Migration for development and human rights — the need for EU policy coherence

By Sophia Wirsching , Bob van Dillen 21 March 2016

Migrants at the Idomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonia border. EU self-interests push migrant and refugee rights to the sidelines, write CONCORD members Sophia Wirsching and Bob van Dillen. Is the EU really serious about tackling today’s key migration challenges and how can policies be more adequate? Photo by: Fotomovimiento / CC BY-NC-ND

Migration as a global, human phenomenon has become an increasingly compelling human rights concern. Be it in transit, in destination countries, or still in the process of leaving their countries of origin, human rights violations against migrants are all too common.

In recent years millions are being forced to migrate just to survive, due to war and violence, extreme poverty or human rights violations. Current European politics and policies only serve to repudiate this perspective.

A paper released in January by CONCORD, the European confederation of relief and development NGOs, talks about “unchosen” migration. In our view, the migration journey should be a free and safe option. Instead, the costs and risks of forced migration and displacement are often enormous, with thousands of casualties per year in the Mediterranean and many more along routes across Africa.

The European Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. And under the Lisbon Treaty the EU and its member states have a legal obligation to ensure their migration policies are coherent with development objectives — the official term is “policy coherence for development.”

But EU self-interests push migrant and refugee rights to the sidelines. While policies might respect this obligation on paper, in practice, the implementation of policies leaves a lot to be desired. Moreover, the policies themselves are not sufficient, and beg the question if the EU is really serious about tackling today’s key migration challenges.

We regret that migration management and border control have become key elements of a security-driven agenda that dominates EU policymaking. In short, “policy coherence for security,” instead of for development.

EU focuses on reducing migration

CONCORD sets out some key questions for the EU:

• If the EU is really concerned with fragility, why not develop a specific policy approach and put sufficient resources to it?

• If the EU is really concerned with decent working conditions for migrants, why not ratify and implement the 1990 U.N. Convention and related  conventions of the International Labor Organization?

• If the EU is really concerned with safe migration and dead children washing up on Europe’s shores, why not ensure safe passage, expand legal migration options and temporarily lift carrier sanctions?

• If the EU is really concerned with international protection, why not expand humanitarian visa and family reunification?

CONCORD observes a policy trend toward less migration rather than safer migration, and toward return migration rather than fair and responsible migration. Aiming to prevent people from coming to Europe and to encourage their return is a neglect of Sustainable Development Goal 10.7, where the international community of states did prescribe to safe, fair, responsible and regular migration.

Development means are either used as one of the instruments of a “more for more” approach, where aid is offered to those non-EU states that are willing to take back migrants. Readmission clauses are thus attached to aid budgets, or a “less for less” approach, is applied when aid budgets are cut in case the recipient country is unwilling to take back its nationals, for example when the Netherlands reduced bilateral aid to Ghana in 2011 as “punishment” for not taking back Ghanaian nationals.

Another example relates to the outcome of the Valletta Summit of last November. An Emergency Trust Fund for some 25 African countries has been launched, with a value of almost 2 billion euros ($2.26 billion).

But from CONCORD’s point of view there are several objections: First of all, the sum is not enough, by far, to address root causes for forced migration and displacement in all those countries. The fund is not consisting of new and additional funds but actually contains re-labelled resources from the European Development Fund reserve and other financial instruments. Looking at the agenda from Valletta it is obvious that aid money will be used for migration management and border control rather than for overcoming structural poverty and fragility.

Alexandre Polack, European Commission spokesperson for International Cooperation, Development, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, speaks with Devex associate editor Richard Jones in Brussels to discuss what these coordinated efforts look like in practice.

Leaving no one behind

Sustainable development can only be achieved with the inclusion of all vulnerable groups. The integral role migrants play in sustainable development cannot be underestimated; migrants must not be left behind. The links and intersections between migration and development are manifold and the SDGs actually acknowledge the positive and transformative contribution of migrants and migration to sustainable development in countries of destination as well as in countries of origin.

Migration has a positive impact upon all stakeholders when migrants are allowed to access the labor markets, develop their skills, earn money and remit part of it to their countries of origin, while destination countries benefit from the skills and labor they receive from migrants.

Financial remittances can have a direct effect on the reduction of poverty. And migration does have positive effects in terms of social transfers in form of the flow of information, ideas, values etc, and allowing countries of origin to benefit from “brain gain.”

For example, migrants were responsible for 17 percent of new business in the U.K. in 2014. Migrants have set up companies such as eBay Inc. and Yahoo. French migrants set up the entire Swiss watches industry. Wouldn’t we need to conclude: more migration, more development?

CONCORD suggests three recommendations for EU migration policies to overcome the security focus and comply with PCD:

1. Mobility partnerships.

Mobility partnerships are basically designed to fight irregular migration. Based on the example of Cape Verde, but also of the mobility partnership with Tunisia and Moldova, CONCORD recommends the MP to be reformed into an agreement that facilitates temporary migrations, expands regular migration and rise facilitation, promotes business and social investment opportunities and hence becomes a migration instrument for promoting development — especially if it also promotes diaspora engagement.

2. Labor migration.

On labor migration, CONCORD disagrees with the selective approach to favor high-skilled over low-skilled labor. This leads to brain drain in countries of origin while contributing to economic growth and development in destination countries. For example, Ghanaian doctors and nurses working in Europe costs Ghana three times more in comparison to the remittances sent back.

Instead, CONCORD argues for brain gain/brain circulation policies that facilitate temporary employment in Europe, then using the gained skills, competencies and experiences when going back home — either short term or indefinitely — while still maintaining the option to come back to Europe. As Francois Crepau, the United Nations special rapporteur on migrants rights has stated: “Greater mobility is likely to be the most suitable and efficient response over the long term.” Thus, labor mobility agreements with third countries, based on decent work standards are needed.

3. Aid conditionality and instrumentalization of aid.

The instrumentalization of aid, namely aid being used for security purposes, contradicts policy coherence for development. Aid must promote development, fight injustice and exclusion, tackle root causes of forced migration and displacement, and ensure promotion of human rights and international protection. Aid is not meant to reduce or fight migration whether it is readmission agreements or tightened border controls.

Through EU policies and politics migrants and migration are perceived as a security threat, to be restricted, controlled, reduced and “managed.” As a result, enormous resources are being diverted toward border control instead of development aid budgets. Fighting human smugglers and traffickers with military means neither stops them, nor does it benefit the migrants and refugees’ security, but it will make the journeys more risky and costly.

For the EU to comply with its PCD obligations means enhancing the development perspective in migration policies, and the integration of policy objectives that put humans, their rights and their legitimate aspiration for a decent life at the center. This can all be achieved while tackling the systemic issues as well as preventing forced migration and displacement in its external migration policies.

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About the authors

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Sophia Wirsching

Sophia Wirsching is a policy adviser on migration and development at Bread for the World, the German Protestant development service. She is member of the CONCORD Task Force on Migration and Development, on behalf of Venro, the umbrella organization of development NGOs in Germany. Sophia studied political science and sociology.


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Bob van Dillen

Bob van Dillen is a migration expert at the Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid, the Dutch member of Caritas Europa. Cordaid is an international development organization working in fragile states in over 20 countries throughout the world. He has worked for Cordaid since 2004 and has chaired the migration and development task force of CONCORD, the European confederation of development NGOs, since 2014. He is also coordinator for SDGs and migration for the Migration and Development Civil Society Network.


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