Virtual Group Discussion on Irregular Migration in the current COVID-19 Pandemic

Vienna: The Budapest Process hosted its second virtual meeting after the major restrictions on mobility in light of the declared COVID-19 pandemic. 10 countries as well as the European Commission, FRONTEX, ICMPD and UNODC were invited to discuss what have been the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on irregular migration, border management, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings.

The two-and-a-half hour discussion was an opportunity for country representatives to share thoughts and observations on the mid to long-term impact of COVID-19 on irregular migration flows in the Budapest Process regions. COVID-19 has affected irregular flows in several ways. For instance, with the closure of borders, people may have an even greater need to use smuggling networks in order to cross borders, which lead to higher prices for smuggling services. Irregular migration takes place in general in close quarters with other people and this will mean increased health risks for migrants, their fellow travellers and anyone in their extended paths. In addition, with the outbreak of the pandemic, some migrants have found themselves suddenly in an irregular situation after losing their jobs or after expiry of their residence or work permits and finding it difficult to return to their countries of origin. In certain cases, the return of migrants who were in an irregular status before the pandemic was complicated by the COVID-19 crisis. The meeting was held under Chatham House Rule.

UNODC presented their recent publication on COVID-19’s influence on migrant smuggling and smuggling networks. ICMPD then shared how borders have adapted since the pandemic and how they have built capacities of border guards through specific project activities. FRONTEX shared the latest facts and figures at the EU external border and noticeable trends since the pandemic affected Europe.