Irregular Migration & Return

The research team has dealt with the issue of irregular migration and return through various activities. Several recent projects, the study 'Fundamental Rights Situation of Irregular Immigrants to the EU' for the Fundamental Rights Agency,  the study 'Health Care for Undocumented Migrants in Switzerland' for the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, and the study on the 'Treatment of Third-country Nationals at the EU’s External Borders’, focused on the fundamental rights of irregular migrants. The REGINE study completed in 2009 investigated regularisation practices and policies towards illegally staying third-country nationals in the European Union.

Irregular migration and the economy has also been an important cross-cutting issue, having relevance in two past projects: 'Irregular Migration in the Times of Global Economic Crisis', a 2010 study funded by the Volkswagenstiftung and led by the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI) and the study 'Migration and Irregular Work in Europe' (MIGWE), completed in 2008 and conducted in close cooperation with Hungarian and Czech partner institutes.

The ICMPD Research Unit also was a partner in the Clandestino project,  a major European research project on irregular migration, which among others, produced the first transparent estimates of the population of undocumented migrants in the EU for three different points in time. An earlier research project titled 'Human Smuggling and Trafficking in Migrants', conducted between 2002 and 2005 and implemented with a range of partners in other European countries, elaborated theoretical perspectives on human smuggling based on an in-depth empirical study of patterns of human smuggling. Among other key findings, it showed that human smuggling is best conceptualised as a particular type of service industry in which smugglers act as service providers, while migrants are clients in a provider-customer relationship and where transactions are premised on a modicum of trust between the two parties. This contrasts with traditional views of human smuggling as almost synonymous with trafficking in human beings and a criminal activity under which migrants are primarily viewed as helpless victims of unscrupulous smugglers. 

Finally, the annual Yearbook on Illegal Migration, Human Smuggling and Trafficking in Central and Eastern Europe, published for more than 10 years, is one of the Research Unit's core products in the thematic field of irregular migration. The Yearbook highlights regional trends and developments based on a survey and an analysis of border management and border apprehension data from 22 states, and has been especially useful in presenting concrete results to national administrations, border guard authorities and EU institutions. Overall, ICMPD’s research on irregular migration highlights the complexity of the phenomenon, while also offering policy suggestions, best practices and concrete tools that are useful for policymakers in addressing the issue of irregular migration.

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