal instruments had been introduced. The Assembly strongly emphasises that those escaping persecution and seeking international protection must in no circumstances be prevented from access to asylum procedures and proper consideration of their applications should be guaranteed.
5. There is pressure on central and east European governments from their western neighbours to make their refugee and immigration policies more restrictive. On the other hand, there are obviously concerns among central and east European countries that the European Union harmonisation process in the field of migration, and the restrictive measures it implies, will result in the shifting of the migration burden to their territories. Along with the implementation of readmission agreements, these concerns have proved to be largely justified. The provisions of the Schengen Agreement have considerable impact on the increase in pressure on central and east European countries’ borders.
6. The main way to stem illegal transit migration is to prevent illegal trafficking. The Assembly welcomes the action of the Budapest Group. The Council of Europe is well placed to stimulate and coordinate a pan-European action in this area.
7. The Assembly stresses that the most effective way to combat illegal migration is to deal with the root causes in the countries of origin of clandestine immigrants. It is necessary to increase overseas development assistance.
8. The Assembly, therefore, recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
i. instruct its committee concerned to review national migration policies with a view to harmonising regulations regarding legal opportunities for legitimate migration;
ii. take steps to promote experience and information sharing between the member states on this subject involving representatives of possible employers and immigrant communities;
iii. instruct its committee concerned to examine the state of co-operation between Council of Europe member states in combating illegal migration and trafficking in aliens with a view to strengthening it;
iv. give greater priority to programmes aimed at combating illegal migration and trafficking in human beings;
v. invite member states:
a. to review their national legislation with a view to adopting a new management approach, in particular to facilitate short-term legal migration;
b. to explore the experience gained by countries that provide migrants with legal opportunities for legitimate migration;
c. to make a clear distinction between asylum seekers and other migrants transiting the countries of central and eastern Europe and guarantee access to the status determination procedure for every potential asylum seeker;
d. to fully co-operate with other member states in combating illegal migration and trafficking, in particular, to share information and statistics on all aspects of the problem;
e. to step up their financial and technical resources devoted to combating human trafficking;
f. to review their own immigration and asylum policies with a view to guaranteeing access to their territory and to their asylum procedures to all persons seeking international protection;
g. to re-examine readmission agreements with a view to guaranteeing access to the asylum procedure for every potential asylum seeker;
h. to raise their official development assistance in compliance with the internationally recognised target level of 0,7% of their gross national product if this has not been done yet;
i. to provide increased economic resources for migration-related development projects, such as programmes to encourage return, assistance in the locality of origin, population programmes etc.;
j. in co-operation with the International Organization for Migration, to boost resources devoted to information and education programmes on the experience of illegal migrants;
vi. invite the European Union:
a. to refrain from legitimising regulations and practices that might increase the pressure of illegal migrants on the countries of central and eastern Europe;
b. to provide these countries with adequate financial and technical assistance devoted to combat illegal migration and trafficking in human beings.
II. Explanatory memorandum by Mr Iwiński
1. Following the democratic changes in central and eastern Europe in the beginning of the 90s, migration patterns in the region have changed significantly. Thanks to their newly liberalised migration policies facilitating border crossing, convenient geographic situation, better economic opportunities and prospects, combined with lack of experience in combating illegal migration, the countries concerned have been confronted with large-scale movements of people from outside the region. These movements, in general, fall into two distinct categories: the first one includes the migrants who intend to stay on their territories either temporarily or for a longer period of time, and the second one includes the migrants heading for the western countries, considering central and eastern European countries as transit countries. The high intensity and great diversity of these migration flows have led international migration analysts to describe the region as a «new migration space».
2. Although in the present report, the Rapporteur will concentrate on the latter category of the two above-mentioned flows of migrants, he cannot however abstract from the impact that the former category has on the countries of the region, and their political response. To illustrate the scale of the problem, one should mention that between 1991 and 1997, in countries that have emerged from the former USSR, voluntary resettlement involved over 10 million people. The countries of the region have also received their share of refugees fleeing different areas of conflict: for example Hungary has offered refuge to 80 000 former Yugoslav citizens, and Russia had received nearly one million fugitives from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Chechnya by 1996. Finally the countries of central and eastern Europe, in particular those with better economic prospects, are the target of intraregional migration for employment both legal and illegal, involving persons described as «false tourists».
