Will Moldova Become a Big Camp for Illegal Migrants?

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Vladimir ROTARI
The idea of transporting illegal immigrants to third countries, including Moldova, while their asylum applications are being processed, is actively gaining popularity among European politicians. But are we really facing the imminent prospect of becoming a “migrant camp”?
The recent statements by one of the leaders of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, Jens Spahn, that his party is in favor of transporting refugees to third countries while their asylum applications are being processed have not gone unnoticed in our media sphere. In addition to Africa’s Ghana and Rwanda, he also mentioned non-EU European states, including Moldova, as potential “recipients” of illegal migrants. This proposal once again provoked a certain wave of anxiety in our society, which has long feared the reception of refugees on the country’s territory. Given the fact that it was proposed almost immediately after the European Council’s decision to open accession negotiations with Moldova, some experts even called it a “payment” for a new step in Moldova’s European integration. But is Moldova really in danger of becoming a “camp for migrants”? Let’s get to the bottom of it. Unprecedented crisis The European blossoming “garden”, as Josep Borrell, head of Euro diplomacy, dubbed the EU, with its high quality of life and democratic standards, has always been an attractive place for migration of people forced to leave their home countries for various reason. The Union, dominated by left-liberal values, looked at this process mainly from a humanitarian and universal perspective, without taking decisive measures to stop it. The situation began to change in 2015, when the European community faced an unprecedented flow of refugees – according to various estimates, it totaled up to two million people. This provoked a serious internal crisis, which was caused not only by the difficulties in “digesting” such a volume of illegal migration, but also by its unequal distribution among EU member states. The Eastern European group of states refused to accept refugees on their territory even under the threat of Brussels’ sanctions, while the main burden fell on the western core of the Union, primarily Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Benelux countries, and others. The European leaders had to take emergency and creative measures to slow down the influx of migrants: tighten controls at external borders, sometimes in defiance of the Schengen Agreement, change asylum rules, and negotiate with refugee-transit countries. In this respect, the most famous was the EU’s deal with Turkey, which received billions of euros to repatriate refugees from Greece and, in general, to hold back the migration wave along the eastern Mediterranean route. Despite criticism of this agreement, it had a generally positive impact. Nevertheless, even after 2015, hundreds of thousands of people enter the EU illegally every year. European problem No. 1 The consequences of the 2015 migration crisis were widespread. Suffice it to say that it was the determining factor in the positive vote at the referendum on the UK’s exit from the EU, which led to the famous Brexit. Countries that hosted large numbers of migrants faced a lot of internal problems. Forced migrants formed compact settlements that quickly turned into ghettos and hotbeds for crime. They could not be fully integrated into society, nor could they be used as labor force. The majority of refugees remained a burden on the budgets of host states. It is not surprising that the burst of sympathy and assistance in European communities, which was ensured, among other things, due to a powerful information campaign, quickly faded away, giving way to the growth of xenophobia and hostility. Politically, this manifested in the fall in the popularity of left-liberal parties and the rise of right-wing and even far-right forces. Their victory in elections in Italy, Slovakia and the Netherlands largely stems from a consequence of migration problems. Even in Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany party, once in the deep political underground, has now become the second most popular party in the country. Liberal class in Brussels and European capitals have to tighten their own positions as to the reception of refugees in order not to lose voters and not to give power to the right-wing, which is actively pedaling this issue. The EU continues to finance the construction and maintenance of refugee camps in neighboring countries, turning a blind eye to the sometimes inhumane conditions in them. Tunisia, for example, has received 900 million euros this year for preventing the transfer of migrants by sea. In addition, the EU has agreed to tighten the asylum procedure. In particular, it is planned to screen refugees as early as at the external borders of the Union and deprive them of the possibility to receive asylum in case of transit through “safe countries”. From the “European garden” to third countries Without waiting for pan-European changes, individual states are trying to solve the problem on their own. For example, recently