The presence of irregular migrants causes a tough problem for policy makers. Political and popular aversion against the presence of irregular migrants has mounted in most West-European societies for years, yet their presence remains. Their exact numbers are obviously unknown - only estimates of various kinds and sources are available1 - making the perceived magnitude of their ‘threat’ to the social order to a large extent a matter of political opinion. In recent years irregular migrants have almost become a ‘public enemy’ in many countries of the EU. Television and newspaper images such as those of irregular migrants storming the barbwire fences of the Spanish enclave Ceuta in 2005 confirm both the image of irregular migrants desperate to reach Europe’s shores as well as the image of a Fortress Europe, a continent desperate to keep them out. Especially since the 1990s policy attention for this category of immigrants has increased manifold, albeit with distinct differences in approach and intensity among the various EU member states. National governments, especially in Northern Europe, and the European Union have placed the fight against illegal immigration at the top of their political agenda. Irregular migrants did not always have such a bad image in Western Europe. Not so long ago, in the 1960s and 1970s, illegal immigration was seen as a ‘normal’ by-product of the guest worker schemes. Many immigrants skipped the recruitment station, travelled on tourist visa to the chosen country of destination, sought and found work and then applied for a work permit. In many labour-importing countries this was not an uncommon practice and the work permit was seldom refused (Engbersen 1997, Sinn et al. 2005). The immigration of guest workers was an important part of Europe’s post war economic growth through their contribution of scarce (manual) labour, especially in industry. When the oil crisis and the restructuring of industry in Western Europe echoed in the economic recession, the guest worker programs were terminated throughout Europe. With the deterioration of the economic climate, immigration passed from being a ‘solution’ to becoming a ‘problem’ (Sciortino 2000). The problem was of course that many of the ‘guests’ chose to stay and that immigration continued through legal channels, such as asylum and family reunification and formation, and through illegal entry. Against this background, illegal immigrants gradually transformed from ‘adventurers’ into ‘vagabonds’ in the public and political eye (Bauman 1998).

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T.P. Spijkerboer , G.B.M. Engbersen (Godfried)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Department of Sociology

Broeders, D. (2009, May 15). Breaking Down Anonymity: Digital surveillance on irregular migrants in Germany and the Netherlands. Retrieved from