Hermann Mahler: Seminar Migration – causes and consequences

Sabir Festival, Lecce, Italy

I think it is obvious, that if we want to discuss solutions for the problem of flight and migration, we must be aware of the causes of the problem.

As has been pointed in our yesterday’s sessions, the global reasons of flight and migration result from

  • the economic situation of the majorities of the population in the Global South
  • they result in an increasing percentage from the effect of Climate Change
  • and from militarisation, war and other violent conflicts

I assume we agree, that for most of the reasons which motivate people to leave their home and to risk their lives for a better future, to a large extend the Global North (or in other words the industrialized countries) are responsible. Yesterday we have heard many examples which proof this observation. This implies that the main contribution for solving these problems has to come from these countries (in our case the European countries).

Both, European Governments and the EU claim to eliminate causes of flight and migration, but in reality they do the contrary:

  • If Europe wishes to do justice to its global responsibility it has to understand the com­plex relationship between European policy and migration, and change its policy accordingly.
  • This means that causes of flight and migration that are »made in Europe« have to be approached by our countries. Europe has to assume its share of responsibility, for example, with regard to the negative effects of trade agreements, carbon dioxide emissions, or military interventions and European arms exports.
  • Europe could in this way contribute considerably to the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, also supported by the member states of the EU. Its sustainability goals emphasise that all countries, including rich industri­alised ones, must promote a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable development of the world in order to enable coming generations to lead fulfilled lives, regardless of where they are born.

However, instead of initiating a development towards economic and social justice, the political practice shows

  • that unjust global trade patterns are maintained
  • that global financial markets remain deregulated, and
  • the debt of countries of the Global South is not cancelled.

As long as the political conditions do not change, migration will continue and even rise.

Why is this so? It is worth to remember that in a historical perspective the so called developed countries became rich because of

  • high import taxes
  • protectionist industrial policy
  • export subsidies
  • no patent protection for technological innovations

If at all, free trade might be good for countries with a similar level of development but not for economies with a highly different degree of productivity and consumption.

Even more under conditions of neoliberal Globalization, the liberalization and expansion of trade and services benefits large companies and rich countries. Deregulation of capital and labour markets as well as privatization of public properties, goods and services leaves developing countries vulnerable.

Free trade policy (as imposed by European Partnership Agreements and intended with TTIP and similar treaties) aggravates economic causes of flight, in particular because

– they displace domestic products and related employment through imports and investments

– they eliminate customs duties and thus reduce public budgets, followed by cuts in public expenditures, for example for health, education, etc.

– the free trade policy also results in growing slums in the big cities, as a consequence of the destruction of local industries and traditional agriculture or of fishery agreements, which ruin local fisheries.

In summary, all these effects exclude the majorities of the Global South from economic and social participation and increase social inequality tremendously.

In the degree that it becomes obvious that free trade and foreign investments do not keep what their representatives promise, the prevention of flight and migration has become the core task of development cooperation by the EU and by many national governments.

Funds for “fighting the cause of flight”

The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has been given additional funding for the so-called “elimination of flight causes” and now has a budget of almost 9 billion EURO, which is more than ever before. The European Union established a € 2.5 billion Emergency Trust Fund (mentioned yesterday already by Jaqueline Andres) for projects to combat what is called “irregular” migration and to “control” refugee migration and migration movements.

The measures implemented in this context to date include

  • classic development projects, but also training and education programs for border and police forces.
  • measures to combat “smugglers of refugees”
  • support for non-European states in “migration management” and projects for the “reintegration” of deported asylum seekers.
  • furthermore, with the Compacts with Africa, presented during the G20 summit in Hamburg, private companies are encouraged to contribute with investments on the African continent. Expected jobs and income shall offer alternatives to the migration of local population.

The objective of all these measures is to reduce the number of refugees and migrants reaching Europe and keep them in or near their countries of origin. This means, that this extremely restrictive migration policy is increasingly dominating the development cooperation and aid for development and is more and more used to persuade non-European states to cooperate in the management and control of flight and migration.

Investments in “strategically important” countries

The mentioned investment initiatives, aimed to create jobs and income opportunities, are additional measures to increased border security efforts. They are partly supported by development cooperation funds, which in many respects clearly contradicts with core principals of development cooperation.

This is followed by initiatives such as the Marshall Plan with Africa presented by the German Government or the Compacts with Africa discussed at the G20 Summit 2017.

However, these measures do not primarily benefit those countries that suffer the most from weak economic development, but those that are strategically most important in managing migration.

Economic development reduces migration – a wrong assumption?

Of course, it would be generally welcome if such programs would actually contribute to equitable economic development in the countries of the Global South and sustainably improve the living conditions of the broader population. But the approach adopted is based on the misconception that more economic development contributes to reducing migration.

In fact, the opposite can be the case, for example, if certain investments increase the productivity in a country where the investment takes place – it will also reduce the demand for labour and might even stimulate migration.

It takes a long time and others, then neoliberal concepts, to stop or even reverse migration flows. It requires the creation of the normative and material conditions for a living together guided by public interest and not by profit. This includes the international harmonization of labour standards, the effective regulation of environmentally damaging production, the control of the extraction economies and last but not least the guarantee of social security systems for all people in every place in the world.

Summarizing my presentation, I would say:

  • When development aid is combined with the closing of borders, it is at the least cynical and not promising.
  • Neither development aid nor free trade agreements are suitable for reducing growing inequality. The demand for redistribution of wealth has to remain on the agenda.
  • As trafficking of human beings and smuggling of people are a consequence of rigid border regimes, more legal immigration opportunities and secure routes of access must be created.
  • Urgently required are liberalization of asylum procedures, the improvement of refugee protection, the provision of basic living conditions and adequate measures for integration in the host societies.
  • Transparent and just burden sharing within the EU has to be reached, incentives could be provided for countries, regions and municipalities, willing to do more than others, examples are Palermo or Barcelona, but also others.
  • And finally, we have to continue and strengthen our efforts to oppose right-wing populism.

Lecce 19 May 2019 Hermann Mahler

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