Over the last decade or so the EU has launched a series of legal provisions and policy documents containing the guidelines, objectives and legal instruments with which to operate in the fight against illegal immigration from third-world countries.
The policy of the European Union to fight illegal immigration seems to be moving in two directions. On one hand it acts directly against the factors that generate emigration in the countries of origin. On the other hand, to promote the opposite phenomenon, that of regular migration, the EU introduced a series of procedures to facilitate the entry of particular categories of immigrants such as students, unremunerated trainees, volunteers and workers, specifically high-skilled workers.
However, despite such efforts, the EU policy and legal framework do not appear effective. There is therefore no systematic or coherent approach to irregular migration. Instead, the EU continues to consciously limit itself to the provision of general principles, which can then be applied differently in the different member states. The choice of this approach demonstrates the will of the multinational organization to adopt regulations that are deliberately ambiguous and contradictory, leaving their implementation and management to the domestic jurisdiction of each member state.
Of course, irregular migration occurs differently in every member state, and therefore, the tools and policies adopted must allow for that. For example, in Italy immigrants tend to arrive through irregular channels; in the UK many arrive legally but overstay and so become irregular. However, the EU fails to recognize that a coherent framework would facilitate rather than hinder the management of migration.
Furthermore, the EU and its member states have a very negative image of illegal immigrants, seeing them only as a problem and not as a resource. This approach, for example, is confirmed by the recent so-called Return Directive, 2008/115/EC, which seems to adopt measures that condemn irregular migrants as criminals and deny them the protection granted to other Europeans. Other measures and the increasing criminalization of immigration confirm this approach.
So what is the solution? One way is of course to continue to provide practical support to improve the economic conditions of the countries of origin. Financially, this could include allocating part of the VAT that European consumers pay on EU products to such activities. Moreover, it is important that the EU starts to change the negative conception of immigrants, recognizing them as persons who have rights and freedoms and who may fill in gaps in the labor markets. Within the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice, we can see the beginnings of a change in the way of thinking. Further developing these ideas may lead to the decriminalization of immigration and immigration channels and better management of the phenomenon as a whole. This would include protection from exploitation and trafficking and addressing the needs of EU member States, the countries of emigration, as well as the immigrants themselves.
Annalisa Morticelli received her master's degree in Jurisprudence with a specialization in Legal Profession at the Faculty of Law at the Università di Torino (University of Turin), Italy. Currently, she is a visiting researcher on illegal immigration in Europe at the Faculty of Law of Bradford University (UK).
This article is published as part of the "Border Policies: Lessons for Improvement" theme week.