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Vienna Migration Conference 2016: Discussing international refugee protection and the emergence of a new foreign migration policy

21 November 2016

Left to right: H. Nielsen, N.Coleman, T.Urubek, L. Gehrke, S. Magennis, M.G. Giammarinaro, C. Woollard

From 10 to 11 November the Vienna Migration Conference 2016 took place. Organised by ICMPD its purpose was to take stock of developments in the area of migration policy in the previous years and to identify some of the most pressing issues.

More than 100 senior officials joined the high-level opening panel discussion on “European Migration and Refugee Policies – The Way Ahead” moderated by ICMPD Director General Michael Spindelegger on 10 November. Two working papers, covering the main topics of the conference, "The future of international protection" and "The emerging European Foreign Migration Policy", were distributed during the conference. 

Opening and Keynote

On 11 November the conference was attended by more than 250 participants. On behalf of the DG, Deputy Director General Gabriela Abado gave an overview of the latest global developments in her introductory address stating that “…while the adoption of the New York declaration on Refugees and Migrants by the United Nations General Assembly reflects a global thinking that no longer understands the protection of refugees and migrants as the national affair of countries close to conflict or along migratory routes, we still don’t know which concrete steps will be taken and when.” 

Paul Collier, professor of economics and public policy in the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, delivered the keynote speech. He suggested that migrants and refugees should be addressed as two different groups and argued that the majority of those who risked coming to Europe, were not the ones mostly suffering from persecution or conflict, but instead the well-educated elite of their countries of origin. These countries are suffering from this brain-drain which is why Mr. Collier pleads for a regular migration system that would allow the residence in a country of choice, but only over a certain period of time.

Intensive discussions & exchanging ideas

The first panel moderated by ICMPD Director Southern Dimension Lukas Gehrke dealt with the topic “International Refugee Protection and European Responses”. “Even though the headlines change and the pictures in the media are not as present anymore, we shouldn’t develop a false sense of thinking of the crisis as being resolved. Some aspects maybe are, but we keep hearing the number 65 Million refugees, IDPs and 22 Million that are in direct neighbourhood to the EU”, Mr Gehrke said in his opening remarks. “This all adds to the urgency that we must continue to create and maintain a functioning system here in Europe and take this topic seriously when we discuss and negotiate the UN compacts,” he added. The panellists included: Tomáš Urubek, from the Ministry of Interior of the Czech Republic, Nils Coleman from the Ministry of Security and Justice, Netherlands, Henrik Nielsen from the European Commission, Sophie Magennis, from the UNHCR Bureau for Europe, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons and Catherine Woollard from ECRE.

Martijn Pluim, ICMPD Director Eastern Dimension opened the second panel, which addressed the interplay between migration and foreign policy. “The recent linkage between migration policy objectives, development cooperation, and other policy areas such as trade, changed the relationship between countries of destination, countries of transit and countries of origin (…). It is this linkage between different policy areas and their impact on relations between countries and on migrants that we would like to address today”. The panel allowed for a multifaceted debate given the different backgrounds of the panelists, including: Gunther Krichbaum, member of the German parliament, Edward Hobart from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of UK, Leonello Gabrici from EEAS, Olawale I. Maiyegun from the African Union Commission, Arno Tomowski from GIZ, and Gibril Faal from ADEPT.

Closing remarks

After intensive debates as well as formal and informal exchanges, the conference was closed by Deputy Director General Abado with a short summary of the results. She highlighted the issue of labour migration and job market integration in both receiving and origin countries as a pivotal topic. The other take-home point was the need for the EU to look beyond its borders and spot crises before they boil over.

“The good news is that Europe's common systems is not beyond repair. They might be under stress, they might be in crisis, but there is clear evidence also that the European and the global community have moved on and started to work together – on better solutions. I would like to quote Mr Papademetriou who said last night: ‘we have to think much, much harder’. And I would like to quote Mr Faal who said: ‘we have to act much more’. And the happy marriage of these two would be thoughtful action and maybe that’s a good recipe.”

Photo Gallery  Video 
Download working paper 11: "The emergence of a new foreign migration policy in Europe" 
Download working paper 12: "International Refugee Protection and European Responses"