Swiss expert warns COVID may trigger migration wave to Europe

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In addition to wars, famine and droughts, the current coronavirus pandemic could trigger a new wave of immigration towards Europe, Swiss migration expert Eduard Gnesa warns.

“Following the previous ones, Europe and Switzerland are threatened by another wave of the coronavirus, but this one is migratory in its nature,” Gnesa said.

He was director of the Swiss Federal Office of Immigration, Integration and Emigration between 2001 and 2004 and in 2009 was appointed special ambassador of international cooperation in migration. Now retired from public service, Gnesa currently owns a consultancy firm in Switzerland, KMES Partners.   

Gnesa illustrates his claim with the situation on the US-Mexico border. In February alone, US Border Patrol officers blocked 100,000 illegal migrants from entering US. territory and Mexico itself fears a wave of migration at its southern borders. Many immigrants are counting on the migration policy of Democrat President Joe Biden, which is, unlike his predecessor, taking a pro-migration, open borders turn.

Gnesa expects that as soon as border restrictions are lifted, significant increases in migration statistics can be expected immediately. In this regard, the expert notes that he expects a steady increase, with a maximum of 15,000 applications per year in Switzerland. In this regard, it should be noted that a previous estimate of his proved to be conservative. In 2015, his analysis predicted 30,000 asylum seekers, while the actual number was 40,000 in Switzerland.

Gnesa is not alone with his opinion

Gnesa’s assumption is also echoed in relevant EU and World Bank analyses. A similar conclusion is reached, for example, by a research institute attached to the European Parliament (EASO Asylum Report 2020), at the end of which the authors describe that middle- and low-income states typically serve as starting points for migration routes. That is why if the coronavirus hits these countries hard, it will trigger migration trends to Europe.

The World Bank examined, among other things, the financial transactions of migrants in Europe on their way home. This is a significant data point because, according to World Bank analysis, a significant share of the GDP of the poorest countries (nearly 10 percent) comes from remittances from migrants in developed countries.

Thus, if economic problems also occur in developed countries (in this case, for example, if an immigrant working as a waiter in Europe cannot transfer enough income home to Africa to help his or her own family), this is also reflected in the GDP of the migrant’s country of origin. The World Bank has clearly shown that remittances to low- and medium-economy countries fell by roughly 20 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year (from $554 billion to $445 billion). Even more strapped for cash, those who previously chose to remain in their native countries, could also resort to migration.

Title image: Eduard Gnesa, former director of the Swiss Migration Office. (source:

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