In Focus

Interview with ICMPD Director General Michael Spindelegger: "A difficult year"

12 May 2022

Michael Spindelegger, ICMPD Director General, talks about the regions most affected by migration movements, how Europe can and should prepare for potential consequences and how ICMPD can help to build a well-functioning European migration system. The interview was first published in the ICMPD Annual Report for 2021. 

2021 was the year that the international forces left Afghanistan. How did this event affect global migration and what do you expect in the years to come? 

The main implication of international troops leaving Afghanistan is the destabilisation of the whole region. Afghanistan’s neighbours Pakistan and Iran are already about to reach their limits. The extent to which Europe will be affected by migration from Afghanistan will only become visible in the years to come. At the moment, it is incalculable how Afghanistan’s neighbours will be able to deal with the current developments. 

How has ICMPD reacted to these events?

We had to close our offices in Kabul and take our colleagues out of the country. We were lucky to be able to work this out. At the same time we 
suggested several measures to help Afghanistan’s neighbours, e.g. Migrant Resource Centres could help potential migrants to obtain a realistic assessment of what to expect in Europe, for example, and to prevent them from being misused by criminal human traffickers.

What other developments had an impact on global migration in 2021 and will they also have an impact in 2022?

Peace is still out of sight for Syria, so Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey as neighbouring countries must deal with an exceedingly high number of incoming refugees. Whether these countries will be able to cope with this situation or whether we will see secondary movements to Europe will be one of the things to watch out for in 2022. There are already initial signs regarding the direction of secondary movements, which could increase throughout the year.

What implications did these developments have on how the European Union was managing migration?

2021 surprised us all with a new form of political misuse of migration: Public authorities in Belarus brought migrants to their country and placed them at the border to Poland. The aim was to blackmail the European Commission. The EC, however, proved its capacity to act and react quickly. It put pressure on countries of transit to refrain from further such transports and was clear about what supporting these movements would mean for the airlines involved. The EC proved capable of managing a crisis like this quickly and successfully. 

The European Union is in a constant struggle to develop a common European migration system. How is ICMPD involved in this process?

We presented the EC and all EU Member States with our proposal for a joint migration policy which includes 72 specific measures. Now let us see how the French EU presidency will evolve and which steps it might take in migration policy. One of the developments that we predicted in our ICMPD Migration Outlook for 2022 has already set in: French President Emanuel Macron proposed the creation of a Schengen Council to permanently monitor the Schengen Agreement.

Throughout the pandemic, it became visible to many European countries how dependent some of their business sectors are on migrant workers. Will legal migration be more broadly discussed anytime soon?

 Many entrepreneurs are currently struggling to find employees and we expect this trend to continue. Thus, organisations will demand new solutions from their governments. Legal migration to Europe will have to increase to meet this demand for labour. In the long run, we need to strike a balance between fighting irregular migration and providing legal pathways. This is in the interest of migrants as well as the countries of origin and the countries of destination. 

The pandemic is still with us. How did it impact ICMPD’s work in 2021, and what was the impact on migration in general? 

The pandemic itself and the fact that the number of vaccinated people varies greatly among countries and regions has led to an unbalanced recovery for the different economies and countries. The inequality among certain countries has increased even further. This automatically increases the pressure to migrate.

2021 was the first year of your second term as ICMPD Director General. What kind of organisation do you want ICPMD to become over the next four years? 

Our aim still is to be the go-to organisation for European states on all matters related to migration. We seem to be on the right path, as more and more states are deciding to join us. After Turkey, Malta and Germany, Greece became an ICMPD member state in 2021. Membership negotiations with Denmark and the Netherlands are ongoing. We want to support our member states in the best way possible in finding solutions from which all parties involved can benefit. ICMPD is a sleek, flexible and outcome-oriented organisation and we want to retain this advantage despite our substantial growth in recent years. This is how we can provide innovative solutions on behalf of our member states. 

2022 began with Russia invading Ukraine. What does this mean for an international organisation focused on migration? 

The biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War is now unfolding, with millions of people fleeing their homes to escape the turmoil of war. We have received inquiries since day one asking how we assess the situation and which accompanying measures should be put in place. We analysed the situation, tried to predict further developments and have presented corresponding concepts. Now we support all parties in bringing about quick and consistent implementation. And of course, we had to take care of our employees on the ground since we run a project office in Kyiv. 

Will the war in Ukraine overshadow other developments? 

Yes, it undoubtedly will. In contrast to the migration wave of 2015/16, most refugees are women and children – at least for the time being. This calls for a tailor-made approach and appropriate measures. On the other hand, it is of course problematic that trouble spots like Afghanistan and Syria, where no improvement of the situation is in sight, are out of the public eye. We consider it our task to point this out and to remind political decision makers where action is needed – regardless of what the public is focusing its attention on.