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Τρίτη, 11 Οκτωβρίου 2011 03:00

The «Arab Spring» and its Consequences on the Euro-Mediterranean Migration Flows

Γράφτηκε από τον
Migration is as old as the his tory of humanity and migrants have been and will always be a permanent reality with a potential to trans form countries and regions around the world. E urope and the Middle E as t have always had population trans - fers between them through the passing of c enturies but during the las t years they have been trying to regulate these movements. T he “Arab Spring” added a new pressing fac tor on that proc ess. Henc e, decision-makers should work hard to formulate a pragmatic and fair migration s trategy that would give benefits to all the E uro-Mediterranean sides.


The picture of a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in December 2010[1] and that of tens of thousands of migrants trying to reach the European coasts after a few months[2] could constitute the beginning and the end of a short album about the recent events in the EuroMed region. During the last year, several Arab autocratic governments, such as those of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, have either fallen or come under immense pressure by popular uprisings. The response of the decades-long ruling regimes to their people’s demand for change varied from violent crackdowns on their protesting citizens up to civil wars. In most cases such unexpected turmoil pushed many of the unemployed or underemployed, war-ridden Arab citizens to look for a better future in the neighboring EU. The outcome of those recent events, frequently called the “Arab Spring”, have alarmed the EU concerning the increased migration inflows to its member-states by the turbulent MENA (Middle East North Africa) region[3]. From the cooperation with the fallen or trembling dictators to a hasty policy of support for reform and regime change, Europe is still in search of a pragmatic formula to regulate Euro-Mediterranean migration traffic[4].

The European concerns, multiple voices and political disagreements about the common migration policies surfaced just after thousands of Tunisians reached the coast of the Italian island Lampedusa. The southern member-states of the EU, such as Italy, Spain, Malta and Greece, have expressed repeatedly to their allies their concerns about the uneven burden of dealing with irregular immigration. Factors such as the economic, social and political imbalances between the two shores of the Mediterranean combined with their geographical proximity with MENA have made those countries popular destinations for migrants. Colonel Gaddafi knew these facts and played with European fears during his last days of rule when he stated “We don’t know what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans” and asked for five million euros to stop it[5]. However, past bilateral agreements with the Arab regimes to safeguard their own borders have been put aside by the current volatile and unpredictable political situation. As Moussa Ibrahim, Gaddafi’s spokesman, had put it “There will be illegal migration. It is a very lucrative business and the government had taken action against it, but it cannot anymore[6].” The slow and weak response of the EU institutions to this uncontrollable flow of people prompted the reaction of the Italian authorities that threatened even the very existence of the common European immigration policy.

Italy has been one of the most vulnerable states by the incoming migrants seeking a better future and running away from Tunisia, Libya and even Egypt after the “Arab Spring”. Indeed, by the end of July 2011, 24.769 Tunisians and 23.267 Libyans had reached the Italian soil[7]. Thus, a decision by the Italian government to issue them permanent permits purported to encourage immigrants to leave Italy, on the one hand, and the EU to review its stance[8] towards them, on the other. The trains from Ventimiglia (Italy) to Nice (France) started getting packed with desperate North African immigrants causing a fierce reaction by the French authorities[9]. The Schengen agreement[10] was under threat, when various European states, such as Italy, Malta, France and Germany, demanded to discuss the possibility of reintroducing national borders control among the 25 member-states[11]. In April 2011 French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated: “We want Schengen to survive, but to survive Schengen must be reformed” while his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconni, added “we both believe that in exceptional circumstances there should be variations to the Schengen treaty[12].” Furthermore, the issue of managing migration after the “Arab Spring” dominated the G-8 talks in May 2011 pointing out the importance of the matter for world leaders[13]. However, that area was not the only one to feel pressure on its borders after the Arab uprising.

Bashar al-Assad’s troops have targeted during the last months every city, town or village that has shown any sign of resistance against his autocratic rule[14]. The Syrian armed forces have stormed entire villages close to the Turkish borders causing waves of refugees towards their Northern neighbor[15]. Several thousand of Syrian civilians were fleeing areas such as Jisr al-Shughour, Khirbet al-Jouz, Shighr and Armala seeking help at Turkish refugee camps[16]. The brutality of Assad’s forces leave little space for hope that those people will get back to their homes any time soon. Meanwhile, the situation is becoming more complicated by the Turkish authorities’ failure to prevent migrants without permits from exiting their borders, more so since neighboring Greece is in extremely difficult economic situation. Greek minister of Public Order stated: “In a time when the Greek government is asking its people to make sacrifices, which reduce massively their income in order to save the country from the financial crisis, it would be a paradox, and practically impossible for Greece by itself, to fund the improvement of reception conditions for illegal immigrants in the country[17].” Indeed, Greece has been one of the main gateways to the EU for irregular migrants during the last years and the number of incoming desperate people could increase drastically after the “Arab Spring”[18]. Unfortunately, Europe’s voice is still divided and uncertain on that issue[19].

