“In the post-Soviet space, all the difficulties of migration management stem from the fact, that migration is perceived as a geopolitical weapon. Having changed only the focus of the view on this issue, one can get rid of many difficulties, ” – said Olga Gulina, director of the Institute for Migration Policy (Berlin, Germany), especially for cabar.asia.
cabar.asia: Recently, in the media, the concepts of migration, terrorism and extremism have often been accompanied together. Why do people sometimes speak of migrants suppliers as providers of certain threats and challenges?
Olga Gulina: Let’s define some things. Not all migrants are terrorists, but some terrorists, indeed, are people with a migration past. Migration and terrorism are two signs of the modern world, between which, however, one can not put an equal sign. People migrate in search of a better life for themselves or their loved ones, in search of opportunities for study, employment, in an effort to reunite with the family, fleeing from deaths, persecutions or consequences of climatic or man-made disasters. Migration mobility of any person is for life, and where did you see that the terrorist act was committed with similar goals?
Migration mobility of either a single person or a group of people is a social process, the positive or negative effect of which, is determined by a number of circumstances (skills, mental and physical stability of the migrant himself, institutional, legal and sociocultural “infrastructure” of the state – receiving a migrant, etc.). Terrorism – has nothing to do with this. Terrorism is a threat to the social and legal order, a challenge to intelligent and modern humanity.
“The latest terrorist attacks both in the EU countries and the EAEU states convince us that every act of terrorism has its own” hole “in the migration policy of this or that country.”
Did you notice that Paris, London, Madrid and even Berlin were affected by terrorist attacks, but Italy, which is the outpost of Europe for receiving migrants and the Mediterranean gate for those wishing to enter the EU by sea, happily escaped it. According to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, the fight against terrorism is a huge work. Between March 2016 and March 2017, Italian civil services monitored the lives of 160,593 citizens and non-citizens in the country; 34,000 people of them were detained. Later 550 people were arrested and only 38 people were convicted for complicity in terrorist activities.
In countries receiving migrants, be it France or Russia, Italy or Kyrgyzstan, the criminogenic potential of migration increases only when migrants are dropped out of the legal field – without documents, work, social protection and outside the law, they easily become the object of interest of criminal communities.
As human history shows, there always been criminals and terrorists among migrants and asylum seekers, but usually they had acquired their criminal baggage long before immigration began. It is important to understand that terrorism is a crime and a threat, that must be resisted and combated.
“However, there are no simple solutions for managing migration or combating terrorism. The idea, that by banning and stopping migration flows into any country, modern states will solve the problem of terrorism – does not stand up to any criticism.”
cabar.asia: Is it possible to use the issue of migration as a mechanism of pressure on Central Asian countries in certain aspects? Is it possible to talk about migration weapons?
Olga Gulina: You have asked a very interesting question. Migration is a mechanism of geopolitical influence, it is an instrument, capable to influence on foreign and domestic policy, but migration, after all, is not a weapon.
“The years of my research work have convinced me, that the management of migration in all independent states created on the wreck of the USSR is, on the one hand, a tool, that delineates the zone of Russia influence as a country – the reception of the majority of migrants, and on the other hand, the winning slogan of election campaigns and the ability to manage the population.”
This tool is widely used by all states of post-Soviet space. A surge of support by Tajik population of the ruling elites and the power of President Emomali Rakhmon secured an agreement with Russia on the labor migrants’ amnesty from Tajikistan, reached during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Central Asia in March 2017. The dual citizenship between Russia and Moldova, the legalization of a quarter of a million Moldovan migrants who violated the migration legislation of the Russian Federation were and remain the main slogans of the election campaign in support of the President Dodon’s party in the parliamentary elections in 2018.
And somehow it seems quite unsurprising, that changes in the visa-free travel agreement between Armenia and Russia, according to which the entry and exit of Russians to the Republic of Armenia is carried out on internal Russian passports, miraculously coincided with the end of the next negotiations round on the difficult fate of the agreement on interaction and mutual cooperation between Armenia and the EU.
