From the UDI annual report for 2011:
The year 2011 was dominated by dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East. This region is characterised by extensive internal migration and many of the countries are also transit countries for people who want to travel on to Europe. How did the events affect the migration situation in the region and migration to Europe and Norway?
Egypt: little emigration after the change of regime
There has traditionally been a high level of emigration from Egypt, but primarily to other Arab countries. Some highly qualified Egyptians, many of them Christians, have been an exception to this rule. They have emigrated to English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Very few Egyptians have emigrated to Europe without first obtaining a residence permit, and this is still the case after the uprising.
Tunisia: large, but short-lived emigration across the Mediterranean
People from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco have long emigrated to Europe in large numbers. Some have come via regulated channels, while others have travelled illegally by boat across the Mediterranean or to the Canary Islands. Illegal crossings increased strongly following the uprising in Tunisia. In February 2011, a large number of people started crossing to Lampedusa, an Italian island in the Mediterranean halfway between Malta and the coast of Tunisia. In the space of just a few months, around 20 000 people travelled from the North African countries to Lampedusa.
Most of them were young men looking for work. Many of them continued on to France. However, the French authorities have registered few of the Tunisian immigrants in their systems. The Italian authorities, on the other hand, received 3 200 applications for asylum from Tunisians during the first nine months of 2011. Some of them also continued on to Switzerland, where 1 700 Tunisian asylum seekers were registered during the same period.
The extensive emigration from Tunisia was due in part to the authorities’ failure, for a period, to maintain the same control of irregular sailings to Lampedusa and Malta that they had exercised prior to the political turbulence. This created an opening for people to travel illegally to Europe. However, the European countries were quick to demand that the Tunisian authorities resume cooperation with Frontex, the European border management agency, which it did. The flow of refugees to Lampedusa was greatly reduced over the summer. Eighty Tunisian asylum seekers arrived in Norway in 2011. That is almost twice as many as in 2010, but a low figure compared with other countries in Europe.
Libya: foreign migrants caught up in conflict
Unlike the rest of North Africa, Libya has long been a country with many migrant workers from all over the world. It has also been an important transit country for people from Sub-Saharan Africa who want to come to Europe. There are no exact figures for migrants in Libya. The IOM has put the figure at 650 000, but the actual figure may be as high as between 2 and 2.5 million. Gaddafi also used migrants who wished to travel to Europe as leverage in order to secure agreements with European countries, particularly Italy.
When the conflict escalated in spring 2011, many of these migrants found themselves in a very difficult situation. In particular, people from further south in Africa were victims of spontaneous, unprovoked violence due to widespread racism in Libya, and because it was suspected that they were mercenaries for Gaddafi. Many of them crossed the border to the refugee camp run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the town of Choucha in Tunisia.
With the exception of the period from 2002 to 2004, when a number of young men came here without needing protection, few Libyans have applied for asylum in Norway. The number of applicants increased to 140 in 2011, but this is still a low figure compared with other countries in Europe. Traditionally, Libyan nationals seeking political asylum in Europe under the Gaddafi regime did so in the United Kingdom. That was also the case in 2011.
Syria: many refugees to Europe both before and after the uprising
Syrian citizens have been fleeing from the Bashar al-Assad regime for a long time, but more have fled since the uprising started in spring 2011. The majority of asylum seekers from Syria went to Germany, as was also the case prior to the uprising. Two hundred asylum seekers came to Norway from Syria in 2011. In April, Norway stopped returning people to Syria, and we also stopped making decisions that would oblige applicants to return to Syria.
How have the transit routes been affected?
Today’s migration routes are based on travel routes that have existed for several thousand years. The most common routes to Europe are in the west, via Morocco and the Western Sahara to the southern coast of Spain or the Canary Islands, the central route via Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta, and the eastern route via the Middle East and the east coast of the Mediterranean across into Turkey. There is widespread internal migration in the Middle East and it is relatively easy to travel within the region, including into Turkey.
The western route and the route from Libya across to Italy used to be the most widely used route. This has changed over the last three years. While many people crossed the Mediterranean to Italy during the unrest in North Africa, more people are now choosing the eastern route from the Horn of Africa via the Middle East and Turkey. According to reports from UNHCR, around 85 000 people travelled from the Horn of Africa across to Yemen in autumn 2011. Frontex has also reported increasing pressure on the border between Turkey and Greece. People travelling by this route have to pass through very turbulent parts of the Middle East, so it is far from hazard-free.
No mass immigration to Norway
When the number of people arriving in Lampedusa increased strongly in the spring, there was speculation that the events in North Africa would lead to a big increase in the number of asylum seekers coming to Norway from North Africa, and the Horn of Africa via North Africa. This did not happen, however. Asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa accounted for almost half of all asylum seekers in Norway in 2011. The majority stated that they travelled via the eastern route and not via North Africa.