On Thursday 8 December, The Hague Institute for Global Justice and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and Leiden University College The Hague, co-organized a public panel discussion entitled “A Global Perspective on Migration: Resilience, Human Security, and Governance.” The panel formed part of a two-day expert workshop on migration governance in the framework of The Hague Institute’s Global Governance Reform Initiative (GGRI), which aims to shed new light on how stakeholders at the international, regional and local level can enhance the protection of vulnerable migrants while at the same time securing the resilience and stability of receiving states, transit countries and states of origin.
Dr. Abi Williams, President of The Hague Institute, opened the public panel by underlining the scope of the migration debate at the global level and the context in which it is taking place. Concerning challenges faced by countries and regions hosting large numbers of refugees, Dr. Williams referred to the financial, socio-cultural and political distress experienced by, for example, Lebanon, Kenya and as well as the European Union. He called for stronger mechanisms that will provide states with the necessary tools to build resilient systems for managing migration and refugee flows, while protecting human rights and dignity. Subsequently, H.E. Sheikh Mohammed Belal, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the Netherlands, also welcomed the guests and discussed the preparations and ambitions of Bangladesh, which hosts the Global Forum on Migration and Development on 10-12 December in Dhaka.
Following the opening remarks, Dr. Niranjan Sahoo, Senior Fellow with ORF’s Governance and Politics Initiative, moderated a discussion between Mr. Koos Richelle (Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Migration Affairs of the Netherlands and former Director-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission), Prof. Jane Freedman (Professor at the Centre de Recherches Sociologiques et Politiques de Paris, Université Paris 8) and Ms. Marjanne de Haan (Campaign and Advocacy Officer at Amnesty International Netherlands).
Mr. Richelle started off the discussion by observing that from a global and European point of view one cannot speak of a “refugee crisis” in Europe looking at both the numbers of people arriving and financial burden that accompany reception and integration. Ms. de Haan and Prof. Freedman agreed. Mr. Richelle underlined, however, that in terms of political discourse and regarding the lack adequate response at the EU level one could speak of a crisis. He called for closing the gap between the experts and “believers” on the one hand, and the politicians and wider public on the other in order for progress to be made as regards the implementation of international obligations towards vulnerable migrants.
Responding to the question whether the EU-Turkey deal of 2015 was a necessary evil, Ms. de Haan highlighted the human rights implications of the deal. She illustrated this be referring to the assumption that Turkey would be a safe country for asylum seekers, an assumption that underlines the “one for one principle” in the agreement. She continued by stating that the EU’s blatant refusal to recognize that migration is a phenomenon that will continue to exist was part of the problem. She called upon European citizens to reassess their common values in relation to migrants, to the kind of society they want, and to live up to the principles of solidarity and human rights which the EU proclaims to uphold.
Prof. Freedman in her intervention pointed out the necessity to change the narrative concerning the needs of refugees. In her opinion refugees and migrants should not be portrayed as a single, undistinguishable mass. She called for tailored mechanisms that address the particular needs of certain categories of vulnerable migrants. As an example, Prof. Freedman mentioned the situation of female refugees. She pointed out that gender-based persecution was not a valid ground for claiming asylum according to the 1951 Refugee Convention and that, despite efforts by the UNHCR with its guidelines and an EU Directive on the matter, women refugees still face serious risks – including in Europe. These risks, she noted, could be linked to smugglers, but also to the setup of reception facilities and the assumption that women are protected by male family members with whom they arrive.
To conclude, the speakers called for a new look at migration that shifts the focus from beautifying existing regulations to engaging governments, politicians and societies in order to ensure the proper implementation of international human rights and refugee rights obligations on the basis of facts rather than post-factual perceptions.