5-6 JUNE 2018 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

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Root causes of migration: New narrative, new purpose and new targets for development funding?

Root causes of migration: New narrative, new purpose and new targets for development funding?

EDD17 - Replay - Root causes of migration: New narrative, new purpose and new targets for development funding?

Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 11:00 to 12:30

Key points

  • Development does not reduce migration in low-income countries. On the contrary, migration is an inevitable consequence of development.
  • One root cause of refugee movements is conflict, which requires political solutions not development assistance.
  • Migration management may be at cross-purposes with development assistance, since development funding is being diverted to security-driven policies.
  • The crisis of 2015/16 in Europe was one of intra-EU solidarity, not of refugees.
  • Legal pathways are one approach to tackle the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean.


Some migration is an inevitable product of development. In low-income countries, development does not reduce migration but increases it. Few people migrate from the poorest countries as they lack the cash required to move. With development, people’s access to cash increases and so does their ability to cross borders in search of a better life. This is one reason why viewing development assistance primarily with a focus on migration management is inappropriate, even though development assistance may have positive effects on some of the drivers of migration, such as climate change or lack of economic opportunity. But in general, development cannot deal with all, or even the main, drivers of migration.

Development assistance is also not the proper instrument to deal with the primary cause of forced displacement, which is armed conflict and requires political solutions. At the same time, in the long term development can help make societies more resilient and less likely to succumb to armed conflict.

Viewing development assistance through the lens of migration management has other undesirable and possibly counter-productive effects. Some EU member states count the cost of caring for asylum-seekers from their ODA, even though the money never leaves the country, and some development funding is being diverted toward measures such as border management in developing countries. Longer-term development goals such as poverty reduction are being pushed aside by short-term concerns and attempts at containment. EU development assistance is also increasingly focused on dealing with the fall-out from the war in Syria.

The “refugee crisis” in Europe in 2015/16 was not primarily a migration crisis, but a breakdown of intra-EU solidarity. Uganda, a poor country with fewer than 40 million people, is host to 1.2 m refugees. Turkey, a middle-income country of some 80m, hosts 3 m Syrians. The arrival of some 1.5 m refugees and migrants in the EU (population: 500m) turned into a crisis because of the breakdown of collective action, not because it was intrinsically unmanageable. Even globally, the share of people on the move is relatively low.

In terms of the humanitarian tragedy in the Mediterranean, where record numbers of people drown seeking to reach European shores, NGOs have stepped into the void created by the lack of an institutional response from the EU. There is a controversy surrounding the alleged pull factor created by European search-and-rescue missions off the Libyan coast, and the incentives they create for smugglers to put migrants on boats that are unseaworthy. 


The policy community dealing with development is quite separate from the one focusing on migration, yet development has migration effects and migration has a development dimension. The two communities need to talk to each other more and engage in joint planning.

Organised by

    Simon Maxwell
    European Think Tanks Group (ETTG)
    Marta Foresti
    Managing Director
    Gervais Appave
    Special Advisor to Director-General
    International Organization for Migration
    Rainer Münz
    Advisor on Migration and Demography
    European Political Strategy Centre, European Commission
    Muhumed Hussein
    Country Director for Uganda
    Norwegian Refugee Council
    Amadou Ba
    Minister of Economy, Finance and Planning
    Government of Senegal
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