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EU needs 25-year plan to deal with migrants, says UN envoy

30 June, 2015

The European Union needs to plan 25 years ahead as it seeks a strategy for dealing with the increasing numbers of refugees and migrants who are risking their lives to reach the continent, a senior UN migration expert has warned.

François Crépeau, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, described last week’s EU migration agreement as “baby steps” towards a proper resettlement plan and said that there were no quick fixes when it came to large-scale migration.

Crépeau, who recently suggested that wealthy countries should agree on a comprehensive plan to take 1 million refugees from Syria, dismissed the notion that increasing aid spending to help stabilise turbulent countries would immediately help stem the flow of migrants and refugees.

“Development itself takes time and changing migration patterns also takes time. It may take less time today than it used to, but it will still take 10, 15, 20 years,” he said. “Migration is generational and we can’t have quick fixes. That’s why it’s important for the EU to immediately make plans for the coming 10, 20, 25 years.”

In any case, he added, development should not and could not be seen as an expedient way to check the human flow. “You can certainly have reducing emigration as part of your plans, but the main objective is to make sure that the population can find – inside Eritrea or inside Syria or elsewhere – the means to sustain the new generations coming into the labour market by creating new job opportunities and innovation.”

His comments came after the British government hinted that more aid money could be used to tackle the migration crisis. On 21 June the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, told the BBC: “Well-focused aid should be used to help stabilise these countries, to prevent conflict, to discourage mass migration, so that we don’t have to fish people out of the Mediterranean later on.”

Crépeau said that trying to use aid to halt migration could actually backfire and increase the number of people leaving their homelands for Europe. “Development doesn’t mean less migration in a generational time – it’s almost the contrary,” he said. “If you develop a country, suddenly the generation that has been craving going abroad has the money to do it, so emigration will continue for a generation.”

He pointed to Italian emigration to North America – which boomed during the continuous Italian development that took place from 1945 to 1975 – adding that profound economic and social change takes decades.

However, the special rapporteur did stress that development initiatives could pay dividends for everyone if they were properly planned and not driven by fleeting political concerns. “If we do development in order to reduce migration in the short term, we will be disappointed; if we take this immigration trend as a booster for a better organised and more persuasive development programme, then it’s a good thing and we should do a lot more development,” he said.

Crépeau renewed his call for richer countries to take in a million Syrian refugees, arguing that a well-managed, multi-agency resettlement programme would put the people smugglers out of business and ensure that the refugees ended up where they were most likely to prosper and integrate well.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to finding a solution to the Mediterranean crisis, he said, was the fact that migrants themselves are never involved in drawing up migration policies.

“Think about trying to make policies about women without consulting women,” he said. “The policies that we made before women got the right to vote were policies based on fantasies – the fantasies that we men had about women. That’s the problem today: most of our immigration policies are based on this nationalist, populist discourse which has been prevailing in Europe and elsewhere now for the past 30, 40 years.”

Crépeau said progress was likely to remain elusive as long as politicians lacked the courage to challenge old and discredited myths about migrants taking jobs, carrying diseases and being terrorists. “No one contradicts it because mainstream parties cannot gain any votes by saying anything good about migrants, so they won’t risk votes – and that’s the problem.”

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