There are two main trends dominating the academic and political debates about immigration across Europe that are ideologically colored and practically impossible. The two extreme trends in the EU which are often addressed are on the one hand the “no borders” group and on the other the “no immigrants” one[20]. In reality, restrictive policies and tight controls seem to be inadequate as sole policy initiatives. In addition, calls for an opening of all borders can be characterized as, at least, utopian under the current circumstances.  Indeed, as Adam Smith had put it before, “Man is of all sorts of luggage the most difficult to be transported”[21]. Bold political decisions, pragmatism and cooperation are the minimum prerequisites for the formation of a successful migration strategy in an area of dynamic changes. After all, a successful migration controlling framework might be the bond that would connect the developed and developing nations of the region in a mutually beneficial relationship free from stereotypes and distrust.


All links accessed on October 9, 2011

[1] Noueihed, Lin, “Peddler’s Martydrom launched Tunisia’s revolution,” Reuters, (19/1/2011), http://af.reuters.com/article/libyaNews/idAFLDE70G18J20110119?sp=true 

[2] BBC, “EU demands Tunisia do more to stop illegal migration,” (12/4/2011) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13055153 

[3] Ulack, Chris, “The Arab Spring’s looming refugee crisis,” Foreign Policy, (23/6/2011) http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/06/23/the_arab_spring_s_looming_refugee_crisis 

[4] Menz, Georg, The Political Economy of Managed Migration, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 24-25, 98-99, 112-119, 259-261

[5] Traynor, Ian, “EU keen to strike deal with Muammar Gaddafi on immigration,” The Guardian, (1/9/2010) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/01/eu-muammar-gaddafi-immigration 

[6] Squires, Nick and McElroy, Damien, “Libya to unleash wave of migrants on Europe,” The Telegraph, (6/10/2011) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8435884/Libya-to-unleash-wave-of-migrants-on-Europe.html 

[7] The Tripoli Post, “48,000 Migrants Flee Libya, Tunisia for Italy Since Beginning of Year,” (16/8/2011) http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=6672 

[8] The Economist, “Italy and immigration: Take my migrants, please,” (14/4/2011) http://www.economist.com/node/18561247 

[9] Price, Matthew, “Tunisia migrants in Italy set sights on France,” BBC, (26/4/2011) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13193336 and  Ajbaili, Moustapha, “Italy issues temporary residency permits for migrants from Libya and Tunisia,” Al Arabiya News, (23/4/2011) http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/04/23/146450.html 

[10] EUROPA Summaries of EU Legislation, “The Schengen Area and Cooperation”, (3/6/2009) http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/justice_freedom_security/free_movement_of_persons_asylum_immigration/l33020_en.htm and Menz, Georg, op.cit. pp. 40-55

[11] Traynor, Ian, “EU considers reinstating national border controls,” The Guardian, (1/5/2011) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/01/eu-considers-reinstating-border-controls 

[12] Mahony, Honor, “France and Italy propose reform of EU border rules”, euobserver, (27/4/2011) http://euobserver.com/9/32232 

[13] Vinocur, John, “Issue of Arab Spring Migrants to Cast Shadow on G-8 Talks,” The New York Times, (16/5/2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/world/europe/17iht-politicus17.html?scp=6&sq=+libya&st=nyt 

[14] UN News Centre, “Syrian town ‘almost deserted’ after recent fighting, UN agency finds,” (21/6/2011) http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=38785&Cr=syria&Cr1= 

[15] Stack, Liam, “Syrian Troops Storm Town on Turkish Border,” The New York Times, (23/6/2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/24/world/middleeast/24syria.html?hp 

[16] Stack, Liam, “For Syrian Refugees, Shelter of a Precarious Sort,” The New York Times, (16/6/2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/17/world/middleeast/17border.html?ref=world 

[17] Grant, Harriet and Domokos, John, “UK failing to share burden of migration crisis, says southern Europe,” The Guardian, (7/10/2011) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/07/uk-migration-crisis-southern-europe 

[18] The Economist, “Illegal immigration in Greece: Border burden,” (19/8/2010) http://www.economist.com/node/16847278 

[19] Bicchi, Federica, European Foreign Policy Making Toward the Mediterranean, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp. 25-28  and  Martin, Philip, Abella, Manolo and Kuptsch, Christiane, Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-First Century, New York: Yale University Press, c2006, pp. 24-26

[20] Ibid p. xiii

[21] Smith, Adam, The Wealth of Nations, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1904, Book I, Chapter 8

Evangelos Diamantopoulos

Ευάγγελος Διαμαντόπουλος

Αποφοίτησε από το Τμήμα Μεσογειακών Σπουδών του Πανεπιστημίου Αιγαίου με κατεύθυνση Διεθνών Σχέσεων και Οργανισμών. Το 2010 αποφοίτησε από το μεταπτυχιακό πρόγραμμα (Μ.Α.) Middle East Studies του American University in Cairo (AUC). Η διπλωματική του εργασία είχε τίτλο “Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: The Political Economy of Labor Migration in the Mediterranean Region, 1995-2008.” Μιλάει Ελληνικά, Αγγλικά, και σε χαμηλότερο επίπεδο Γαλλικά και Αραβικά. Είναι μέλος του ΚΕΜΜΙΣ από το Σεπτέμβριο του 2011.

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