France, despite unceasing scandals, has adopted a very strict immigration law. Social security for migrants, its key point, is now conditional on residence in the country for 30 months to five years. This is an important point, because it is obvious that the possibility of relatively comfortable accommodation and social benefits during the asylum process is the major motivation for most migrants to settle in a Western European country. Therefore, the idea of transporting the arriving illegal immigrants immediately to third countries, where they will not enjoy the benefits of the EU while their applications are being processed, as a “cut-off factor” is quite reasonable. Jens Spahn was talking exactly about this: “If we did this and kept it up for four, six, eight weeks, we would see the numbers drop dramatically... If we are consequent about this... many people wouldn’t even set off on the journey if it is clear to them that within 48 hours they will find themselves in a safe third country outside the EU”. Such proposals are not just the theorizing of a German politician, but a developing trend. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who made the migration issue one of the priorities of his government, can be considered a trendsetter in this area. He was the one who proposed and implemented the concept of sending asylum seekers to third countries. Back in April last year, Britain signed a treaty with Rwanda, under which migrants who enter Britain illegally will be sent to that African country, where they will apply for asylum and wait for a response. Kigali even received a cash tranche of $170 million for this. However, the first flight with migrants was blocked by the ECHR. Subsequently, the British courts, including the Supreme Court, declared Sunak’s plan illegal because Rwanda was not a safe country for refugees. Nevertheless, the prime minister did not give up and pushed through parliament a law recognizing Rwanda as “safe”. Now the plan is to start transferring illegals in early 2024. We should note that Sunak’s idea is now actively gaining traction among European politicians. Italy, which considers Albania as a “third country”, and Austria have already spoken out in its favor. In Germany, as I have already mentioned, there is also interest in it, including from the ruling coalition. In general, the idea of sending refugees beyond the EU’s external borders has been in the air for a long time. And Moldova with Ukraine were mentioned a few years ago as options of “recipients”. However, at that time they were quite rare and sporadic, but now, as they call it, they have “matured” for many reasons: the rise of the right-wing, or the public’s demand for decisive steps on the migration problem. There is also a purely economic factor: for instance, Britain spends five billion dollars a year on keeping illegal immigrants. This is a heavy burden, which, in the context of the economic crisis, European governments would like to abdicate. Prospects for Moldova So, should Moldova expect tens of thousands of migrants in the near future? I don’t think so. Despite the fact that the anti-immigration trend is gaining momentum, it has not yet reached the point where society will agree to any kind of harsh measures for the sake of solving the issue. Although, of course, things are gradually progressing towards that. In the meantime, the opinion of the left-liberals is still quite strong, and any tightening is not easy for the authorities - just look at the difficulties and scandals with which the law on migration was adopted in France, or Sunak’s idea on Rwanda was implemented. In addition, European human rights activists are skeptical about the creation of filtration camps for refugees in third countries, believing that it is virtually impossible to ensure that people are held there in line with European human rights standards. Nevertheless, in the medium term, the transportation of asylum seekers in EU countries to Moldova seems a very likely scenario. Perhaps, even inevitable. There are many pros, both for the Europeans and for our ruling elites. Firstly, Moldova belongs continentally to Europe and has the status of an EU candidate with open accession negotiations. That is, it will clearly raise fewer concerns for human rights activists than Ghana or Rwanda. Secondly, the country suffers from severe depopulation, especially in terms of its youth and working-age population. The demographic picture is shifting towards an ageing population, and there are already shortages in many sectors, so the influx of migrants can be portrayed as a positive and beneficial phenomenon. Thirdly, the difficult socio-economic situation, which in the current circumstances seems almost desperate, will create a great temptation to take advantage of the potential monetary proposal of Brussels, which, as we see, is ready to pay generously for the solution of this problem. I assume that it will be difficult for our authorities, who are on full Western support, to refuse such an EU offer if it is made. The only nuance is the extremely negative perception of our population of any prospects for accepting migrants. However, this can be largely offset due to competent information outreach with citizens.