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Migration, development debates becoming mixed

European development policy has become mixed up with an often-caustic debate on migration, raising questions about the best ways for the EU to cooperate with developing countries on poverty reduction and refugees.

While migration is an important topic because of the abuse of people in situations of irregularity, it can also distort discussion of development. “That leads to a focus on looking for ways that people won’t move,” said Anna Knoll, Head of Migration Programme at the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM). “It is based on the assumption that staying is better than leaving or being mobile. The European Consensus on Development is full of these tensions and it is not clear how they will be resolved.”

Knoll was speaking at a Friends of Europe Policymakers’ Dinner on 7 June on the complex relationship between migration and development. Though migration generally rises with economic development, development assistance is often highlighted as a means to stop migration. Especially in the past years, the European political focus has shifted to stopping large-scale migrant flows. That has led to agreements with third countries, reinforced border controls and the return of those found to be in Europe illegally.

“Migration has come onto the agenda of populists, economic nationalists and racists,” said moderator Shada Islam, Director for Europe and Geopolitics at Friends of Europe. “One thing that frightens me is that we look at this through the prism of security. Border controls have been reinforced. Development assistance is being used to stop migration.”

The international agreements often ignore the needs of the most vulnerable migrants. “As we look at protection for migrants and refugees, gender-sensitive needs are not taken into consideration,” said Mina Jaf, Founder and Director of Women Refugee Route (WRR). The EU-Turkey Refugee Agreement, for example, did not take these into account. “They think, ‘We did well to reduce the number of refugees’. But they don’t think about the high risk of gender-based violence, sexual violence against women and girls and women going into prostitution.”

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