Conférence “Migration in the 21st century: thoughts and prospects 2050”: discours d’ouverture du Ministre De Croo

Migration in the 21st century: thoughts and prospects 2050

Intervention by Mr. Alexander De Croo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Cooperation, Digital Agenda, Post and Telecommunications

Tuesday 17th of May – Arenberg Conference Room

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Director-general Swing,
Special Representative Sutherland,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me, together with Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders, to welcome you here today at this conference that aims to provide an outlook on the main migration challenges from now until 2050.

The organization of this conference obviously comes at a timely moment, when 60 million people are forcibly displaced globally and the topic of migration dominates the political agenda of the EU, of its Member States, and far beyond.

But in a way we are also here today in a celebration mood. This year we celebrate the IOM’s 65th anniversary. Belgium was, back in 1951, one of IOM’s founding members. So we are also celebrating 65 years of partnership between Belgium and the IOM. With, as “cherry on the cake”, the Belgian IOM Presidency which offers our country a unique opportunity to get even more engaged in the international migration debate and to appreciate the IOM’s fieldwork.

I think we may be proud on the work and the results that have been achieved by the IOM.

The IOM has indeed become thé reference in the international community when it comes to migration issues.

The recent IOM’s visit to Mali and Niger - two partner countries of Belgium’s development cooperation that I will visit next month - for example has yet again demonstrated the IOM’s excellent reputation in the field when it comes to providing socio-economic alternatives to potential migrants or returnees, and when it comes to providing hope and perspective to displaced families.

That is also the reason why the Belgian government decided last year, on my proposal, that the IOM will remain one of the fifteen partner organizations of Belgium’s international development cooperation in the years to come.

And it is in this respect that we will sign, later this year, a new bilateral framework arrangement between Belgium and the IOM. This will ensure that Belgium will also in the future remain one of the top contributing nations to the IOM.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now flesh out a bit more the “hot topic of the day” – migration.

First of all, migration is not new; it is not “the newest kid on the block”.

Migration flows have been an integral part of human development, ever since the beginning of mankind and as an integral part of the history of humanity.

Whether we talk about the expansion of Mesopotamia and the Greek and Roman empires, about the conquests during medieval times, about the periods of slavery and colonization, or about the two world wars of the twentieth century: these have all resulted in large displacements of populations. And most of the time these displacements were neither pacific nor consensual.

It was the other way round. It were mainly forced displacements that went beyond the personal will and freedom of choice of individual human beings.

Rights of individuals were being violated, their prospects to live a life of welfare were being hampered, and their right to live - or simply put: their right to exist - was being put at risk.

It is this story of forced displacement, the negative story of migration, that we are talking about again today: the story of migration not resulting from a positive and individual choice.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s challenges are immense. There are 250 million migrants worldwide, which roughly equals 3,4% of the world’s population.

One in every 122 persons worldwide is either a refugee, internally displaced, or is seeking asylum.

These are staggering numbers.

Never before since the Second World War that many people have been forced to leave their homes. Not only because of violent conflicts, but also because of demographic growth, food insecurity, climate change, human rights violations, etc.

We see an alarming increase of “push factors” that are making migration a necessity rather than a positive choice.

By the year 2050, 200 million additional migrants will emerge as a result of climate change alone.

We see an increase of complex crises of long duration that generate migration fluxes that are more and more mixed, including internally displaced persons, economic migrants, migrants in transit, persons that are escaping from individual illegitimate prosecutions and natural catastrophes, etc.

These fluxes are also increasingly of a global character. Less than one third of migratory fluxes that originate from Africa were directed towards Europe; half of them were intra-African. 86% of today’s refugees are living in developing countries, whereas the least developed countries are currently hosting 25% of all refugees, worldwide.

In other words, also when it comes to migration, the “North-South” dichotomy deserves some nuance: migration remains first and foremost a problem for developing countries. And this will likely remain the case for the years to come.

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach almost 10 billion persons. This is one third more than today and 8 times more than a century ago.

Yet again it will be the least developed countries that will face the main challenges of this expansion.

Let me take again the example of two partner countries of Belgium’s development cooperation that I have mentioned earlier – Mali and Niger.

In both these countries the average number of children for every woman is 8. And when we talk about the median ages in the bulk of Africa, we are talking about ages between 15 and 20 years.

Without a significant improvement of basic living conditions and without decent perspectives to live a life that respects human dignity, important movements of populations are also to be expected in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We cannot tackle irregular migration, without dealing with the root causes of migration flows. And it is here that international development policies are at play.

In line with the new Agenda 2030 which we all adopted last September in New York, the Belgian international development policy is re-orienting itself to confront the challenges ahead. We have done so by conducting a major policy review that is currently on-going and which I would like to touch upon briefly.

First of all, Belgium puts a central focus on a rights based approach and on inclusive and sustainable growth, two main themes of our new international development policy.

A rights based approach gives citizens a voice and a role when decisions are taken that are affecting them. At the same time, government structures have to be accountable to their populations.

A rights based approach prioritizes and strengthens above all the local populations, the local private sector, and the local civil society, rather than government structures.

