Blog post by Timor Landherr, a PhD candidate Queen Mary University of London, and forms part of a series of blog posts examining the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.


Germany’s first report from the 31st of October 2020 is remarkably comprehensive and displays that action has been taken in relation to more than half of the GCM’s objectives. This discussion focuses on two of the four main priorities Germany presented in its report[1]:

–                 Access to the German labour market
–                 Tackling the causes of irregular migration  


With attention to GCM’s intent of making migration save and orderly vis-à-vis the realities of irregular border crossings towards Europe and Germany, these two priorities stand out as particularly important. According to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, at least 3.500 migrants died in the Mediterranean since the adoption of the GCM by the UNGA in December 2018. These numbers exclude undetected cases and the many migrants that lose their lives even before reaching the Mediterranean. In the face of such crisis, facilitating labour market access as one way of expanding legal pathways of migration and tackling the so-called root causes of irregular migration are top priorities in the pursuit of save and orderly migration. Indeed, Germany emphasises the need for increasing “human security” in “sending countries” whilst also recognizing the necessity of increasing labour market access. However, as I will argue in the next few paragraphs, neither the labour immigration reforms nor Germany’s increased attention on the prevention of irregular migration are adequate means of making migration routes more save and orderly.


Access to the German Labour Market: No future for ‘unskilled’ labour


Concerning labour immigration, the German approach strictly separates regular from irregular migration and highly skilled from lesser skilled workers. Hence, there have been significant changes in policies, yet they do not necessarily target the migrants most at risk of bodily harm or exploitation. In its report, Germany stresses the implementation of the “Skilled Workers Immigration Act”, which seeks to facilitate migration for persons who have a completed professional training and/or university education that is recognized in Germany, and either already have sponsorship by a potential employer or expect to find a job shortly after arriving in Germany. Although any facilitation of access to Germany’s labour market must be welcomed from a migration perspective given the precarious situation of migrants en route, the overemphasis on skilled workers combined with the simultaneous silence on any lesser skilled workers exposes a deeper problem in German immigration policies.


This problem is perfectly symbolized by Germany’s response to objective 3 – provide accurate  and  timely  information  at  all  stages  of migration. Here, Germany set up two websites targeting very different populations and containing completely different information. The website informs about the Skilled Workers Immigration Act, the different ways of obtaining a visa for working or finding work. On the other hand, the website aims at discouraging migrants that are not highly qualified from embarking towards Germany by pointing towards the EU’s hard border policies, dangerous routes, and tough immigration laws in Germany. Which geographies those websites are targeted at becomes evident when considering that the former is available in German, English, French and Spanish, while the latter is available in Arabic, English, Farsi, French, Russian, Tigrinya and Urdu.


The German approach towards labour immigration can, thus, not be expected to be particularly helpful in increasing safety and order at German and European borders. Although data is rare, it can be expected that most migrants that lose their lives or experience violence and exploitation on their way to or in Germany are traditionally not “highly qualified” as defined by the Skilled Workers Immigration Act (CLANDESTINO PROJECT, 2009). Nevertheless, Germany does not indicate any intention to implement legal pathways for non- or lesser skilled persons to enter Germany regularly (see Germany’s focus on skilled workers and university students in its response). Instead, policies targeting this second type of migrant focus on deterrence, prevention, and interception. As  tells us, irregular migration of “unskilled” persons or others that could not get through the visa process is not understood as a problem of lacking legal pathways, but as an exceptional phenomenon that is brought about either by deceiving smugglers, misinformation, or false hopes.


Furthermore, this displays a tendency to ignore the lived reality of irregular, low-skilled migrants altogether, as it is conceived as an exceptional problem that is generated outside of Germany, rather than by Germany’s own immigration policies.


Tackling ‘Root-Causes’: Outsourcing and externalizing responsibility and control


Due to the failure to acknowledge that a main driver of irregular migration is simply the fact that there are not enough regular pathways for migrants from certain countries and social classes, Germany locates the root-causes of irregular migration beyond its borders. Hence, the “vulnerabilities” of migrants addressed by objective 7 are sought to be tackled through “bilaterism” and “development assistance”; a tendency that has become increasingly popular in the last decades and finally became a primary strategy for curtailing irregular migration since the infamous EU-Turkey deal.


This strategy uses development cooperation to simultaneously motivate and increase the capacities of third countries to prevent migrants from reaching the EU’s external borders. Here, Germany points towards the 4,5 billion Euro it spent to “prevent conflict, tackle the root-causes of displacement and assist displaced people as well as host communities in crisis situations” in 2019. A survey of all funded projects would exceed the scope of this blogpost, yet it is worth taking a closer look at some of these projects.


With the bilateral framework of Germany’s “Marshall-plan with Africa” Germany invests in a range of West African countries, as well as Ethiopia, Tunesia, Morocco, and others that are expected to host migratory routes. Among these projects are indeed projects that might contain adequate responses towards pressing poverty and conflict in those countries, such as investments in the energy sectors of these countries, sustainable agriculture, as well as several “good-governance” frameworks. Much of the development funding Germany spends through the broader EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, however, is geared towards a securitization and militarization of the continent’s borders (Zardo, 2020). Instead of targeting the “vulnerabilities” of persons that might feel pressured to leave or supporting them in through regular pathways of migration, these policies often target their capacity to move and transgress borders in the first place. As such, these externalizing policies – of which Germany is a political and financial driver – have been shown to result in more dangerous migratory routes and externalities such as diminishing regional economies and increasing potential for political conflict.


