UN official: More development doesn’t mean less immigration

François Crépeau [United Nations]

François Crépeau, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said today (18 June) that the assumption that more development aid would reduce immigration was wrong.

Crépeau, a Canadian national and a Professor at Montreal’s McGill University, met with Brussels officials, and the press, to talk about his annual report to the Human Rights Council on the management of the external borders of the European Union and its impact on the human rights of migrants.

The debate on the root causes of immigration is skewed, Crépeau said, because politicians make the equation that more development means less migration.

“Wrong! All the research I’ve seen shows that more development means more migration. Because all the people who wanted to go for a long time and didn’t have the means to, suddenly have the means to go, and they go,” Crépeau said.

He gave Italian migration to North America as an example, which grew continuously from 1945 to the oil crisis of the 1970s, reaching its peak in the ’70s, and finally slowing in the 1980s.

“For 30 years the immigration continued, when the Italian economy was booming. So more development usually means more migration, over a generation. If the idea (is) that we should do more development to reduce migration, we are on the wrong footing,” Crépeau said.

He added that this didn’t mean that the developed countries should not help other countries to develop, but that if politicians thought that putting €500 billion in Africa was going to reduce migration in the next five years, this was an illegitimate expectation.

Crépeau’s main message was that Western politicians were driven by their electoral constraints and didn’t have the courage to admit that immigration wasn’t a threat, but an opportunity for their countries. He welcomed the European agenda for Migration the European Commission had recently proposed, mainly because it admitted that saving lives was more important than protecting borders.

But he added that he realised how difficult it has been to draft this European Agenda for Migration, and how difficult it would be to rally the support of the states around it. In fact, EU ministers on Tuesday rejected the main elements of the proposal.

>>Read: Ministers reject Commission’s immigrant quota proposal

The UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein recently said that the EU could easily take in one million refugees.

>> Read: UN says one million refugees should be no problem for EU

Crépeau also said that the “global North” could take one or even two million Syrians over five years without difficulty.

EURACTIV asked him how he could propose millions, when EU countries couldn’t agree on the distribution of 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to the rest of the EU.

The UN official said the numbers were confusing, because nationalist and populist discourses are dominating the debate.

“They are making as (though) 20,000 was a huge number. 20,000 people is 0.00004% of the population of the EU. This is minuscule. It’s an extremely small number. Any country of the EU can afford that,” he said, point out that Germany had accepted 400,000 Bosnians during the Yugoslav wars for several years.

“If we frame the question in the terms of the nationalist and populist movements, yes, it’s a huge problem. If we try to frame it otherwise, it’s not a big problem. And the million over five years I’m talking about is not a huge problem. We did that for the Bosnians 20 years ago. This is something we can entirely manage if we frame the question properly.”

Asked about the Hungarian authorities planning to erect a fence on their border with Serbia, Crépeau said, “This is a nationalist populist response.” He argued that erecting fences was only entrenching the smugglers.

>>Read: Hungary to build fence at Serbian border

Meeting in Luxembourg on 16 June, EU interior ministers rejected a plan by the European Commission to distribute 40,000 immigrants from Italy and Greece to the other member countries, according to quotas proposed by the EU executive.

On 27 May, the Commission proposed the relocation of 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other EU countries, as well as the resettlement of 20,000 from outside the EU, across member states. The Commission's scheme needs to be adopted by the Council of the European Union, voting by qualified majority.

It was clear from the outset that the proposal stood no chance of being accepted by most member states, given the reactions of EU leaders at the extraordinary summit on migration on 23 April (see background).

>>Read: Commission on collision course with member states on migration

It also became obvious that many countries, including France and Germany, do not reject the idea of burden-sharing, but consider that the proposed quotas need to be re-worked.

>>Read: Germany and France urge Commission to revise immigration plan

>> Read : Many EU countries say “no” to immigration quotas

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