Life in Europe as a Migrant

Many irregular migrants embark on the journey to Europe in the hope of building a better future. However, the reality is often different and most are not aware of the challenges they may face upon arrival in Europe. Read on to find out more information about life as an irregular migrant or asylum seeker in Europe.

If you are living in Northern France as an irregular migrant or asylum seeker, please visit The Migrant Project in France for more information

An asylum seeker is someone who has fled their country because of persecution or serious harm and is applying for international protection and refugee status in another country. Learn more about asylum seekers and other key migration terms.

Asylum procedures vary across Europe, depending on the national legislation of each country. However, European Union asylum law stipulates that EU member states must protect the rights of asylum seekers. This means that everyone in need is guaranteed a fair asylum application process, and countries are required to provide asylum seekers with accommodation and essential items. In some cases, asylum seekers are given vouchers but rarely cash payments.

Migrants are not free to choose where they live whilst their asylum applications are being processed. The Dublin Regulation, an EU law, means that many asylum seekers are the responsibility of the first European country they reach. This means that if they have arrived in one European state and have then moved on to other countries they face being sent back to the first state in which they arrived. The Dublin Regulation also means that asylum seekers are not given the choice of which country will examine their asylum claim, or which one they will live in or where they will be placed within that country.

Asylum application processes can take a long time. Although most countries aim to resolve cases within six months, they often extend this period, especially in times of high volumes of applications.

Asylum applications can be difficult and complex. While some applications are successful, others are refused asylum, which means that they are obliged to leave the country where they applied for international protection. In some cases, they will be held in detention centres until they are returned to their country of origin. Asylum seekers whose claim has been rejected have the right to appeal the decision. Those who are accepted are given a residence permit which allows them to work for a fixed amount of time before their case is reviewed.

European governments do not automatically provide asylum seekers or refugees with jobs. It can take a considerable amount of time before asylum seekers are allowed to work. During this period, they usually have very limited opportunity to regain any money spent on the journey. Refugees may still find themselves unemployed after several years of being in a country because they lack the education, qualifications and language skills required. It is difficult for those who have been granted asylum to earn enough money to pay for accommodation outside reception centres.

Economic migrants travel to another country to improve their economic prospects. They are not entitled to asylum nor can they stay in Europe if they have entered irregularly. Many economic migrants travel to Europe because they believe they will earn more money there, but then struggle to find a job to pay back debts or send money home to support their family.

While some migrants are successful in finding work abroad, others face challenges accessing the job market.

The European employment market is very formal. Job seekers must have official documentation, such as passports, diplomas and a work visa in order to find a job. It’s illegal for companies to employ people without valid work permits. There are special law enforcement agencies who perform regular inspections to ensure that companies are not employing people who lack the right documentation.

The unemployment rate is high in some European countries, particularly for young people with little work experience, education or qualifications. Often migrants don’t have the necessary skills to access jobs in Europe as the type of jobs available differ from their home countries, and qualifications from abroad are not necessarily recognised by employers. In order to secure a job, it is important to be able to speak and write in the language of the destination country.

While jobs in Europe usually offer higher salaries than in many migrants’ home countries, the cost of living is also higher. The daily living costs in Europe, such as accommodation, transport and food, are very high. For example, the average household in the United Kingdom spent around USD 730 per week in 2018. Learn more about the financial risks of irregular migration.

Under EU law, asylum seekers are provided with housing. While accommodation for asylum seekers can ease some financial pressure, migrants housed in these facilities often face other challenges. Often asylum seekers are given no choice as to where they are sent and are sometimes moved from location to location. Some may be housed in remote areas or far from friends or relatives who live in the host country. As a result, many migrants feel isolated in these facilities. Once asylum seekers are granted refugee status, in many cases, they lose the right to stay in asylum seeker centres and have to find their own place to live.

Irregular migrants are not eligible for accommodation assistance, which means they are responsible for finding a place to stay as soon as they arrive in Europe. As there is a shortage of social housing in some European countries, migrants may have to rent private properties. This is expensive and leaves many migrants vulnerable to exploitation by landlords who provide poor housing at high prices.

Many migrants take dangerous routes to Europe that put their health and safety at risk. Many irregular migrants and asylum seekers who arrive in Europe are in need of medical assistance and psychological support.

Asylum seekers and irregular migrants face restrictions accessing free healthcare in many European countries. Usually, irregular migrants can only receive free treatment if they are suffering from an urgent and life-threatening issue. Otherwise they have to pay for medical assistance and prices can be very high.

University education is not normally free in Europe. While some migrants may be eligible to apply for a university scholarship or student visa that lets you study in Europe, others cannot afford the high tuition fees at European universities. This makes it difficult for migrants to earn the right qualifications and skills to access well-paid, high-skilled jobs. As a result, many migrants struggle to earn enough money to support themselves. Learn more about safe and legal alternatives.

Migrants who have studied in their home countries must bring the official documentation from their academic institutions to prove their qualifications in order to find a job. Some employers won’t recognise foreign qualifications but migrants can pay to get their qualifications translated and validated in Europe.

Integrating into European society can be challenging. While some migrants have adapted to their new life in Europe others struggle to integrate due to language and cultural barriers, and may face discrimination from members of the local community. Many migrant families find it hard to integrate into their new culture while maintaining their originating country’s cultural values.

Some migrants hope to bring their families to Europe once they are granted permission to stay. While some applications are successful, family reunion petitions must pass through lengthy and rigorous procedures. Learn more about family reunification.

Some irregular migrants may be caught by the authorities in Europe and returned to their home country if they are not eligible for asylum or have entered a European country without a valid visa.

It can be difficult for returnees to reintegrate into their home communities, especially if they’ve spent many years abroad and some migrants may face discrimination.

When irregular migration attempts fail, migrants express feelings of regret. They often report that their relatives are angry at them for having wasted time and money on an unsuccessful trip.

In autumn and winter 2021, thousands of people – predominantly from Iraq as well as other countries including Syria and Afghanistan – attempted to cross the Belarus border into the EU states of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. However, many migrants who have tried to enter Poland and Lithuania have been refused entry and pushed back to Belarus. This has led to thousands of migrants stuck in a no-man’s land area, and forced to endure extremely difficult, and even deadly, conditions. Under new EU measures, migrants could be held in closed camps at the Belarus-Poland border for up to 16 weeks while their asylum claims are being considered.

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