Towards sustainable migration

Turning the challenge of migrations into an opportunity. But how? A study by the Italian Centre for International Development of the University of Tor Vergata, published in February 2017 with the cooperation of the Agency, seeks for possible answers. Below is the introduction.

• The large migratory flows towards Europe that have dominated recent headlines and generated heated political debate are likely to be a long term phenomenon due to the entrenched nature of many of the factors driving persons to move across borders. If left unchecked, the migration challenge will seriously jeopardise the fundamental pillars of European integration and solidarity both within and between Member States. But at the same time, if proactively and effectively managed, the migration challenge can be transformed into an opportunity for both an aging Europe and for partner (origin) countries, in terms of economic growth, development and the sustainability of social security systems.

Notwithstanding the tensions generated by the recent spike of migratory flows, migration is a phenomenon determined primarily by long-term structural factors and any migration strategy must be designed accordingly. Crises can exacerbate outward migratory flows, but even emergency responses are more effective if framed within a long run strategy. A long-term perspective does not imply that results will be only realised in the long-run; on the contrary, actions framed in a consistent strategy are also more likely to be effective in the short-run.

More specifically, since international labour migration is increasingly flowing from developing to developed countries, migration policies should be conceived in a manner consistent with development policies and in partnership with countries of origin. Such policies should set out to encourage the positive effects migration can have in both origin and destination countries (or to contain the potential unfavourable effects it may entail in the short-run) in order to generate mutual benefits, i.e. a win-win situation.

Some of the mutual long term benefits of migration can be spoiled if migration is characterised by unregulated migration spikes and by the use of irregular channels for crossing borders. For this reason, the interventions should be designed in such a way to control flows and to discourage irregular migration. In practice, this means that the internal measures that have been the focus of much of the EU policy debate on migration to date need to be complemented by stronger joint external actions, within the framework of long-run development policies targeting countries of origin.

Indeed, the countries of origin are where the migration challenge must ultimately be addressed, and the centre of gravity of EU action should therefore shift to supporting countries of origin in this regard. The process of turning challenge to opportunity and of maximising the benefits of migration for all parties concerned must start by addressing the factors determining the extent and composition of migrant flows in the countries where they originate. Only by considering the forces making people move across the borders will it be possible to manage migrant flows in a sustainable way.

The Migration Compact, the recent non-paper of the Government of Italy moves in this strategic direction. The Migration Compact, consistent with recent EU Declarations (e.g., the Valletta Action Plan), calls for systematic and significantly scaled-up efforts involving close partnership with countries of origin aimed at controlling and improving the quality of migration flows and at reducing incentives to migrate through irregular channels.

The current Report is set within the framework of the Migration Compact and supports its broad call for an enlargement of the space of intervention from within the borders of the destination countries to the countries of origin, as part of a systematic and long-term response to migration and the development factors driving it.

The Report presents and discusses an array of policies that can be implemented in the countries of origin to help turn the challenge of migration into an opportunity for origin and destination countries alike. Taken together, the policies aim at bringing about the desired migration scenario, i.e. controlled migration flows, reduced incentives for irregular migration and a two-way flow of migration benefits.

It is important to note at the outset that, notwithstanding the high sensitivity of the issues and the repeated calls for coherent and effective interventions in the countries of origin, there is very little programme experience and even less solid evidence about their effectiveness. Moreover, with the exception of a few origin countries, integrated strategies of intervention are completely absent. This reinforces the potential role of Italy not only in implementing appropriate and effective strategies, but also in providing the necessary intellectual leadership in this regard within the EU and multilateral institutions and banks.

The remainder of the Report is organised as follows. Chapter 1 sets the scene by reviewing the evolution and characteristics of international migration flows towards Europe and Italy and the factors driving them. Chapter 2 then reviews policy options and experiences in countries of origin for achieving sustainable migration. These include active labour market policies aimed at making migration a choice not a necessity; education and training aimed at increasing the employability of prospective migrants; pre-migration preparatory programmes aimed at equipping prospective migrants with “migration knowledge and skills”; circular migration policies aimed at facilitating two-way movements of both migrants and their accumulated knowledge, skills and capital; diaspora engagement policies aimed at mobilising diaspora communities as agents of development in their countries of origin; return migration policies aimed at making migration a reversible choice; and protection policies aimed at safeguarding children left behind by migrant parents. Chapter 3 discusses next steps towards an integrated strategy for sustainable migration.