16th Jan 2019

Migrants battle to get into fortress EU

  • Greece is building a wall on the EU border with Turkey (Photo: Pulpolux)

With Moldova inching toward EU visa-free travel while increasingly becoming a transit point for EU-bound irregular migrants, Moldovan officials have listed some of the ways people use to enter fortress Europe.

Option one: buy a real visa. The Rolls Royce way to get into the EU illegally is to bribe an EU consular official in Moldova into issuing a real visa.

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Veaceslav Cirlig, the head of the migration policy department in Moldova's interior ministry, told this website that the size of the bribe is up to €5,000. If you pull it off, it is a watertight way of getting into the EU's passport-free Schengen zone, where people can outstay the duration of the visa and disappear into society.

EU consular officials are quite hard to corrupt. But in some cases, as with the Netherlands, EU countries keep an embassy in neighbouring Ukraine and hire Ukrainians or Moldovans to issue visas in Moldova. The foreign staff are said to be more amenable to bribe-taking.

Option two: buy a forged Polish or Romanian passport or visa. The cost here is between €300 and €800, but the risk is greater. Roman Revenco, the director of Moldova's Border Guards Service, said he has up-to-date document scanners that "easily" detect fakes. Guards on Monday (24 January) caught a Moldovan citizen with a fake Polish visa bought for €800.

Option three: hide on a train or in a truck. Moldova is angling for EU money to buy 12 modern vehicle scanners costing €300,000 each but does not have them yet. Mr Revenco said guards "recently" found nine Turks, including two children aged 12 and 14, concealed in a truck. The migrants had been "facilitated" by German citizens. He however added that such cases are "rare."

Option four: get on a boat or swim. The physical border between Moldova and EU member Romania is the river Prut. Mr Revenco said people try both ways to get over the water, but noted that the river is "dangerous" because of its strong current.

Option five: walk. Some migrants come to Moldova and then go to Ukraine, which has a long land border with EU member Poland. This option is also dangerous. In 2007 three girls aged six, 10 and 13 died in the Bieszczady mountains while trying to walk into Poland with their mother. If caught, migrants face harsh conditions in Ukrainian detention camps.

Last October, Moldova restarted a daily train service between Chisinau and Odessa in Ukraine. The train stops in Tiraspol, the main city in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, an unrecognised entity which broke away from Moldova 20 years ago and is ruled by a Russian factory manager.

Tiraspol is a threat to EU border security. It has facilities for producing illegal documents and is home to a massive Soviet-era arms cache, but the 350,000 people who live there go in and out of Moldova proper with no checks by Moldovan border guards. Evidence indicates that its main smuggling activity is counterfeit cigarettes, however.

Most irregular migrants in Moldova come from former Soviet Union territories. People from Africa, Asia and the Middle East instead try to use the Greek-Turkish land border, which is considerably busier.

Meanwhile, Moldovans are returning home from the EU due to the economic crisis in the Union. And people from the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic are going to Turkey to try to make a living.

The EU commissioner responsible for visas, Sweden's Cecilia Malmstrom, in Chisinau on Monday at a conference on EU migration gave Moldova an Action Plan on what it must do to clinch the visa-free deal.

She declined to give a target date and told Moldovan media that people should not abuse future freedoms. "Visa liberalisation is not something that will get jobs in Europe. It's about visiting, getting to know each other, making contact," she said.

Brussels nannies

Oxford University migration expert Franck Duvell told the 19 EU delegations at the conference that people who enter the union on a fully legal visa but outstay their exit date and work in menial jobs such as cleaning far outnumber people who enter illegally. "If such people were regularised in some way, a good proportion of 'illegal migration' would be eradicated," he said.

On the subject of household workers in the EU capital, Ms Malmstrom admitted it is common knowledge that many EU officials hire irregular migrants as cleaners and nannies. "If it's against Belgian law, it's illegal and they shouldn't do it," she said. "As to whether they are being exploited, I'm sure some of them are treated very well. But if it's against the law, they shouldn't do it."

For his part, Martijn Pluim from the International Centre for Migration Policy Development in Vienna, told this website he knows of cases in which European diplomats have abused their household staff.

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