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Vienna Migration Conference 2020 took place for the fifth time

1 December 2020

ICMPD Director General Michael Spindelegger in a recording studio, where the Vienna Migration Conference was moderated and coordinated from.

From 16-19 November 2020, ICMPD hosted the Vienna Migration Conference entitled “Schengen, asylum reform and Europe’s migration diplomacy: Has COVID-19 changed everything?” The conference took place in an online production adapted especially for the pandemic and hosted a record number of participants.

When it comes to the Vienna Migration Conference, it is safe to say that COVID did indeed change everything. ICMPD’s flagship event was held for the first time in a fully online format with a small number of participants present in a multimedia studio and proceeded in line with current restrictions in Vienna, Austria. The conference lasted three and a half days instead of two and a half and introduced several new formats that allowed for more speakers, greater diversity, and debates among expert hands-on practitioners working on concrete migration topics. A total of approximately 2,300 participants took part in the Vienna Migration Conference. They received daily recaps in their mailbox at the end of each day summarising key results of each session.

For the opening, ICMPD brought together the current Chair of the ICMPD’s Steering Group and Federal Councillor at the Federal Department of Justice and Police of Switzerland Karin Keller-Sutter and Portugal’s Minister of Home Affairs, Eduardo Cabrita, representing the incoming chair of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union. ICMPD Director General Michael Spindelegger moderated the session, opening with these remarks: “Migration and is more relevant than ever. Because it is more difficult than ever. That is why I decided to hold the Vienna Migration Conference despite the difficult circumstances.”

Another major novelty of the Vienna Migration Conference 2020 included was the opening debate between political scientist Ivan Krastev and former Secretary-General of the European Commission Martin Selmayr, neither of whom is working directly on the migration issue. Their discussion revolved around the key question of whether the EU and the Schengen area can survive and thrive in deeply uncertain times. Krastev and Selmayr argued that the first wave of the pandemic represented a “defeat of populism”, but noted that the future remains “uncertain”.

A packed programme

Over the course of four days, a series of dedicated senior panels and focus sessions on a wide variety of topics examined the prospects for the reform of the Common European Asylum System and whether the Schengen area is robust enough to return to full functionality at a time of heightened concerns about migration, security and public health. Altogether, the Vienna Migration Conference hosted eleven focus sessions, one high-level political panel and two senior panels.

Panellists during the four days included, among others: 

  • Mr Yavuz Selim Kıran, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkey
  • H.E. Amira El Fadil, Commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union Commission
  • Mr Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, European Commission
  • Mr Stephan Mayer, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of the Interior, Building and Community, Germany
  • Mr Henrik Ankerstjerne, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry for Immigration and Integration, Denmark
  • Mr Ulrich Weinbrenner, Director General, Directorate-General of Migration, Refugees and Return Policy, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community, Germany
  • Mr Markos Karavias, Head, Asylum Service, Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Hellenic Republic
  • Ms Nina Gregori, Executive Director, European Asylum Support Offic
  • Hon. Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, Secretary, Ministry of Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment, Bangladesh
  • Ms Andrea Schumacher, Vice-President, Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Germany
  • Mr Maciej Popowski, Acting Director-General, Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, European Commission
  • Mr Martijn Pluim, Director, Migration Dialogues and Cooperation, ICMPD

After three and a half days the Conference was closed with remarks by the Director General, who expressed his optimism that 2021 would see the Vienna Migration Conference return to an in in-person format in Vienna again. He added:

“We face a shared migration challenge. There is a broad consensus, even between sending and receiving countries, on how best to respond to this challenge. Progress means taking responsibility for our own borders while at the same time deepening cooperation with others. ICMPD will once again be here to support this effort over the coming five years as the EU’s new financial cycle begins to work in earnest.” A Vienna Migration Conference Report will be available shortly.