Indeed, the existence of vocal citizens, strong companies and legitimate civil organizations that are able to enter into a dialogue with their political authorities is key and essential to ensure progress and development.

We also believe that economic growth without progress in the field of human rights cannot be sustainable. Investments that are not being underpinned by changes in fields such as governance and knowledge, mentalities and habits will not have a long-term future.

When we talk about a rights-based approach, we talk about issues as good governance, health care, sexual and reproductive rights, women and children’s rights, social protection and decent work, etc. And we should never forget that fundamental human rights are migrants’ rights as well.

The second main theme of our international development policy is inclusive and sustainable growth, meaning economic growth that is sustainable in a long-term perspective and that results in the creation of real prosperity for all.

Growth needs to be inclusive. It should provide the possibility to all individuals to participate in the economic process in such a way that created prosperity is being re-invested in development policies. These development policies should then benefit the entire population and they should mobilize natural resources without impeding the prosperity of future generations.   

Belgium also focuses very explicitly on least developed countries and and fragile states. For them, Official Development Aid (ODA) remains crucial in the coming years.

Indeed, the next fifteen years, most of the world’s poor will live in LDCs and in fragile states. In countries that are most confronted with pressing needs of development financing, while they will carry the heaviest burden of migration pressures.  

It then comes as an unpleasant surprise that the ODA-support for these countries is falling – minus 16% in 2014.

Belgium believes this trend needs to be reversed. We have committed to allocate at least 50% of its ODA to LDCs by 2019 and our new list of 14 partner countries now includes 12 LDC’s.

Belgium also calls other donor nations to do the same and to allocate their ODA first and foremost to the LDCs and to countries in fragile contexts.

We should also not forget to take the great potential of digital solutions into account – an issue that Belgium currently attempts to bring at the international forefront.

The digital age opens up a wide array of new possibilities, also for crafting sound migration policies.

Digital platforms, for example, can increase the distribution of information, screening and access to jobs.

Sending remittances could become easier, faster and much cheaper through the use of mobile technologies. One should bear in mind here that the current cost of sending remittances to countries like Morocco or the DRC through Western Union or Moneygram stands at about 12%. This is way too high.

The digital age also opens up new possibilities to connect people and to act as a “lifeline” for migrants and displaced persons.

If we want migration to become a factor of development rather than a consequence of misery, we will have to unlock the vast potential of the digital revolution.

Facing the migration and refugee crisis, Belgium is also further strengthening its humanitarian efforts.

We provide large amounts of humanitarian aid. In 2015, our humanitarian aid budget peaked at an unprecedented 150 million euro, of which 51,6 million was devoted to the assistance of refugees in the region of Syria and Iraq. This year, we will even increase our humanitarian budget up to 170 million euro.

Next week I will head the Belgian delegation in the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. It is crucial that we seize the moment of this first World Humanitarian Summit to make our humanitarian system more fit for purpose to face the immense challenges ahead.

Yet, we should not mistake ourselves. The humanitarian system alone cannot address the growing and evolving needs of displacement. Humanitarian aid in itself is never a sustainable solution.

We need a global approach that includes all segments of society, that includes the private sector, and that finds ways of finding innovative humanitarian financing.

It is in this respect that next week in Istanbul I will announce, together with ICRC President Peter Maurer,  the creation of the first ever Humanitarian Impact Bond, which will pre-finance the expansion of ICRC’s Physical Rehabilitation Programme.

Talking about financing and tackling root causes, I should also mention the efforts of the Valetta Trust Fund which aims to address the root causes of irregular migration in Africa. With a contribution of 10 million euro, Belgium is the second donor to the Valetta Trust Fund.

It obviously goes without saying that international development is just one part of the story – though a very significant one.

In order to tackle the root causes of irregular migration, we need a coherent and global approach in which foreign policy, development policy and migration policy come together and mutually reinforce each other.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

So far I have presented you a rather bleak picture of migration. Of immense challenges we have never seen before.

But we should never forget there is also a positive side of the story. Let me conclude my intervention with a positive note.

Migration holds one of the greatest potentials for the future development of mankind.

Migration generates transfers of funds, knowledge, technologies and cultures.

Migration contributes to the human development of migrants themselves who acquire new competences and higher incomes.

Migration contributes also to the families of migrants who have stayed behind in their countries of origin and who have acquired a higher purchasing power and increased access to education and health.

In fact, in terms of financial flows, remittances are now three times more important than ODA.

And, last but not least, well-managed types of migration contribute in a tangible way to the development of the destination countries themselves as well.

Take the example of the United States, where half of all engineers and scientists were born abroad. Or take the impressive progress a country like India has made and where in the 1990s one third of Foreign Direct Investment was provided by India’s diaspora abroad.

Let these two examples inspire us. So that, confronted with the challenges of migration, we do not only see obstacles, but building blocks to advance human development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Migration policies need to be a win-win for migrants themselves, for their countries of origin, and for their hosting nations. This is what we have to reflect upon during this conference.

Let us think out loud and out of the box on how we can better anticipate migration trends and how we can develop them into an added value for our societies.

SDG 10.7 calls for the facilitation of orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration – including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.

Let’s start our discussion on this basis here today and let’s try to move it forward and even beyond this goal.

Thank you.