3. West-bound transit migration is a common problem for all the countries of the region but some of them are more concerned than others. This is particularly true for the Czech Republic and Poland as countries bordering on Germany, the most important target country for transit migrants. A similar function, though on a smaller scale, is carried out by countries bordering on Austria (Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, and, again, the Czech Republic). Another route leads to Italy through Slovenia or, by sea, from Albania, and to Greece (from Albania, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and Bulgaria). Occasionally, this phenomenon occurs also between the seaports of Poland and the Baltics on the one hand, and Scandinavian ports on the other. The other countries of the region play the role of mobilisation centres or intermediate links in the trafficking of migrants. Of particular importance in this context are the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), with considerable stretches of their borders poorly marked or unguarded.
4. There are only hazy estimates of the number of transit migrants derived from several sources: expulsions from surrounding countries; illegal border crossing prevented; deportations, balance of entries and exits etc. According to estimates some 150 000 to 250 000 migrants from Asia and Africa stay in the territories of the countries of central and eastern Europe at any given time, awaiting trafficking into the West. In Poland, it is thought that border apprehensions may be only 20-30 % of actual illegal crossing. False tourists, seeking entry to Germany, may be in a legal situation during their stay in Poland. According to a recent estimate by Tajikistan, the first transit country for many of the trafficked migrants, about 20 000 Afghan nationals stay in its territory at any given time, prepared for organised travel onwards. The numbers of clandestine migrants staying in the territories of countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are considerably higher.
5. An estimated 30 000 to 50 000 migrants are trafficked annually from Poland to Germany. Reports from the Czech Republic yield a similar estimate. All these numbers are on the rise.
6. People attempting to be transit migrants may remain in the countries in which they have failed to obtain for visas for Western European states, giving rise to a new phenomenon of «stuck transit migrants». 39% of those interviewed in the IOM study in the Czech Republic had no definite plans to move on. Generally, the European transit migration countries now seem to receive more transit migrants from the East and the South than they lose to the West.
7. Another problem is an increasing number of rejected migrants from the Euroepan Union (EU) states that have passed through the jurisdictions of the countries of central and eastern Europe, and are readmitted to their territory. They usually apply for asylum on their arrival, thus turning the countries of the region into countries of destination by default. Some of them are readmitted further East..
8. Recently a new derivative phenomenon has appeared: occasional trafficking of migrants from the West to the countries of the region, for example the trafficking from Germany to Poland of Vietnamese awaiting deportation to their country. Criminal networks are also used for trafficking illegal migrants who intend to stay in central and eastern European countries: for example Ukrainian and Romanian minors into Hungary for the purpose of prostitution, and Vietnamese nationals into Poland in connection with illegal employment at firms owned by other Vietnamese. These are relatively large-scale phenomena.
2. Characteristic features of transit migration in the region
9. The major characteristic of transit migration in central and eastern Europe is its illicit nature. «Illegal» transit migrants include two different categories: those who enter the country illegally and then attempt to leave and enter another country illegally, and those who arrive in the transit country legally as tourists or students, and then emerge later in the data on illegal border crossing.
10. High level of organisation is another characteristic of transit migration in the region. Indeed, migrant trafficking has become a highly profitable illegal activity, in which use is made of modern technologies, including heavy military equipment, and of international connections between criminal groups, as well as of links between offenders and some border guards or the police. It is increasingly supported by a vast network of trafficking organisations operating on an international scale. Increasingly there is evidence that transit migration is sustained by a network of traffickers along the entire route (for example, from China and Indian Sub-continent), and using a variety of modes of transport. Given its profitability and the high demand for its services on the part of potential migrants, this network may be expected to become a lasting phenomenon.
11. Poland receives transit migrants especially from the western parts of the CIS, and from Bulgaria, via two main routes, one broadly southern, the other eastern. The routes go through former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, then branching either via Hungary, the Czech Republic or Ukraine, or via Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus or the Baltic Republics. Two main flows affect Bulgaria. The first, towards Germany and Austria, and made up of migrants from the Middle East, is routed through Romania. The second, from the CIS and Romania, crosses Bulgaria on route to Greece. The Czech Republic receives fewer migrants from the CIS, but is used as a corridor for the people from the Balkans and from Asia, mainly travelling via Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. Russia is a route for transit migrants from the Indian Sub-Continent, as well as from parts of Africa. Ukraine is the focus of at least four routes: from south-east and central Asia, the Middle East and Caucasus, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb, and via Lebanon.
12. Trafficking may also be creating a new geography of international migration. Evidence suggests that traffickers increasingly determine the choice of migrants' destination countries and the routes taken.
