German-Polish European BLOG

MENA first, but not only! The EU, Germany and Poland in the face of global migration issues

  1. migrants

Migration processes in globalized reality has grown to the scale of unprecedented challenge for contemporary Europe. This challenge inevitably created a necessity for an effective response of countries both in institutional and social level. The migration crisis has shown that the EU and its Member States have not previously been prepared to deal adequately with the phenomenon of a such a scale. In this circumstances Germany and Poland found themselves in radically different positions and views for the future of European migration policy. Germany became a leader among the destination countries for migrants (more than 1 million) and supporter of European solidarity in this matter. From the other side Poland developed resistance to the policy of burden-sharing of migrants` influx in EU and tries to remain distanced from the problem, developing the concept of “helping migrants on the spot”, but not giving them the entrance inside the country and EU in general.

Arkadiusz Legieć*

Germany, as the largest country in the EU, continues to bear the burden of this crisis, despite the fact that the migration pressure in Europe and in Germany itself has been reduced in the recent period. The number of new asylum seekers in Germany fell sharply last year to 186 000 (280 000 year before). The figures are a far cry from the record 890 000 arrivals registered in 2015 after Angela Merkel opened the country’s borders to those fleeing conflict at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, what has many consequences on the political and social level (especially strengthening far-right, radical circles).

For comparison in Poland political elites determined the public discourse on migration on the issue of immigration from Ukraine, trying to blur the difference between migration from the Middle East conditioned by humanitarian reasons and economic migration from Ukraine to Poland. This process has been additionally stimulated with high intensification of extreme and xenophobic attitudes both on the social and (unfortunately) between the political elites, disproportionately to the scale of the problem. In 2017 5 000  of foreigners filed applications for international protection in Poland. Most of them –  3 500 applications were submitted by citizens of Russia. The terms of granting one of the forms of international protection were met by a total of 520 people – mainly citizens of Ukraine. Last year, the largest number of applications for international protection in Poland were submitted by citizens of Russia (70%), Ukraine (13%) and Tajikistan (3%). In general in 2017, 520 foreigners met the terms of granting international protection. The most positive decisions were received by citizens: Ukraine (276 people), Russia (87 people) and Tajikistan (35 people). In addition, 227 foreigners received permission for tolerated stay or for humanitarian reasons. This statistic shows the real abyss in terms of being affected by this problem and its scale, especially in comparison with Germany.

Germany and Poland are also examples different way of perceiving main migratory routes coming to Europe, representing “looking South” (MENA) vs. “looking East” (Post-Soviet Area). Multidimensional stagnation, combined with dynamic demographic trends in MENA region may lead to next sources of destabilization, conflicts and other factors stimulating migration processes. Stabilization of such a countries like Libya (crucial in terms of African migratory routes and human trafficking), Syria (country exporting the biggest number of refugees after 2011), but also other countries of North Africa and Broader Middle East (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan etc.) is indispensable for reducing the migration pressure to Europe from the “Southern Neighborhood”. Not without a significance in this field is also the establishment of appropriate relations with the governments of the countries of the region (especially in the context of reducing human trafficking) and maintaining a particularly politically sensitive agreement with Turkey.

While the migration policy objectives of EU, Germany and other countries affected the most by the migration crisis must be focused on MENA region. Poland (and also other countries of CEE) should soberly realised that they can be also directly affected by the phenomenon on migration. Increasing the influx of migrants from Eastern Europe (war refugees from Ukraine, working migrants, P2P relations), Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia to the EU is also a signals the emergence of increased EU interest as a target of refugees/migration. In the perspective of several years, even in the absence of destabilization of the situation in the region, it is possible that there will be more than a dozen to several dozen thousand people per year migratory pressure from this direction to EU countries. This applies first of all to the EU countries bordering especially with Russia or Belarus, constituting a logistics base for migration routes (legal and illegal) from this part of the world – Scandinavian and Baltic countries and Poland, but also other countries of the CEE region.

Despite the fact that the influx of migrants to Europe has decreased (comparing especially to 2015), this problem will continue to have a strong impact on European policy. The global population of migrants is rising progressively from year to year – from 170 million in 2000 to 260 million in 2018, including 68,5 million of forcibly displaced people worldwide. According to the distribution of wealth in the world, analyzing main sources of destabilization and “pushing factors” for migrants in the neighborhood of Europe  and social trends within, only effective and rational attempt to manage and politically-shape this phenomenon can be a response from the side of EU and its Member Countries. Therefore, possible conflicts of concepts between countries forced to manage the problem (Germany, “the South of EU”) and countries reluctant to this (Poland, Central Europe, possibly other countries under the leadership of populists) will remain the clue for creation an effective and substantial European system. Such divisions will be detached from reality especially, if other migratory routes to Europe will become used (especially on the “Eastern Flank” of EU).

diagram - Asylum and first time asylum applicants 2015-2018

*Arkadiusz Legieć is Analyst at the Foreign Policy Program at WiseEuropa.
Illustration by Olga Micińska