After eleven months of uncertainty and five different European countries, Toros Toroyan settled in Germany with his wife and two daughters. Toroyan, who was diagnosed with cancer, says that he left Armenia to “survive.” In the city of Detmold, Toroyan received the required medical assistance, after which his health condition started showing signs of improvement. He even started learning German and doing voluntary work. In April of 2019, Toroyan and his family were among the 50 illegal Armenian immigrants who were deported from Germany.
In 2018, the Armenian Migration Service received 1042 readmission inquiries regarding the status and citizenship of 2077 people, which is a significant increase compared to 2016 results, when the number of cases was 254, while the number of people 469.
It was back in 2013 that Armenia and the European Union signed an agreement on readmission of illegal immigrants. The agreement which entered into force in 2014, was characterized as a “concrete step forward” in EU-Armenia relations. The readmission agreement set out clear obligations of the Armenia side as well as the EU member states as to when or how to take back people illegally residing on their territories. Since 2014, Armenia has also signed implementing protocol of readmission agreements with 13 EU member countries, which is a more practical document specifying the agencies responsible for readmission in each country and setting out the overall process roadmap. The last implementing protocol was signed with Germany in September of 2019 and negotiations with Bulgaria and Czech Republic are in progress.
According to the Head of the Migration Service Armen Ghazaryan, the Armenian side did not see a drastic increase in readmission requests until 2017. “From 2014 to 2017, we had requests but they were only in the hundreds; in 2017 when the Velvet Revolution had not yet happened, the requests were already in the thousands, while in 2018 the requests were in a couple of thousands,” said Ghazaryan. The increase in the readmission requests coincided with the European migrant crisis that broke out in 2015 and continued escalating during 2016. Ghazaryan explained that after the refugee crisis, the EU started strengthening its border control mechanisms and introducing stricter migration policies. In fact, the EU increased the functions of and resources allocated to one of its agencies, the European Coast and Board Service (also known as Frontex), which is tasked with border control of the European Schengen Area.
Ghazaryan clarified that during the first three months of 2019, the Armenian government received 235 deportation cases regarding the citizenship of 500 illegal immigrants from a number of European countries. The citizenship of 431 of them was confirmed and most of them were deported from Germany and France. Aside from forced deportations, Ghazaryan noted that after the Velvet Revolution there is a positive trend in voluntary migration flows. The change is noticeable in the aggregate data of border crossings involving citizens of Armenia; the interplay for the first nine months of 2017 was -75,015, while in the first nine months of 2018, positive entry and exit dynamics of +8614 was registered. The positive trend is also visible from the number of people applying for reintegration programs developed and implemented by non-governmental and international organizations based in Armenia.
Why Armenian Nationals are Being Deported
In 2018, in the EU territory law enforcement agencies found out 600,000 illegally residing third country citizens, and only 2300 of them were of Armenian origin. “Armenians constitute only 0.4 percent of the deported illegal immigrants, which is a very small number in the bigger picture,” noted Ghazaryan. “It is a drop in the ocean.” Most Armenians are being deported because they either abuse the asylum system or stay in the Schengen territory more than their visa or residence permit allows. So far, Armenian nationals were primarily detected in six EU countries, including Germany, France, Poland, Austria, Spain, and Belgium. In the case of Germany, France, and Austria the main reason of deportation is the abuse of the asylum system. In Spain as well as in Poland, which is the main European country of destination for labor migrants, overstay constitutes a major reason for deportation. Cases from Belgium are a mixture of overstay and abuse of the asylum system.
Ghazaryan believes that Armenians oftentimes fail to realize that asylum is not a system of free benefits, such as accommodation, healthcare, or schooling for children. Under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, asylum is granted to people fleeing persecution or serious harm in their own country and who therefore are in need of international protection. If the asylum system is used for purposes other than the ones mentioned in the convention it becomes asylum abuse. The Convention is also specific about the status of a refugee: it is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. “While Armenian citizens have been using the asylum system of the European countries for dealing with other issues, mainly healthcare problems,” said the head of the Migration Service.
Another reason for the sharp increase in the number of deportations was Armenia’s democratic transition. Following the Velvet Revolution, Armenia started being acknowledged for its fight against corruption, and its fight for judicial reforms and transparent elections, all of which set the country on the path of sustained democracy. Armenia was also recognized the country of the year 2018 by the Economist for the progress that it registered within one year. So, Armenians who received refugee status during the past years because they were being persecuted by the former ruling elite were deported, because the conditions under which they received that status were no longer applicable.
In October 2019, the Armenian government introduced a draft program for the successful reintegration of deported Armenian nationals. Ghazaryan noted that if adopted, this would be the first government initiative aimed at providing initial support to deported Armenians. Priority will be given to families having four or more children, people over 65-years-old, people with disabilities, as well as children without parental care. The affected individuals will receive assistance with temporary accommodation and guidance about organizations providing services that they may need for more successful reintegration. The overall cost of the program is estimated to be 13.6 million drams ($28,700), all of which will be used to cover the housing expenses. Ghazaryan clarified that according to calculations, only 10 percent of the deported immigrants or 38 families are in need of temporary housing, and with the government program these families will be given 60,000 drams ($126) per month for a six month period.
Ghazaryan believes that migration experience of deported Armenians should not put them at an advantageous position because it would be a discriminatory practice towards those who do not have that experience. He clarified that such experiences should not serve as basis for additional support from the state since all the citizens of the Republic of Armenia should have equal opportunities for assistance based on their demonstrated need.