13. It is impossible to assess how many migrants are trafficked but there is evidence to suggest they constitute a substantial proportion of irregular migration. Evidence from Central and Eastern European States in 1993 suggest that approximately 15-30% of those managing to reach their destinations in Western European countries used the services of traffickers during some part of their journey, the proportion being slightly higher for asylum seekers (20-40%), resulting in a trafficked total of 100 000-200 000 people1.
14. The number of intercepted illegal migrants is increasing every year. In 1997 alone, some 1 600 convoys with illegal migrants in transit were detained in Poland, including 215 in excess of 10 people. In the same year in Lithuania 1632 illegal migrants were intercepted, including 43 organised groups of more than 10 people, the majority of them at the Polish-Lithuanian border. In Slovakia 2684 were intercepted in 1997. In 1998 the figure was 7738.
15. Transit migrants are not an homogenous group according to characteristics of country of origin, educational background, age, sex, religion or nationality. Generally, they fall into three principal categories: those fleeing armed conflicts, ethnic minorities escaping discrimination, and economic migrants. The last group is probably the largest. According to the survey carried out among intercepted illegal migrants in Lithuania, the main reasons for their westbound journeys were economic, in particular looking for a temporary job, and joining relatives already living in western countries. Only a small percentage declared political reasons and persecution in the country of origin.
16. The ethnic composition of trafficked migrants is very varied. However, migrants originating from the Indian subcontinent (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) prevail. Besides among the migrants there are people with Algerian, Chinese, Iraqi, Iranian, Somali and Vietnamese passports. The origins of transit migrants also include parts of Eastern Europe, notably former Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria as well as most of the former Soviet Union.
17. In terms of their plans, transit migrants fall into three categories. The first includes those with the highest potential to migrate, and who tend to move to the West in the shortest possible time. They are motivated by economic hardship or/and persecution, and include especially Romanians, Roma and those from former Yugoslavia. A second group, composed especially of those from Africa, the Baltic States and the Middle East use transit countries for their economic and logistic possibilities for migration. They engage in a constant search for migration opportunities, use networks of countrymen and locals to help them, and earn money often illegally. A third group composed of those from neighbouring countries, Russia and Bulgaria, for example in the Polish case, as well as those from Africa, the Middle East and Far East include suitcase traders who may use this occupation for future movement to the west.
18. In addition to migration issues the problem of trafficking is first of all one of human rights. Trafficked migrants may be exploited by being charged extortionate prices for their journey; having their money and belongings stolen (passports, documents etc); and being trapped into debt bondage. They may also be subject to inhuman conditions and to physical abuse, sometimes resulting in death.
19. Among the rising number of illegal migrants transiting the region, there are believed to be a number who would qualify for asylum, but who prefer not to file their request in countries of central and eastern Europe for different reasons, one of them being lack of confidence in the success of such an action, which was partly justified before proper legal instruments had been introduced.
3. Transit migration policies in central and eastern European countries
20. Until the late 1980s, the model of migration control in Central and Eastern European countries was based on strict restrictions. Its demise was a result of the general collapse of world communism. New migration laws were adopted in 1988 in Poland, 1989 in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, 1990 in Romania, 1991 in the former Soviet Union. All of them have been revised since then. Now they conform to established international standards.
21. However, as freedom of movement in the wider Europe increases with the abolition of frontiers and relaxed border controls, there is pressure on central and eastern European governments from their western neighbours to make their refugee and immigration policies more restrictive.
22. On the other hand, there are obviously concerns among central and eastern European countries that the European Union harmonisation process in the field of migration, and the restrictive measures which it implies, will result in the shifting of the burden to their territories. In particular, readmission agreements may potentially play an important role in this respect.
23. Furthermore, the financial implications of having liberal asylum systems may be difficult to bear for central and eastern European countries, which are struggling with the economic and social problems being faced by economies in transition.
24. Since 1991, in response to sharp increases in the volume of immigrants flows, measures have been taken by the Czech and Slovak Republics, Poland and Hungary to tighten controls on their eastern borders. For example, in 1995, the Czech government instituted visa requirements for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Yugoslavia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Tajikistan.
25. There is a clear tendency among central and eastern countries to resort to «defence mechanisms» in order to cut down on the numbers of asylum seekers and refugees. Increasingly they use the notion of «safe third country» in order to return asylum seekers to their neighbours further to the east. To this end they have concluded and continue to negotiate readmission agreements.
26. The use of such agreements for the return of asylum seekers to countries through which they transited is problematic in that these agreements, originally designed to apply to illegal migrants, do not necessarily offer guarantees that the returnees will obtain access to the asylum procedure2. Indeed, the use of the «safe third country» notion by central European countries vis-à-vis their eastern neighbours is also problematic because of the lack of functioning asylum systems in these countries.
