Nov 17

Citizens for Refugees Finland visits “Migration to Europe” conference in The Hague – PART I

Citizens for Refugees Finland visits “Migration to Europe” conference in The Hague – PART I

On Friday November 3rd, the JASON institute organized a conference on ‘”Migration to Europe” in The Hague, Netherlands. The day opened with two keynote speakers presenting their take on the current developments in migration, and on the EU-Turkey deal with its takeaways. After the speeches the participants could follow workshops provided by representatives from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Security and Justice, Clingendael, University of Amsterdam, Leiden University and a journalist. Finally, to put all the learning into practice, the day ended with a simulation game, in which participants were representing states and negotiated a deal with other states to settle the migration issue. A member representing CFRF joined the conference and now shares some of the highlights and key messages from the day in three consecutive posts.

The day began with two interesting key note speeches, the first one on human smuggling industry in Africa and evaluation of the consequences of EU’s policies in the region, and second one focusing on the key takeaways from the EU-Turkey migration deal signed in 2016.

The first speaker, Ms. Fransje Molenaar, a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute broadly introduced the migration “crisis”, focusing on highlighting the problems migrants face on their route through Libya to Europe and how do EU policies affect migration and its root causes. Ms. Molenaar provided many valuable critical points of view and research findings  on three main EU approaches to controlling migration: development aid, policing and criminalization.

First,  EU has increased its development efforts in countries like Niger and Chad, the origin countries from where people migrate to Europe through Libya. EU’s expectation clearly is that poverty eradication can stop migration. However, research findings indicate this assumption is not correct. Investing in development is only more likely to increase migration in the long-term as better income tends to mobilize people, whereas poverty passivates people. In this respect, it shows politicians’ disregard to migration research as they keep using this rhetoric of development aid as the answer to migration. What could work, however, is to direct more efforts in conflict resolution in origin countries currently suffering from wars, for example in Syria, or putting in place institutions preventing conflicts. However, despite this rhetoric being used from time to time, there is considerably less action taken in this domain.

Second, the EU is aiming to implement better policing in order to stop migration. For example, EU is training police forces in Agadez, Niger, to stop human smuggling. This has been very successful in stopping migration on certain routes up to 70%. However, migration tends to follow a “waterbed effect”, which means the smugglers choose another route. Although this seems like an effective strategy by the numbers, it is not a sustainable strategy as migration as a phenomenon as common as eating will find its way. Furthermore, it leads to other worrisome developments, which are further exacerbated by criminalization of migration.

Third,  both the public discourses as well as implemented policies indeed criminalize migration. This is problematic on multiple accounts; The news, for example, constantly use rhetoric of human smugglers as criminals. This is oversimplifies the issue. In reality, the “migration business” is simply a low entry industry and covers all sorts of different activities. For example, there are people now whose livelihoods depend on selling water to the migrants. Therefore, arresting everyone in the belief that it solves the issue does not bring justice to the complexity of the phenomenon. Another problem of criminalization of migration is that it comes with inherent control mechanisms, such as detention centers, which tend to increase actual crimes such as forced labor or prostitution, which has been a growing problem in Libya, for instance.

What is most striking about criminalization of migration is that it has created a control system that forces those people who never intended to migrate to EU, to  actually do so, just to escape the system. Furthermore, the current debate lacks nuance, which can be a direct consequence of the prevailing criminalizing discourse; with such heavy focus on the threats and risks, there is very little room for the opportunities migration could create that could benefit both origin as well as destination countries. All this wastes time, resources, and unfortunately, human lives. The debate should no longer be about “stopping” migration or “closing the borders”, simply because it is not realistic. The real focus, according to ms. Molenaar, should be in directing migration in a controlled and sustainable way. As long as Europeans continue to vote for their right-wing anti-immigration parties, this transition is unlikely to happen anytime soon. The key takeaway from this speech was the encouragement it gave for the civil society to keep on showing the human consequences of these policies to the public, because this is the strongest counter to the prevailing narrative and related inhumane policies.

To be continued next week focusing on the highlights from the second key note speaker and the EU-Turkey migration deal.

Disclaimer: The article was written based on notes made during the conference, any errors of interpretation are our own.

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