A Coast-Guard Officer's Perspective: Reinforcing Migration through Legal Channels

By Karagatsos, Konstantinos | Forced Migration Review, January 2016 | Go to article overview

A Coast-Guard Officer's Perspective: Reinforcing Migration through Legal Channels


Karagatsos, Konstantinos, Forced Migration Review


As far back as 1994 when I was inducted as an Ensign of the Hellenic Coast Guard, we were dealing with both refugees and economic migrants on Lesbos Island, which lies only ten nautical miles from the Turkish coast. At that time the vast majority of the mixed migratory flows were of economic migrants but there were also refugees in fewer numbers. More recently there has been a sharp increase in the number of refugees coming to Europe, so that refugees have become the majority of the mixed migratory flows.

The real problem for Europe nowadays is not migration - which has been happening for many years and cannot be expected to end - but migration done in an illegal way, illegal migration. The Schengen Area of Europe constitutes an area of freedom of movement, security and justice for European citizens and other nationals who enter it legally. But other third-country nationals are being helped by organised criminal networks to enter the Schengen area illegally, networks which are not based in Europe but in the migrants' countries of origin. While we cannot make illegal migration legal, we could reinforce migration through legal channels, turning it into regulated migration.

A legal solution

I have worked as a practitioner on the issue of migration and sea borders for 22 years, and have dealt with refugees and economic migrants on the 'front line'; I have been Director at the Sea Borders Protection Directorate of the Greek Ministry of Shipping and Maritime Affairs; I have worked as an operational analyst in Frontex; and I have witnessed the problems associated with migration in Europe for decades. I have one proposal for this problem: that is, to isolate refugees and economic migrants from the organised criminal networks by setting up procedures for asylum status (for refugees) and residence permits (for economic migrants) in EU embassies in certain third countries.

At a first glance, this would seem risky, with possibly unforeseen dangers and challenges for implementation - for example, the challenge of deciding who is a refugee and who is an economic migrant. But we are doing it already in the EU, with the help of screeners, debriefers, interpreters and so on. We would need to arrange for appropriate infrastructure and procedures in the embassies too, as well as staff with appropriate experience for this task. …

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