27. Other restrictive measures introduced by the countries of the region include the use of restrictive deadlines for applying for asylum and the restrictive interpretation of international refugee protection instruments.
28. Adjustment of legislation to a dynamically changing migration situation, in particular the elimination of loopholes used in bad faith and the mastering of effective methods of law enforcement in this regard, is an important task still to be carried out. The experience of the states of the region to date proves, regrettably, that they are often unable to keep pace with the changing realities of migration.
29. In most of the countries of the region, the state still has to solve questions in relation to effective management of the flows of aliens, such as establishment of a modern and centralised registration and monitoring system, and securing systematic, up-to-date and reliable information on various migration phenomena.
30. One of the essential problems, however, is to combat illegal migration, and the countries of central and eastern Europe seem to give priority to this task. They are supported by other European countries, in particular in the framework of the Budapest Process (see below), and bilaterally, by the western European countries concerned. For example, Germany provides its eastern neighbours with special funds in order to upgrade their equipment and make their border controls more efficient.
4. Consequences of transit migration for central and eastern European countries
31. The new migration flows have a number of direct and indirect political, economic and social consequences.
32. Among the most important political consequences is the need to tighten state border controls, and the resulting need for bi- or multi-lateral international co-operation and the preservation of domestic security, which necessitates e.g. effective prevention of international organised crime.
33. The economic effects are multifarious both in macro- and micro-economic terms. The most important macroeconomic aspect seems to be the modification in many countries, through the migration process, of the structural tensions and disturbances brought about by the drive towards a free market economy. For instance, migration of persons either permanently out of work or not receiving full remuneration for a considerable length of time helps reduce imbalances in labour markets. On the other hand illegal temporary workers decrease the number of posts available on the labour market. They also have a direct impact on competitiveness.
34. Mobility corresponding to the illegal temporary migration on the one hand reduces the costs of labour in the receiving countries, though facilitating at the same time the development of the «black economy», and, on the other hand, has a considerable impact on the balance of payments.
35. An important micro-economic effect, on the other hand, is that migration generates a considerable proportion of incomes of households in home countries.
36. One of the crucial social consequences of the new migration trends in the region is a marked change in ethnic diversity, resulting from an influx of representatives of different cultures. Flows of migrants have in a sense forced a revaluation of national stereotypes, brought about a change in attitudes towards various ethnic groups, provoked numerous gestures of solidarity, and the like.
37. On the other hand, certain forms of international mobility have contributed to growth of crime, with the migrants themselves being involved, which in turn has led to social tensions on a local scale and a general antipathy towards newcomers from other countries.
5. Burden sharing
38. Within the European Union, efforts to harmonise and simplify the legislative and procedural codes governing migration flows, as well as restrictions in this field, have been a political cornerstone of the EU's move towards the establishment of common migration policies. However, the strategic goals of the EU invariably impact on its immediate neighbours in central and eastern Europe. As the legal and procedural opportunities for legitimate migration are harmonised with the EU, the number of undocumented migrants entering these states will continue to grow.
39. Along with the implementation of readmission agreements, concerns about burden shifting to the countries of central and eastern Europe have proved to be largely justified.
40. The Shengen Agreement and its possible extension on central and eastern European countries will increase in a considerable way the pressure of illegal migration and trafficking in human beings on their eastern borders. This should be compensated by appropriate financial and technical assistance for these countries.
41. The main way to stem illegal transit migration is to prevent illegal trafficking, and the countries of the region, supported by the European Union, have stepped up the combat against illegal migration. Visa requirements and carrier sanctions, enhanced surveillance of borders, the introduction of, or increase in existing penalties for trafficking and illegal migration and entry are among the measures which have been adopted to this effect.
42. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that, rather than discouraging illegal migration and reducing the flow of asylum seekers, these measures have had the unintended result of improving organisation of illegal trafficking. In addition to transforming regular movements of asylum seekers and migrants into irregular ones, the efforts to combat illegal migration have also had the effect of preventing people in need of international protection from obtaining such protection.
43. In their efforts to combat illegal migration, the countries of central and eastern Europe are supported by western donor countries and international agencies in their efforts to build institutions and capacities. However, there is some disappointment in central and eastern Europe with the fact that donor support is mainly of a technical nature involving to a considerable extent training and advice and not equipment.
