“We advocate the human rights on migration”

ch_hedges60.jpgMr. Chris Hedges (United Kingdom), chair of the European Committee on Migration (CDMG)

In 2006, the European Committee on Migration (CDMG) of the Council of Europe launched a multi-annual research programme on irregular migration. Which is the main purpose and policy rationale of this programme?

The programme was conceived as part of the follow-up to the Action Plan of the 7th Conference of European Ministers responsible for Migration (Helsinki 2002). In my view, Helsinki was a defining moment in the history of CDMG as it gave it a very clear focus on social cohesion.

The objective of the activity on irregular migration was to support Member States in evaluating some aspects of their national policies relating to irregular migrants. Often, countries introduce measures to deal with a particular aspect of the migration phenomenon but may not have the opportunity to evaluate how well – or how badly – things went. This activity was therefore intended to provide an opportunity for an appraisal of regularisation programmes by academics in partnership with national experts. The Council of Europe provided funding for the programme. However, as we all know too well, financial constraints can often get in the way of effective follow-up activities when the political imperative is to get something done, often to tight deadlines.

And which are the consequences of this programme?

Many of the actions arising from the Helsinki Action Plan have had repercussions elsewhere – for example in the subsequent development of the EU Framework for Integration. Regularisation programmes can have a profound effect on social cohesion. Large numbers of regularised migrants may not be welcome in some states, yet others will find the influx of a new, legal labour force extremely beneficial. So this is very definitely an area of policy in which “one size does not fit all”.

What role plays the European Committee on Migration?

CDMG was able to assist and support five Member States that had shown a strong interest in participating in this research activity: Armenia, Germany, Greece, Italy and the Russian Federation. I think this spread of countries is extremely interesting because of the widely differing national situations they represent. I was privileged to be asked to be the “Project Director” for this programme.

It has been some years since I worked in the operational enforcement arena but my current role within the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) is concerned with integration and social cohesion, so I was particularly keen to try to identify what approaches would minimise any adverse affects on receiving societies.

Can you outline some of the key findings of the first round of country reports and discuss any policy lessons that could be derived from them by the CoE Member States?

The reports from the first round seemed to have a common conception about the root causes of irregular migration. Often, the blame for this can be laid at the door of restricted opportunities for regular migration when the economy has a demand for labour that it cannot always satisfy. There is sometimes a mismatch between the requirements and demands of our economies and the migration management policies.

In this respect it will be interesting to see what effect the UK’s innovative points-based system for migration, supported by the Migration Advisory Committee has on irregular migration patterns. 

Is there any lesson from these analysis and reports? 

The regularisation procedures have to be linked with concerted action against the “shadow economy”. If this is not done then the risk remains that high levels of irregular migration will continue and might render further regularisation programmes necessary.

Italy has had several programmes of regularisation and the latest programme was initially intended to be more restrictive than previous ones but pressures from civil society and adaptation of the procedures to the reality of the situation eventually made it notably more flexible along the implementation period. The main objectives of this programme were to recover social security contributions and fiscal contributions that were lost in the shadow economy and also to prevent regularised migrants from reverting to an illegal status. So the pattern here – and perhaps the policy lesson – is that repeated regularisation programmes need to be adapted following earlier experiences but need appropriate safeguards if they are to be fully effective.

To what extent do you believe that effective and coherent migration policies, and bilateral and multilateral co-operation on a regional basis, can be facilitated and indeed achieved by reports such as those prepared under the CDMG research programme on irregular migration?

When planning regularisation programmes, as a bare minimum good estimates are needed of the potential numbers involved so that an appropriate infrastructure can be developed to deal with them and effective steps need to be taken to avoid the numbers building up again.

The effects on existing communities certainly need to be taken into account, as indeed does the political situation in the country concerned. 

What about the UK regularisation programme?

Chris Hedges: There was a suggestion not long ago that a regularisation programme in the UK might bring huge numbers of workers in the shadow economy back into paying taxes, with a consequential beneficial effect on the UK’s GDP.

But the reality of the situation is that many of the people concerned were being exploited and paid considerably less than the UK minimum wage and they might lose their jobs altogether if regularised. And the public perception of illegal migration in the UK is largely hostile, so this begs the question about the extent to which newly regularised migrants would be accepted into the community.

To which extent the newly regularised migrants would be accepted into the European community?

The role of the Council of Europe and of the CDMG in this issue is therefore mainly about providing Member States with a range of different experiences so that they have at least something to go on if/when they consider a regularisation process.
As ever, the CDMG advocates a human rights based approach on the subject.

Mr. Chris Hedges: “The regularisation  programmes on immigration need to take into account the effects on existing communities”

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