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With Cooperation on Migration Moving Higher on the Foreign Policy Agenda, Significant Room Exists for Improvement of Partnerships along the Migration Continuum
Press Release
Thursday, December 7, 2017

With Cooperation on Migration Moving Higher on the Foreign Policy Agenda, Significant Room Exists for Improvement of Partnerships along the Migration Continuum

WASHINGTON — In the wake of the migration crisis in Europe, a surge in Central American flows to the United States and movements elsewhere, policymakers are looking for new strategies to better manage migration. The events of 2015-2016 in Europe illustrated the shortcomings of unilateral approaches to migration, with policies aimed at closing borders often diverting rather than stemming flows, and resulting in more deadly conditions for migrants.

A growing number of destination-country policymakers are starting to move away from unilateral actions to pursue deeper cooperation with neighboring states and others further along their migration corridors. These efforts are steeped in a rich history of bilateral cooperation between neighboring countries (such as Spain and Morocco, or the United States and Mexico) to manage migration effectively while building on its potential benefits. Recent agreements, however, have been distinguished both by their larger scope and scale—including new partners located on key migration routes and bigger budgets—and their ambition, encompassing border management, returns of migrants who are found not to have a legal basis to remain and efforts to address the underlying drivers of migration.

The Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, in a new Council Statement, explores how countries along different migration corridors are working to cooperatively manage migration, and why the results of these partnerships have been so mixed. Among the reasons, as MPI Distinguished Transatlantic Fellow Demetrios G. Papademetriou and Associate Policy Analyst Kate Hooper explain: These partnerships are typically deeply asymmetrical and transactional, prioritizing the interests of destination countries at the expense of origin- or transit-country interests, and the policy goals for all partners are not aligned on politically sensitive issues such as returns.

“One thing is clear: destination counties can no longer afford to focus narrowly on just one piece of the puzzle, such as enforcing a border,” Papademetriou and Hooper write. “Instead, they need to look ahead and think strategically about how to crisis-proof their migration systems by building closer working relationships with countries of origin and transit to better manage flows (and return people without legal grounds to stay) and by making the significant investments needed to shift the calculus behind individuals’ decisions to move on from countries of origin (or first asylum). For cooperation to ultimately succeed, donors need to think creatively and be prepared to do more—and to do it well.”

The Council Statement, which concludes a series examining partnerships, explores the steps policymakers should take to build deeper, more forward-looking partnerships that can respond effectively to current and future migration challenges. The report recommends policymakers should:

  • Ensure that all partners derive real benefits from deals in which the interests of origin- and transit-country partners are too often a secondary consideration to destination-country migration management imperatives.
  • Improve cooperation on politically sensitive issues such as returns, which are a key priority for destination-country governments but often political poison for their partners. Policymakers should think more creatively about how to embed returns within a broader program of cooperation that addresses key partner concerns, such as investments in vocational training and jobs, work visas or ways to maximize the benefits of remittances.
  • Demonstrate that illegal immigration will not be tolerated, by fully implementing border and interior controls, quickly adjudicating asylum claims and removing those without valid claims for legal protection. Beyond sending a message to would-be migrants and reassuring anxious national publics, such steps also convey to partner countries that destination-country policymakers are willing to enact politically difficult decisions too.
  • Invest in policies that can change people’s migration calculus. If migration-management agreements are to succeed, they must draw on an array of other policy portfolios, such as development, foreign policy, humanitarian aid, security and trade.
  • Take a more forward-looking approach. Preventing the next crisis requires governments to invest in opportunities to peer over the horizon: not only monitoring current migration routes and patterns, but systematically collecting, analyzing and sharing data on simmering instability and conflicts, economic downturns and climate events.

Read the Council Statement at: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/building-partnerships-respond-next-decades-migration-challenges.

The Transatlantic Council series “Building Partnerships to Respond to the Next Decade’s Migration Challenges” can be read here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/migrants-migration-and-development-transatlantic-council-migration/building-partnerships.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.