One example of potentially contradictory results of this kind of cooperation can be found in the case of Niger’s regional mobility industry. Following pressure from the EU, the Nigerien government introduced a law criminalising these activities as migrant smuggling and human trafficking (Massakali, 2015). To stop the flow once again, the vans of the newly created smugglers are seized, and many involved in this industry imprisoned or fined heavy fees. Without offering the alternatives the huge sums of development aid promises, this strategy has left the “smugglers” unemployed and the local economy weakened. As some have argued, these strategies have made locals “susceptible to recruitment” by terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Daesh that are increasingly active in the region (Reuters, 2020). Echoing this worry, researchers and political commentators alike warn of ‘increased risk of regional destabilisation’ through the obstruction of intraregional migration and the direct interference with political structures that guarantee the political stability of the Nigerien regime (Abebe, 2019, pp. 7-9; Bøås, 2020, p. 11; Raineri & Strazzari, 2019).


Germany’s report nevertheless shows its commitment to continue the externalization of migration control and humanitarian assistance into third countries.  This is further evident in Germany’s emphasis on its support of the “European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) in Libya” under objective 9 (response to smuggling of migrants). This CFSP mission, too, has been criticized extensively both by researchers and human rights organizations for outsourcing responsibility (Bialasiewicz, 2012) to actors with records of human rights violations such as torture, human trafficking, and slavery (Amnesty International, 2019; UN News, 2017).


Here, it is also important to note Germany’s response to objective 8 (save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants) which highlights that it is the sole responsibility of coastal states to rescue migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean. Although this might be legally true, it is Germany’s differentiation between highly skilled and low-skilled, regular and irregular that makes it necessary for many migrants to take these dangerous routes in the first place. Furthermore, Germany notes its support for Frontex, whose mandate includes search and rescue (SAR) operations if necessary. Given that both Frontex and German police have recently been criticised for being involved in illegal pushbacks of migrant boats and violating the right of individuals to file asylum claims (Hoffmann, 2020), this can hardly be seen as a credible commitment to save lives of migrants.


Development cooperation and “bilateralism” are thus at least partly funnelled into projects that produce “root-causes” of irregular migration rather than tackling them. Instead of reforming immigration policies to open safe pathways for migrants without (recognized) university or professional training, Germany seeks to prevent their capacity to move in the first place, ignoring any possible externalities and outsourcing responsibility for human security.




Although there are a few promising advances in Germany’s report – such as the National Action Plan for Integration which involves 300 stakeholders to facilitate the integration of newly arrived migrants – the most pressing issues are not solved and potentially even exacerbated. With Germany not displaying any intent of facilitating regular migration of those who are most vulnerable, projects such as the “Skilled Workers Immigration Act” remain a drop in the ocean as they are unlikely to make migration much safer. At the same time, Germany refuses to acknowledge its own responsibility in the international politics of migration and instead opts to fight irregular migration by fighting the border crossing of irregular migrants. Without wanting to discard the potential progress the GCM might reach, this points towards a broader problem with soft legal frameworks such as the GCM. As loosely defined and only politically binding instruments, they allow participating countries to construe the objectives according to their own priorities, even if these contradict the GCM’s core aim, i.e. increasing safety and order in the field of migration.




Abebe, T. T. (2019). Securitisation of migration in Africa: The case of Agadez in Niger (Africa Report No. 20). Institute for Security Studies.

Amnesty International. (2019). Europe’s shameful failure to end the torture and abuse of refugees and migrants in Libya.

Bialasiewicz, L. (2012). Off-shoring and Out-sourcing the Borders of EUrope: Libya and EU Border Work in the Mediterranean. Geopolitics, 17(4), 843–866.

Bøås, M. (2020). EU migration management in the Sahel: Unintended consequences on the ground in Niger? Third World Quarterly, 1–16.

Hoffmann, H. (2020). Deutsche Bundespolizisten in illegale Pushbacks verwickelt.

IOM. (n.d.). Missing Migrants Project. Retrieved 15 March 2021, from

Massalaki, A. (2015, May 12). Niger passes law to tackle migrant smuggling, first in West Africa. Reuters.

Raineri, L., & Strazzari, F. (2019). (B)ordering Hybrid Security? EU Stabilisation Practices in the Sahara-Sahel Region. Ethnopolitics, 18(5), 544–559.

Reuters. (2020, August 5). EU effort to stem African migration leaves some ex-smugglers empty handed. Reuters.

UN News. (2017, November 14). Libya’s detention of migrants ‘is an outrage to humanity,’ says UN human rights chief Zeid. UN News.

Zardo, F. (2020). The EU Trust Fund for Africa: Geopolitical Space Making through Migration Policy Instruments. Geopolitics, 1–20.    



[1] The other two key areas are (1) integration and (2) combatting violent extremism. Progress presented on (1) includes a National Action Plan on Integration that brings together several civil society actors, state actors, and municipalities to work out 150 measures and projects that will support the integration of migrants in all of its phases. Furthermore, online counselling for potential working migrants is offered as a pre-integration measure and an expert commission on integration was commissioned to propose areas for improvements concerning structural requirements of integration (housing, work, health, education and dealing with racism). On (2), the federal government set up a cabinet committee that is tasked with developing measures to combat right-wing extremism and racism. Moreover, the government stocked up federal police and intelligence agencies in order to monitor right-wing extremism.    



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