It’s not a secret that the issue of the presence or absence of a visa regime for Russia with the countries of Central Asia will not have a final solution for a long time, because this issue is an important means of keeping the attention of the Russian electorate in conflict with Russia’s foreign policy interests.
Now, again, we return to your question, can we call migration as a weapon? In the post-Soviet space, all the difficulties of migration management stem from the fact, that migration is perceived as a geopolitical weapon. Having changed only the focus of the view on this issue, one can get rid of many difficulties. Migration is only a tool, whose positive or negative effect depends on the goals, tasks, skills and abilities of the one who manages it.
cabar.asia: With the expansion of the EAEU, many experts said that integration could solve many problems of migrants. How much did these expectations come true?
Olga Gulina: The integration of states within the Eurasian space and the complexity of migration management within the EAEU are very specific topics. First, the member states of the Eurasian Union have different migration profiles and different migration potentials. Among EAEU countries, we have only two: Russia and Kazakhstan – countries – receiving migrants, and all the rest: Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan are the countries, that supply migrants. Secondly, the distribution of migration demand and the so-called migration proposal within the Eurasian Union is very uneven. The demand for migrants in Russia is much higher than in Kazakhstan. In addition, the migration offer is higher in Kyrgyzstan, as the human capital of this country is covered by the greatest migration mobility on the Eurasian continent.
“Thirdly, the Eurasian Union still distinguishes the insufficient level of institutional integration, and therefore the migration management within the EAEU is not carried out in a complex manner, but point-to-point, here and there …”
Inside the Eurasian Union, there is no single and integrated system of migration management. You can object – there is an agreement within the EAEU on May 29, 2014, where it is specifically reflected, that the member states of the Union are cooperating on the regulation policy harmonization of labor migration within the framework of the EAEU, as well as in assisting the organized recruitment and involvement of these states workers to carry out their work in the countries of the Union. However, migration mobility within the EAEU is not limited to labor migration, there is also educational, humanitarian migration, migration along the line of reunification with the family, etc. – and there are no institutions, mechanisms, concepts for resolving these issues.
The main migration mobility on the Eurasian continent, indeed, is carried out in search of employment and sources of income. To resolve and discuss these issues, two advisory committees have been set up within the EAEU on issues of social security, observance of pension rights, provision of medical care and professional activities of workers from the EAEU states. However, the activities of these institutions are of a consultative-abstract nature, which does not allow solving pressing problems.
A simple example. Today there are big expectations that by the end of 2017 the countries of the EAEC will be able to adopt the Agreement on the provision of pensions for workers of the EAEU, the text of which was agreed by the College of the Eurasian Economic Commission in December 2016. However, today there are no opportunities to guarantee the provision of pension rights for migrant workers, – the members of the Eurasian Union have deep differences in the formation of pension funds. Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan have three-level systems of pension savings, and Belarus – one-level. Two of the five countries of the EAEU are in the process of serious reforms of the national pension legislation. Russia and Kazakhstan are discussing the possibility of raising the retirement age, and Kazakhstan plans to introduce mandatory employer pension contributions of 5%. The retirement age, rates and sources of pension contributions in the EAEU countries are much diversified, and there is a heterogeneity of income sources among migrant workers. Therefore, it is possible to accept and sign the Agreement on the provision of pensions for the workers of the EAEU by the end of 2017. However, this means that a solution will be found for how it is necessary to record and sum up the migrant’s work experience in another member state of the Union, what is the procedure and mechanism for such payments.
The Eurasian Union is a very young institution, therefore, in the short term, an insufficient level of institutional unity and integration interaction within the EAEU member states will always affect the management of migration processes and the protection of migrants’ rights.
cabar.asia: What methods can be used to combat illegal migration on the Eurasian continent?
