Sensible Policy Could Halve Number of Illegal Migrants in EU – Expert

In an interview for Bulgarian National Radio on Saturday, Austrian social scientist and co-founder of the think tank European Stability Initiative, Gerald Knaus, discussed the ongoing migration crises around Europe and in the Balkans in particular. He believes that implementing sensible policy that discourages the arrivals of migrants with little prospects to be granted asylum in the EU could cut the number of illegal migrants arriving in Europe in half.

When asked about the process, when a migrant arrives at the Turkiye – Bulgaria border, Knaus said: “The idea is, after the screening at the border, to start proceedings to grant or reject the asylum application only for those migrants for whom the screening has shown that they have no prospect of being granted protection in the EU. If, for example, a Pakistani arrives at Bulgaria’s border with Turkiye, Bulgaria has three months to conclude the proceedings and decide whether or not they are eligible for protection. Each case is different, of course, but in general, Pakistani nationals are not entitled to asylum in the EU. For the duration of the proceedings, a maximum of 12 weeks, the migrants remain in reception centres in Bulgaria awaiting the decision.”

On the other hand, if the migrant was a Syrian national, they would not have to stay at a centre, as Syrians have the right to asylum in the EU. Knaus spoke about an alternative option – an agreement with Turkiye, where Syrian refugees can be sheltered in Turkiye. The EU had such an agreement, but it is not currently in force. Knaus believes that people in power in Bulgaria and Greece must invest time, energy and political will in a new agreement with Turkiye. Europe has a vested interest in finding a way to cover the cost of Syrian refugees living in Turkiye.

Knaus pointed out the importance of working with specific numbers: in 2022, some 100,000 illegal migrants arrived in Italy, nearly 13,000 entered Greece, 30,000 in Spain. There were fewer than 200,000 in total. According to the expert, agreeing on a sensible policy that discourages the arrivals of illegal migrants from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, etc., who have no prospect of getting asylum, would cut the number of refugees coming to Europe in half.

Knaus commented a statement made by Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban during Friday’s Migration Summit in Vienna, according to which Hungary is the only place in Europe free of migrants. Knaus labelled Orban’s words yet another solo campaign that goes against the EU’s efforts to unite around a common migration policy.

The social scientist added: “In migration politics, solo campaigns by all EU Member States abound: Spain is negotiating with Morocco, Germany is trying to conclude bilateral agreements, Greece is talking to Bangladesh. The problem is that these solo campaigns often undermine the value system of the European Union and violate European laws.”

According to Knaus, Poland and Hungary’s veto is in effect proof that Warsaw and Budapest oppose the policies of the Union, whose members they are. The bigger problem is that both countries are breaking European law on their borders. In the whole of last year, Hungary granted asylum to only 30 people. This compares with over 16,000 in Austria. Only 50 people asked for protection in Hungary, while in neighbouring Austria there are more than 110,000. The vast majority of those arriving in Austria have passed through Hungary.

The expert concluded: “Hungary’s action, or rather inaction, is transferring the hot potato into the hands of other Member States, such as Austria. I therefore find it absurd that the Austrian Chancellor is meeting with the Hungarian Prime Minister, whose strategy is to break European law at the expense of neighbouring countries.”