44. Since the early nineties, the Budapest Process has been active in supporting the central and eastern European states in their efforts to come to grips with the problem of illegal migration. It began with a Ministerial Conference in Berlin, initiated by the German Government in October 1991, with participation by the European Union, Switzerland and 13 states of central and eastern Europe. The final document adopted by the Conference recognised the common responsibility of all participating states to take decisive action against illegal migration movements.
45. Meetings at ministerial level in the framework of the Budapest Process are held regularly. The Budapest Process has been concerned with the following issues: harmonisation of legislation to combat trafficking in aliens, development of better entry- and pre-entry controls, building a permanent legal relationship between neighbouring states in order to conclude bilateral or multilateral arrangements on issues relating to traffic (information exchanges etc), improvement of technical and financial assistance to central and eastern European states, and strengthening return to country of origin programmes.
46. The Rapporteur notes that the Committee has recently discussed or will examine a number of issues relevant to the subject of the present report such as restrictions on asylum in the member States of the Council of Europe and the European Union, reunion of migrants' and refugees' families, and the integration of immigrants. He also refers to Recommendation 1327 (1997) on the protection and reinforcement of the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers. In order to avoid repetition, he does not re-examine the issues raised in these texts.
47. The harmonisation of national migration policies within the Council of Europe is an objective to be pursued. Co-operation in management of migration flows between the states at the pan-European level is strongly recommended, and the Council of Europe is best placed to co-ordinate all efforts in this direction.
48. In particular, legal opportunities for legitimate migration should be reviewed and harmonised within the Council of Europe member states. The member States should be encouraged to adopt a new management approach; in particular to facilitate short- term migration. The aim should be to ensure that these movements take place within legal channels and are not misused as a means to permanent settlement.
49. The state of co-operation between Council of Europe member States in combating illegal migration and trafficking in aliens should be examined. The Council of Europe has an important role to play in this respect.
50. Clear distinction between asylum seekers and other migrants transiting the countries of central and eastern Europe should be made. Access to the procedure and adequate status determination procedure for every potential asylum seeker should be guaranteed.
51. In particular, readmission agreements should be re-examined with a view to guaranteeing access to the asylum procedure for every potential asylum seeker.
52. The question of migration cannot be considered in abstraction from its root causes. Council of Europe member states should intensify efforts aiming at eliminating the reasons for migration by means of policies designed, where necessary, to consolidate human rights and democracy and to give significant impetus to economic development in countries of origin.
Reporting committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.
Committee for opinion: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights
Reference to committee: Doc. 8293 and Reference No. 2352 of 25 January 1999
Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee on 8 December 2000.
Members of the committee: Mr Díaz de Mera (Chairman), Mr Iwiński (1st Vice-Chairman), Mrs Vermot-Mangold (2nd Vice-Chairman), Mr Christodoulides (3rd Vice-Chairman), Mrs Aguiar, MM. Aliev, Amoruso, Mrs Arnold (alternate: Mr Soendergaard), Mrs Björnemalm, MM. Brancati, Branger, Mrs Bušić, MM. Chiliman, Chyzh, Cilevičs, Connor, Debarge, Mrs Dumont, Mr Einarsson, Mrs Err, Mrs Fehr (alternate: Mr Gross), Mrs Frimannsdóttir, MM. Ghiletchi, Hrebenciuc, Ivanov, Jakic, Lord Judd, MM. Koulouris, Kozlowski, Laakso, Lauricella, Liapis, Lippelt, Mrs Lopez-Gonzalez, Mr Luís, Mrs Markovska, MM. Mateju, Melo, Minkov, Moreels, Mularoni, Mutman, Mrs Ninoshvili, MM. Norvoll, Ouzky, Pullicino Orlando, Rakhansky (alternate: Strizhko), Rogozin, von Schmude, Schweitzer, Slutsky, Mrs Stoisits, MM. Szinyei, Tabajdi, Tahir, Telek, Thönnes (alternate: Mrs Lörcher), Tkác, Mrs Van Ardenne-Van der Houven, MM. Vanoost, Wilkinson, Wray (alternate: Hancock), Mrs Zwerver.
N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.
Secretaries of the committee: Mr Dronov, Mrs Nachilo, Mr Adelsbach.
1 See Widgren J. « Multilateral co-operation to combat trafficking in migrants and the role of international organisations », Geneva, 1994
2 For example, there have been reported cases of readmitted asylum seekers who had been sent back by the Hungarian authorities to their countries without being admitted to the asylum procedure (source: Organization for Aid to Refugees, Prague).