Olga Gulina: Illegal migration is a scourge of modern states. On the one hand, no one can make full use of the professional and human potential of irregular migrants. Migrants are outlawed – this is a serious burden on the social services of the most states. For example, the US spending on additional English language education for undocumented migrants’ children is about $ 730 million annually, while only 1.2% of students in such classes are US citizens and 73.7% are children of parents who don’t have legal documents to stay in the country. On the other hand, “illegal migrants” are people who fell out of the rule of law and state control, because of overdue or invalid documents, or because of their arrival in the country through illegal channels. In addition, here lies the most serious danger. These people will always be easily accessible to criminal and near criminal structures, which a priori increases the level of danger and threats inside the country.
It is important to say one more thing. Irregular migration in the European Union and irregular migration in the Eurasian Union are two different things. It is possible to stop the flow of irregular migrants, “migrants outlawed” to Europe only by creating transparent and affordable ways for legal migration. The picture in the Eurasian Union is completely different. Migrants rushing to Russia and Kazakhstan (as noted, in the post-Soviet space we have only two countries of reception – Russia and Kazakhstan) – are mostly legal migrants. So, they enter the countries of the Eurasian Union on legal documents … they do not sail on ships, do not hide in the trunks of cars … They legally cross the border, come to Russia and Kazakhstan on trains or planes. And, only later – because of the bureaucratic obstacles’ dominance, corruption and the opacity of migration procedures, the complexities of legal regulation, these people become migrants outside the law. Therefore, however this may sound ambitious; it is possible to solve the problem of illegal migration within the Eurasian Union through the creation of strengthened mechanisms for protecting the rights of migrants.
“The states-participants of the Eurasian Union should understand that by creating legal, transparent, uncorrupted mechanisms of legal migration, strengthening the level of legal and institutional protection of migrants, they provide a safe and secure life for the citizens of their states.”
cabar.asia: Does the toughening policy of the entry into the EAEU countries solve the problem of migration flows?
Olga Gulina: The construction of fences, borders, tightening of entry rules does not stop the migration flows, but modifies them. Migration is a process, driven by the search for vital and economic benefits, therefore migration is an inalienable process of human development. Migrants have been and always will be, they will find new ways for migration. The presence of fences, borders, unreasonable tightening of migration rules direct migrants to unregulated and informal sectors of the economy, make them vulnerable to exploitation, and reduce the level of their legal and social security. The flip side of all these processes will be the things that the states, setting boundaries and fences, are trying to avoid.
cabar.asia: Is there some experience of migration policy that is successful and can be cited as an example? Is it possible and right to manage migration?
Olga Gulina: Thank you for your question. Migration is the process of individual and mass movement of people. Moreover, if this is a process, then we can and must learn to manage. On the one hand, there is not and can not be a single template or compilation of compulsory migration practices. Migration is a socio-cultural phenomenon that is influenced by the historical, political and legal realities of each country, and, as you understand, each country has its own.
“On the other hand, studying the migration experience and migration strategies of other countries is a good and useful deal, that allows understanding gaps, miscalculations, mistakes in the migration strategy or migration practices of one particular country.”
After the terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, Russian parliamentarians started talking about the need to deprive citizenship of Russians with their migration past. This “experience” of denaturalization is in France. The country’s legislation provides for the possibility of depriving citizenship for persons with a migration past for crimes against the country. However, as we know, the existence of such a legal mechanism does not stop second and third-generation migrants from committing terrorist acts in France. Further, the migration profile of Tajikistan is similar to the migration profile of the Philippines, a country whose gross national income depends on remittances from migrants. Therefore, studying and getting to know the experience of other countries can always be a solution.
The Eurasian Union is a very young institution and it takes time to build competent migration management within the five member states of the EAEU. The EAEU countries still need to build partnerships between the countries that supply migrants and countries receiving migrants in order to fully protect the dignity, rights and interests of migrants, remove barriers to their mobility, as well as to increase their professional skills and reduce any costs associated with the movement of people, goods and services.
Olga Gulina is director of the Institute for Migration Policy (RUSMPI – Institute on Migration Policy, Berlin, Germany), holds PhD in Migration Law (2010, University of Potsdam, Germany). Sphere of scientific interests: comparative immigration law, European and Russian law, human rights.
The interview was prepared by the editor of cabar.asia Nargiza Muratalieva