Campaigning for regularisation in Europe

© Blue Hue Photography (Source: Migrants Rights Centre Ireland)

Regularisation, that is granting a secure residence status or permit to people who live in an irregular situation, is a key tool to improve the lives of undocumented people and their families and strengthen communities.

Over the last twenty years, most European countries have implemented some kind of regularisation measure, either temporarily (regularisation programmes) or permanently (regularisation mechanisms). But too often, regularisation measures have been limited, ineffective, or unfair. It is no surprise that many civil society organisations keep calling for more and better regularisation measures across Europe.

Between 2021 and 2023, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland brought together European civil society organisations in the RISE UP (Rights, Innovation, Solutions and Evidence based policy for Undocumented People) project to share learning and positive examples of regularisation, showcase successful regularisation campaigns, and help civil society advocate and campaign for regularisation nationally. Project partners include the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC, Belgium), Aditus (Malta), and the Centre de Contact Suisses-Immigrés (CCSI, Switzerland).µ

In a policy brief released in April 2023, the project partners identified what they viewed as the best examples of regularisation since 2009 and seven key action points for civil society to use these examples to better advocate and campaign for regularisation towards their governments:

  1. Demonstrate that regularisations are commonplace
  2. Provide a list of countries where regularisation happened
  3. Demonstrate the difference between regularisation and amnesty
  4. Show that regularisation can be implemented quite easily, often without new legislation
  5. Combat the idea that EU law forbids broad regularisation
  6. Combat myths of unknown populations and pull factor
  7. Normalise regularisation for policy-makers

Four case studies of successful advocacy campaigns were also developed in the framework of the project.

Belgium (2009)

In Belgium, the advocacy campaign for the 2009 regularisation (the third of its kind) saw the involvement of migrants’ rights associations, religious groups, trade unions and universities. Crucially, a group of undocumented workers was able to organise within the structure of local trade union CSC: they trained fellow workers on key asks and developed a story-led campaign model to support active members of the committee to tell their stories publicly. The campaign also involved film screenings and photo exhibitions, parliamentary hearings, street demonstrations and occupations of churches and universities.

Read this case study for more information on the 2009 Belgian regularisation initiative, and on the related campaign to secure it.

Ireland (2022)

At the end of January 2022, the Irish government launched a new regularisation programme that has already secured residence status for over 7,000 undocumented people living in the country. Its adoption is the fruit of eleven years of campaigning by civil society and, crucially, undocumented people themselves.

Justice for the Undocumented, a community of over 3,000 undocumented people took on a leading role in many actions, supported by the NGO Migrant Rights Centre Ireland. The group managed to secure political support for a scheme thanks to intensive campaigning in the lead up to the Irish national elections in 2020, including securing vital support from business leaders, trade unions and wider civil society. JFU and MRCI’s pioneering research into the realities of undocumented people living in Ireland helped show how much undocumented people are part of Irish society.

Read this case study for more information on the 2022 Irish regularisation initiative, and on the related campaign to secure it.

Malta (2017)

The campaign for the 2017 regularisation measure in Malta was led by three civil society organisations: aditus foundation, Integra Foundation, and JRS Malta. But a broader coalition included NGOs historically working on asylum and migration issues, and organisations active in social and humanitarian fields.

Key campaign activities included research on specific issues (e.g., legal, economic, social and ethical) to anchor calls for regularisation in the needs of undocumented people and people with precarious status; public outreach and awareness-raising; legal and political advocacy targeting policymakers.

Read this case study for more information on the 2017 Maltese regularisation initiative, and on the related campaign to secure it.

Switzerland (2017)

“Operation Papyrus” was a temporary regularisation scheme in the city-canton of Geneva that ran between 2017 and 2018 and resulted in approximately 3000 people obtaining a residence permit. The initiative was the result of more than a decade of sustained advocacy work by migrants’ rights groups like Centre de Contact Suisses-Immigrés, and undocumented people themselves, who took part in protests and assemblies, talked to the media about their situation, and self-organised.

Tactics employed included media relations, protests, strategic casework and direct political engagement with the Geneva authorities in the framework of an ad hoc “group of experts”.

Read this case study for more information on the 2017 Swiss regularisation initiative, and on the related campaign to secure it.

*The RISE UP project is funded by the European Programme for Integration and Migration.