Managing Migration: A Question of Perception & Priorities

  • 2015•10•06     Maastricht

    Migration has been at the top of the political agenda all year. Yet the focus has too often been on curbing the flow of migrants, either with more aid or border controls. In this context, and drawing lessons from both East Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr. Katie Kuschminder was asked to present to the Dutch Government on migration issues and trends, particularly in Africa.

    On 1 October 2015 I was invited by the Africa Group to give a talk on migration to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The talk was a high-level overview of migration myths, trends and current developments in Africa. This included information on key myths by Prof. Hein de Haas: that migration cannot be stopped either by increased border controls or development. Six migration trends were discussed including: the increasing prevalence of south-south migration; the feminisation of migration; rising remittances; transnational lives; increasing transit migration; and the normalisation of human smuggling.

    The presentation then turned to Africa, specifically the differences between how Kenya and Tanzania have responded to hosting refugees. In 2014 Tanzania naturalised a staggering number of Burundian refugees – 160,000 in all – a move hailed by UNHCR as a major achievement. Kenya, on the other hand, has not sought to naturalise any refugees and has placed increasingly restrictive policies on the refugees it hosts. This included requiring all urban refugees to relocate to camps in 2012 and, as of 2015, seeking to close the Dadaab refugee camp, currently home to over 300,000 Somalis. The increasing terrorism activities in Kenya make clear the reasons for wanting to close the camps, however, many of the people in Dadaab have been there for over 20 years. This summer the UNHCR has started repatriation to Somalia on a small scale and Kenya has agreed to keep the camp open for another year.

    The presentation on Africa brought the first and second sessions together with some of the questions that need to be posed in light of the current global refugee challenge. Where are refugees welcome? What are long-term durable solutions for the world’s current refugees? The presentation concluded with four recommendations for the ministry to consider:

    1) We should not portray migration as a ‘solvable’ problem. Migration is a complex social phenomenon that simply cannot be stopped. This view is echoed by leading migration experts, including Professors Hein de Haas, Khalid Koser and Ronald Skeldon.

    2) We should protect vulnerable refugees as our first priority. Our current global challenge should not be to stop migration, but to meet the protection needs of the world’s growing number of refugees. Policies should therefore be focused on meeting these needs – needs that will only rise in the near future. There are four million Syrians in Turkey alone and as the conflict in Syria continues, people will seek long-term homes and solutions, mainly in Europe.

    3) We should give more support to frontline EU countries. So far this year around 400,000 migrants have entered Greece, with 50,000 arrivals in July alone. These numbers are staggering. Asylum seekers and refugees have no access to housing, free healthcare or social benefits in Greece, which is understandable given the current financial crisis (see my previous post on migrants’ arrival in Athens). If Greece were to receive more support from other EU countries they would be better able to host migrants; in turn, migrants would be less inclined to move onwards through the EU.

    4) We should provide further assistance to the UNHCR. This year the UN has only received 35% of the budget needed to support Syrian refugees. In Istanbul, Syrian refugees received dates for their first asylum interview as late as 2019. Since 2013, Afghans have not even been able to apply for asylum with UNHCR in Turkey. There is a clear need for further support to UNHCR to effectively meet the needs of these refugee caseloads.

    The talk was well received and I am grateful for the opportunity to share knowledge between academia and the Ministry. Clearly, if the Ministry takes on these recommendation they will have a difficult task in terms of changing perceptions from “migration as a problem that needs to be stopped”, which is a common view perpetuated in the media, to providing innovative solutions for the global refugee situation. There are no simple solutions to the current challenges, but focusing on protection puts our efforts in the right place.

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