It is not about yes or no to migration, but how much

Migration30 Nov 2017Jeroen Corduwener

This week, the prestigious Hotel L’Ivoire in Abidjan will receive more than 5,000 representatives of African and European countries. Their agenda is dominated by the issue of migration, but the approach that European leaders plan to take is doomed to fail. Economic support from Europe to African countries will only lead to more migration – not less.

For decades, Europe has been applying the principle that migration must, and can, be curbed by a combination of strict border controls and economic support to migrants’ countries of origin. Europe has no other approach than limiting, returning and relocating migrants to other parts of the world. Migrants are seen as a problem and are often confused with refugees, in both public opinion and policy documents. For most migrants, the only way to enter Europe is to request asylum. This is the reason why economic migrants are now contaminating the asylum procedure, and refugees are once again the victims.

If this policy had worked over the last decades, the solutions now presented would no longer be necessary. Instead, migration is increasing worldwide: from 200 million in 2005 to 230 million in 2017, which is more than 4% of the world’s population. It is short-sighted and naive to assume that such numbers and growth can be stopped. It is also unwise to seek to stop migration, because it benefits all parties involved. However, these benefits can only be realized through well-considered migration policies. Hence, the core of the issue is not whether or not we should allow migration, but how much we should allow, without confusing migrants with refugees.

Good policy starts with correct analysis. Politicians and public opinion explain the cause of migration as poverty: migrants migrate from poor countries to rich countries and something needs to be done about that. However, this is only half the story. The more relevant question is: Who migrates from these poor countries and where do they migrate to? The answer to this is surprising. The poorest of the poor do not migrate – they cannot afford to. It is mainly the better-mediated groups in poor countries that migrate, because they have the opportunities that real poor people do not have. The irony is that investing more in African countries, which is what European leaders are proposing this week in the Ivory Coast, will lead to more migration.

The Ivory Coast itself is a good example of migration dynamics: it has been experiencing rapid economic growth for the last five years, but without development aid. Despite this growth, or perhaps because of it, in 2016 alone 12,000 young Ivorians left for Europe. The growth in their own country has not borne fruit for them, but they have the means to migrate. At the same time, the Ivory Coast itself is an immigrant-receiving country: over 25% of its population is from neighbouring countries and it is these immigrants who are reaping the benefits of growth, together with the upper layer of Ivorian society. In Nigeria, a similar situation is taking place: Nigeria is Africa’s fastest growing economy – also without development aid – but, it also sends the most African migrants to Europe. But Nigeria is also an immigrant-receiving country: 10% of its population are immigrants, almost entirely from West Africa.

At the same time, hardly any migrants come to Europe from the poorest countries in the world, such as Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. These people migrate to neighbouring countries, as many Africans do. With 29 million migrants per year, Africa is the number one migrant receiving country in the world. Stopping migration with economic projects, as proposed by the European Union, is, therefore, counter-productive, both for the countries where the migrants come from and for the extremely poor countries that really need support. Development cooperation is intended for poverty alleviation and should not be mixed with migration. Good development cooperation reduces poverty in the developing country receiving the aid, but the migrant invests both in the receiving country and their country of origin. Migrants’ remittances currently exceed USD 600 billion per year worldwide, which is three times more than development aid. Hence, migration policy can help lift people out of poverty.

A good migration policy brings supply and demand together; the discussion then should focus on the amount of migration that is necessary for the recipient country. Canada has been working with this model for decades. The fact that migration is necessary and useful has been scientifically proven: for example, we need migrants to prevent an aging population in Europe and, therefore, an outflow of the labour market. We also need migrants to do work that is undervalued by the host population.

Migration policy can also address the length of stay of the migrant. This would counter arguments that migration provokes migration or invites migrants to stay rather as to return (the ‘suction effect’). In practice, migrants are already self-regulating in this regard: of the current half a million foreign employees in the Netherlands for example, the average stay is 14 months.

Finally, a demand-driven migration policy also puts an end to the pollution of the asylum procedure. War, natural disasters and persecution drive people to flee. If they have reason for seeking asylum – which is the case in about 9 in 10 cases worldwide – then they are entitled to protection under the Refugee Convention. The only thing that refugees have in common with migrants is that the majority (more than 90%) do not move beyond their neighbouring countries. ‘Reception in the region’ is, therefore, already a reality that supports the proposed policy of the European Union.