Handling migration: Some countries do it better than others

Far-right party: Golden Dawn supporters holding Greek flags during a rally outside a courthouse in Athens, Greece. Photograph: Simela Pantzartzi/EPA

Far-right party: Golden Dawn supporters holding Greek flags during a rally outside a courthouse in Athens, Greece. Photograph: Simela Pantzartzi/EPA


Some European countries are coping better than others with the influx of non-EU citizens. Sweden in particular has been lauded for its immigration system. An estimated 20,000 Syrian refugees have made their way to the Scandinavian country, which offers Syrians immediate asylum status, permission to work and permanent residence.

The country, which has high reception standards for refugees, is being targeted by affluent Syrians who can afford to make the perilous and pricey journey to the northern country, a process that typically involves the use of false identity papers provided by people-smugglers who charge a premium.

Like other European countries, Sweden, which has long had an open-door policy to refugees, has seen the emergence of a right-wing, anti-immigration political movement. In 2010 the Swedish Democratic Party, which campaigns on an anti-immigration platform, won almost 6 per cent of the national vote. It has not yet had a major impact on the immigration policy of the government, though opposition to immigration is growing, as elsewhere.

Germany is another country of preference for immigrants fleeing the conflict in Syria, with migrants attracted by its welfare system and relatively progressive policy on migration. In 2012 almost 16,000 Syrians applied for asylum in Germany, and last year Germany offered 5,000 temporary-stay permits to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

As focus turns to the Mediterranean area during the Greek and Italian presidencies of the EU Council, northern countries such as Sweden and Germany have pointed out that they take their fair share of the burden. Nonetheless, the contentious issue of giving EU migrants access to social-welfare benefit has emerged as a source of tension within the new German government, with the issue climbing up the political agenda in recent weeks since the extension of full working rights to Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, on January 1st.

Other countries have outlined the good that immigration can do the economic and social fabric of a country. At the meeting of EU justice ministers in December, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter was one of the few to speak out on immigration, highlighting the contribution migrants had made to the Irish economy.

Ireland – which, unlike the UK, already allowed full working rights to Bulgarian and Romanian migrants – implements strict rules about residency after three months. It has also committed to placing 90 Syrian refugees so far.

With Britain leading the charge against EU free-movement laws, the European Commission has taken a strong line on the issue to dispel some myths about so-called benefit tourism. A report commissioned by the European Commission and published last year found no evidence that EU citizens who move to another member state are “more intensive users” of social welfare than nationals of that state, and that the most migrants “move to find or take up employment”.

It found that migrants to European member states are more likely to be unemployed than nationals are. Although migration had risen considerably since 2003, “non-active” EU migrants – those not in employment, including pensioners, students and single parents – represented between 0.7 per cent and 1 per cent of the total EU population.